Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1994-2007).
Have you heard of, or read, any good dross (I’m told the word is quite in fashion again) lately on Internet? It is of only relative good fun, but some things some times on the web are worthy of attention lasting longer than 30 seconds. Most of it does not even rate that sort of attention though. I am also told that retired persons (note that the words “Oldie” or “Useless Age” or “Old Age Guy,” etc., have been declared in need of change) are the best sources for a regular dose of trash onscreen. In that human category I admit that I have a weakness for the huge supplies of the political dross that Internet offers. This time, however, I am pleased to say, I did not fall for it.
Just a week ago – though it may have been in circulation longer than noted by me – I found an article by the Spanish novelist and journalist Arturo Pérez-Reverte Gutiérrez, born in Cartagena (the one in Murcia, Spain, not Colombia) in 1951, best known for his fiction but also for his trenchant articles and freelance opinions. They carry considerable weight because of the popularity of his writing, also due to his outspokenness as a member of the Royal Academy of Letters in his country.
The article arrived in one of those chains praising Pérez-Reverte for the strength of his criticism of the Spanish establishment, the government, business leaders and more. I was attracted by the dozen sentences under the collective headline “Indecent” which adequately fitted our own seniors and betters in Argentina, whether in private rapacity or public administration. Now, you can’t take PérezReverte lightly, given the strength of his language when he addresses the political classes in his country and or the usually good quality of his thrillers.
My own reading developed with a sense of glee, that a leading writer in the Spanish language was going public to demand, for example, that banks return the millions of euros they have secured from the state to pay shareholders and directors. That, as we know, is right on for Argentina, also the (dis)United Kingdom, and other nations that would make a long list. Each paragraph began with the adjectival reference that is the word “indecent.” A few did not start that way, but they were still applicable to us, such as calling on political parties to order corrupt members to return the squillions drawn during a period in office.
However, very “indecent” on the list were the members of the Spanish Parliament who collect nearly 4,000 euros a month in wages plus 2,500 euros for expenses, and further small money for additional outlays. This compared with the minimum wage of a working man or woman: 624 Euros. And state school teachers, university lecturers or a medical doctor in public employment were all subject to a similar low bracket and had to work for 35 to 40 years to become eligible for a minimum pension. A member of Congress only needed to serve seven years as an elected representative to be able to collect a full pension.
Well, give or take a few more items in this catalogue of fury, the said Pérez-Reverte was levelling his full firepower at all those people in Spain whose equivalent in Argentina we continue to hate whomsoever we elect for president and then have to endure the sight of all the president’s friends racing to grab anything from an office chair to the means for retiring to their apartment in Miami.
While the vituperation made an impressive read, coming from a member of the Spanish Academy, there was something suspicious about the famous writer’s invective being headed in each sentence by the word “indecent.” It was not the style of the man’s eloquence and without his usual good measure of wisdom. It was just not him.
The article was sent back to the most recent source, a lawyer acquaintance, who was asked to check his sources. This was done by the lawyer, who first resorted to his latest correspondent and when that did not produce results, the lawyer sender resorted to Google. The buck stopped there. Some few days later, the Google respondent reported that the source had been forged and was used without permission.
This can be seen as an unimportant story, brief in existence and light in its effect, only potentially damaging if the contents had involved direct slander or libel. The impression conveyed is that this sort of plagiarism goes on all the time and nobody cares beyond a giggle. But the credibility of the source forged can be seriously damaged. Pity, I had enjoyed the level of the slander, even if it was widespread in aim and no one person could be affected and nobody was even collectively shamed.
There is a small twist to the end of this minor incident and it surfaces on Internet. In a search for the biography of the journalist and novelist there is a paragraph in Wikipedia which you can’t help noticing: it is titled “Controversies.” There, Arturo Pérez-Reverte is twice accused of plagiarism. In the first, Mexican novelist Verónica Murguía argues that a short story she had written and then another published by the Spaniard in March 1998 had close similarities in narration, chronology, phrases and in a leading anecdote. The great author’s story was too close to what she had published in November 1997. Murguía only noticed the short story when it was included later in a re-compilation of stories by Pérez-Reverte. She did not take legal action but asked for an apology and the removal of the story from the collection. The second incident referred to a film script by Pérez-Reverte. He was accused of plagiarising parts of a Spanish writer’s script. In 2011, the novelist was ordered by a Madrid court to pay a substantial fine and compensation.