If the plagiarism is inaccurate, is it still plagiarism?

A fresh-looking piece of Colorado River journalism made the rounds this week, by Frances Weaver at The Week, about the Colorado River’s current decadal-scale drought. But some of the language had a familiar ring to it. Here’s Weaver:

The most immediate cause is 14 years of drought unrivaled in 1,250 years.

Here’s Michael Wines in the New York Times from January:

The sinuous Colorado River and its slew of man-made reservoirs from the Rockies to southern Arizona are being sapped by 14 years of drought nearly unrivaled in 1,250 years.

So if you drop the “nearly”, is it no longer plagiarism?

Here’s Weaver:

Arizona farmers have started using laser technology to keep their fields table flat and reduce runoff.

And Wines:

Arizona farmers reduce runoff, for example, by using laser technology to ensure that their fields are table flat.

It’s not just Wines. Here again is Weaver:

For 6 million years, the Colorado River flowed southwest from the snowy Rocky Mountains to a sodden, 2-million-acre-wide delta in Mexico, finally emptying its 14 million acre-feet of freshwater into the Sea of Cortez.

The eerily similar doppleganger here, by Rachel Nuwer in the New York Times:

For six million years, the Colorado River ran its course from its soaring origins in the Rockies to a once-teeming two-million-acre delta, finally emptying 14 million acre-feet of fresh water into the Sea of Cortez.

But here’s my favorite. First Weaver:

“I’ve got corn plants that are as brown as you could imagine,” said Weld County, Colo., farmer Dave Eckhardt last summer, after losing more than 400 acres of his 1,400-acre crop.

OK, maybe “last summer” isn’t quite right. Here’s Steve Raabe in the Denver Post in the summer of 2012. “Last summer” is a year off.

“I’ve got corn plants that are as brown as you could imagine. There’s nothing there,” said Weld County farmer Dave Eckhardt, who estimates that 400 acres of his 1,400-acre corn crop is a total loss.

So let’s tally up the sins here in just that sentence. Weaver stole from the Denver Post, but got the year wrong and, more importantly, Weld County is east of the continental divide. It’s not even in the Colorado River Basin! Holy fuck, if you’re going to steal other people’s work, the least you can do is get shit like this right.

There’s more, but you get the idea.

Update: Frances Weaver explains: