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AP publishes headline calling plagiarism 'new conservative weapon against colleges' — then alters it amid furious backlash
Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

AP publishes headline calling plagiarism 'new conservative weapon against colleges' — then alters it amid furious backlash

The Associated Press on Wednesday came under fire on social media over a story on Claudine Gay's resignation as president of Harvard — particularly the headline: "Harvard president's resignation highlights new conservative weapon against colleges: plagiarism."

Amid the flurry of backlash, the AP changed the headline — updated at 12:38 p.m. ET Wednesday — to read, "Plagiarism charges downed Harvard's president. A conservative attack helped to fan the outrage."

The new headline no longer employs the notion that conservatives used plagiarism as a "weapon against colleges" or the idea that plagiarism is a "new" arrow in the quiver for conservatives' all-out assault against institutions of higher learning.

The text of the story also was changed from the initial version Blaze News viewed (updated at 1:41 a.m. ET Wednesday) to a version updated again at 12:38 p.m. ET Wednesday.

What did the AP have to say?

Blaze News on Wednesday reached out to the AP for comment, asking why the headline and story were changed. The AP replied Wednesday with the following statement: "The initial story didn’t meet our standards, so we updated it."

Turns out the AP's post on X linking to the story still used the previous headline as of 2 p.m. ET:

Image source: X

As you might guess, the X post has been getting ratioed all day — meaning comments exceed likes. For this post from the AP, there were about 10,000 comments compared to about 4,300 likes as of 2 p.m. ET.

In addition, the AP's post got hit with community notes calling it out:

Image source: X

The post from the AP has received 12.4 million views and counting as of Wednesday afternoon.

How are folks reacting?

Notable commenters on the AP's post were not happy with the news outlet:

  • Elon Musk, CEO of X, was at the head of the pack: "And, once again, @CommunityNotes for the win. Gay repeatedly violated Harvard’s rules against plagiarism. Source: Harvard."
  • The Redheaded Libertarian couldn't contain her "LMAOOOOOOOOO" reaction.
  • Cartoonist George Alexopoulos remarked, "Imagine having to write your own work!"
  • Quillette editor, writer, and podcaster Jonathan Kay offered the following gem:

Image source: X

Tim Young had the following to say about the AP's initial headline: "Plagiarism is now a 'conservative weapon.' Just a reminder that Facebook/Meta uses this fake news org to 'fact check' people."

Red State's Brandon Morse added this quip: "Conservatives are weaponizing *checks notes* holding people accountable for their own actions."

Abigail Jackson, communications director for U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), had to check her notes, too: “And we would’ve gotten away with it too! If it hadn’t been for those darned conservatives and their… *checks notes* pointing out that our top academic university president plagiarized.Yes bc it’s totally the conservatives' fault."

Others were equally outraged at the "conservative weapon" word choice in the initial headline:

  • "Plagiarism has always been completely unacceptable in the academic world," one commenter said. "Not sure how that makes it a 'conservative weapon.'"
  • "How many conservatives did it take to force Claudine Gay to plagiarize 50 times? Was it more than 100,000? What specific weapons were used?" another user wondered. "Writing my thesis on this."
  • "You've all lost your f***ing minds," another user declared. "Having standards and expecting people to meet them is not 'a conservative weapon.'"
  • "Won't someone please think of the plagiarists?! The sheer gall of these conservatives knows no bounds," another commenter stated with a healthy dose of sarcasm.

How does the text of the story versions differ?

For example, the first three paragraphs of the AP story updated at 1:41 a.m. ET Wednesday read as follows:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The downfall of Harvard’s president has elevated the threat of unearthing plagiarism, a cardinal sin in academia, as a possible new weapon in conservative attacks on higher education.

Claudine Gay’s resignation Tuesday followed weeks of mounting accusations that she lifted language from other scholars in her doctoral dissertation and journal articles. The allegations surfaced amid backlash over her congressional testimony about antisemitism on campus.

The plagiarism allegations came not from her academic peers but her political foes, led by conservatives who sought to oust Gay and put her career under intense scrutiny in hopes of finding a fatal flaw. Her detractors charged that Gay — who has a Ph.D. in government, was a professor at Harvard and Stanford and headed Harvard’s largest division before being promoted — got the top job in large part because she is a Black woman.

The first three paragraphs of the story version updated again at 12:38 p.m. ET Wednesday read as follows:

WASHINGTON (AP) — American higher education has long viewed plagiarism as a cardinal sin. Accusations of academic dishonesty have ruined the careers of faculty and undergraduates alike.

The latest target is Harvard President Claudine Gay, who resigned Tuesday. In her case, the outrage came not from her academic peers but her political foes, led by conservatives who put her career under intense scrutiny.

Reviews by Harvard found multiple shortcomings in Gay’s academic citations, including several instances of “duplicative language.” The university concluded the errors “were not considered intentional or reckless” and didn’t rise to misconduct. But the allegations continued, with new ones as recently as Monday.

Anything else?

In a video posted to X on Tuesday, CNN reporter Matt Egan appeared to try to soften the plagiarism scandal that led to Gay's resignation: "We should note that Claudine Gay has not been accused of stealing anyone's ideas in any of her writings. She's been accused of sort of more like copying other people's writings without attribution. So it's been more sloppy attribution than stealing anyone's ideas."

Amid her resignation, Gay — Harvard's first black president — said she was "subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus."

Continuing with that theme, critical race theorist Ibram X. Kendi suggested that Gay's downfall was due to racism: "Racist mobs won't stop until they topple all Black people from positions of power and influence who are not reinforcing the structures of racism. What these racist mobs are doing should be obvious to any reporter who cares about truth or justice as opposed to conflicts and clicks."

Following Gay's resignation, professor and sociopolitical commentator Marc Lamont Hill said Harvard's next president "MUST be a Black woman."

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Dave Urbanski

Dave Urbanski

Sr. Editor, News

Dave Urbanski is a senior editor for Blaze News.
@DaveVUrbanski →