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Updated Jan 7, 2024, 7:03pm EST
mediabusiness

Business Insider’s owners clash over plagiarism story

Neri Oxman in 2022.
Steven Ferdman/Getty Images
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The Scoop

Business Insider’s parent company is divided over the publication’s recent article about plagiarism allegations made against the wife of businessman Bill Ackman.

Ackman led the effort to oust now-former Harvard president Claudine Gay over plagiarism accusations, amid campus controversies around Israel and Gaza. Last week, Business Insider reported that his wife, Neri Oxman, plagiarized portions of her dissertation.

Semafor has learned that the report has caused serious divisions within the top echelons of Axel Springer, BI’s German owner. Some company leaders have debated whether Ackman’s wife was fair game for reporting, and have been concerned that the report could be construed as antisemitic and anti-Zionist. (Oxman was born and raised in Israel.)

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In a statement to Semafor, Axel Springer spokesperson Adib Sisani said that while the facts of BI’s report have not been disputed, over the past few days “questions have been raised about the motivation and the process leading up to the reporting — questions that we take very seriously. Our media brands operate independently, however all Axel Springer publications are committed to journalism that meets rigorous editorial standards and processes.”

“We are going to take a couple of days to review the processes around these stories to ensure that our standards as well as our journalistic values have been upheld,” he said.

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Max’s view

Business Insider’s article was both accurate and fair. Oxman, a public figure and former academic, made some similar mistakes to those that Ackman had criticized Gay for. BI’s report last weekend seemed to lead to the businessman softening his stance on plagiarism.

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But the controversy comes at an interesting moment for Business Insider. The company recently added the ‘Business’ back to its name,in a move intended to return the brand to its roots. Top execs at Axel Springer seem to be worried that reports like those on Oxman last week could damage BI’s reputation in the eyes of some potential business readers. The company has taken heat from a number of right-leaning business figures over the past several years, including Ackman, Elon Musk, and David Portnoy, over critical reporting the outlet has done on their personal lives.

The story has also seemingly caused a rift between BI’s editorial team and its parent company. In an email to staff on Sunday, editor-in-chief Nich Carlson said that Axel asked BI to review its reporting process.

“As Global Editor-in-Chief it is my responsibility to publish fair, independent, and newsworthy journalism,” he said. “I made the call to publish both these stories. I stand by our story and the work that went into it. I know that our process was sound. I know our newsroom’s motivations are truth and accountability.”

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