Lee Wei Ling caught plagiarising in LKY hero worship article

From ‘Why ST did not publish Dr Lee Wei Ling’s column’, article by Ivan Fernandez, 9 April 2016, ST

Several issues of serious journalistic concern arose from recent allegations by Dr Lee Wei Ling, a former columnist of The Sunday Times, after she blogged about events last month to commemorate the death of her father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

In a Facebook post on April 1, Dr Lee wrote: “i will no longer write for SPH as the editors there do not allow me freedom of speech. in fact, that was the reason why i posted the article on LKY would not want to be hero-worshipped.”

I had been editing Dr Lee’s columns since last November. So it pained me when she also alleged that those who edited her columns had been “commanded to edit certain issues out, and they are to (sic) timid to disobey, and too embarrassed by their timidness to tell me the truth”.

…On March 25, I received another version of the column with substantial additions that I found distracting at first reading because of repeated references to China (Mao Zedong’s China had already been mentioned higher up in her piece).

But there was another issue as well. Upon checking the accuracy of a quote she cited from British Prime Minister David Cameron, and other further checks, I found that almost three quarters of the additions had been plagiarised.

I had learnt from experience with Dr Lee’s columns that her sources needed to be double-checked.

Ivan Fernandez has just joined Team Janadas in this kerfuffle, armed with evidence of wholesale copying and a serious allegation of LWL’s integrity as a columnist. While JD had insinuated that LWL wasn’t a very good writer as reading her work was like ‘sailing through a fog’,  it looks like the fangs, claws and knives are out with this latest exchange. Meanwhile, her book ‘A Hakka Woman’s Singapore Stories’, happily compiled together by the ST team, continues to receive rave reviews as a ‘page turner‘. It’s telling that only 75 out of 180 essays made the cut according to one reader.

LWL won’t let the matter rest of course, having inherited the more renown character traits of her deceased father, including those in the looks department. Upon this reveal and reading the hero-worship post again, the historical bits about Churchill or Mao Tse Tung do stick out from her usual style like a sore thumb. In fact, they’re conspicuously BORING compared to rest of the post.

It’s one thing to label a prominent figure ungrateful as Janadas did when he sarcastically wrote ‘At the conclusion of that prolonged period of agony, she lovingly gathered the products of her oppression into a best-selling collection of essays’. It’s another to accuse one of intellectual thievery, no less someone who’s both a neurologist by training and a member of a powerful family. I believe LWL’s smart enough to wiggle her way out of this situation. My censorship is your editing. Your plagiarism is my paraphrasing. Potato, tomato. Not that plagiarism is anything new in academic circles. 

Through their censorship, I mean EDITING, ST has tried to sell LWL as an honest, down to earth voice speaking from beyond the ivory tower, someone who could give precious insight into the private lives of the Lees. But this debacle has made it appear that ST were somehow ‘tolerating’ LWL’s requests all these time, and that she’s not as simple as she sounds on paper. Until the death of her father that led to the hero-worship piece that is. Now we’re seeing the true power of a spurned Hakka woman without the moderating, some say manipulative, lens of the ST. As for ST, it’s hard to tell if this is a last-ditch attempt for eyeballs following LWL’s departure, or a genuine statement of how professional they really are.

Still, ST shouldn’t have worried about LWL’s accusation that they do not allow freedom of speech because EVERYONE knows how ST is viewed as a shameless mouthpiece for the ruling party, despite the irony that they’re sticking to sacred journalistic principles when making sure LWL doesn’t get what she wants. As Fernandez writes: “No newspaper editor would accept columns on that basis (ultimatums), however illustrious the writers.” Ouch.

UPDATE: LWL’s FB response was that Fernandez was not upfront on the plagiarism during their correspondence, and continued to emphasise that her intention was to downplay the LKY hagiographies. She also said as a doctor, she had nothing to gain professionally from her contributions. In other words, borrowing material is no big deal. You didn’t tell me clearly about ST’s position on copying.

Though a bad article indeed does nothing to hurt LWL’s career, it would reflect badly on an ‘award-winning’ newspaper if they gave in to an ‘illustrious character’ and allowed the copy-and-pasting to get through. I figure LWL was too impatient with the to-ing and fro-ing, and decided to post her unedited version anyway. I guess shortcuts are fine if you’re a really busy neurologist who needs to save people’s lives.

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