Mississippi’s largest paper breaks ties with food columnist over plagiarism

Published 4:56 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2006

A freelance food columnist for Mississippi’s largest newspaper has been accused of plagiarizing a story about fried green tomatoes, and The Clarion-Ledger said the writer’s work will no longer appear in its pages.

The Jackson-based newspaper said in a note to readers at the bottom of page 3E, in the food section, of its Aug. 2 issue that Courtney Taylor no longer contributes work to the publication.

“Several passages that appeared in Courtney Taylor’s column on fried green tomatoes on July 26 should have been attributed to an article in Southern Living magazine,” the paper said. “The writer did not attribute the information. Taylor’s work no longer will appear in The Clarion-Ledger.”

Taylor could not immediately be reached for comment.

Don Hudson, The Clarion-Ledger’s managing editor, said: “This is a personnel issue and something we cannot discuss.”

The Clarion-Ledger is owned by Gannett Co., the country’s largest newspaper company. The paper has an average daily and weekend circulation of 97,421 Monday through Saturday and 108,738 Sunday, according to Gannett’s corporate Web site.

Taylor, who also has written cookbooks, appears to have lifted heavily from an article in Southern Living, a Birmingham, Ala.-based magazine, and several passages from each column are nearly verbatim.

“I’m embarrassed to admit this, but before I co-wrote The Southern Cook’s Handbook with my cousin Bonnie Carter, I had never tasted a properly fried green tomato,” begins Taylor’s July 26 column. “Call me deprived, but for some reason I had never found the gumption to master the traditional southern favorite in my kitchen. To my narrow way of thinking, tomatoes were to be served at their best red and fresh, not green and fried.”

The Southern Living article published in July 2003 and written by Donna Florio begins: “I’m embarrassed to admit this, but before I came to work at Southern Living, I had never tasted a fried green tomato.”

“Call me deprived, even ignorant, but for some reason I had never found the gumption to sample this Southern favorite,” Florio wrote. “To my narrow way of thinking, tomatoes ought to be red and fresh, not green and fried.”

Several other passages in the columns are similar, as are cooking instructions for the fried favorite of the South.

Taylor describes the cornmeal and flour crust, as “encasing the tart, hot, juicy tomato” while Florio describes the crust “encasing hot, tart, juicy tomato.”