Noozhawk is accustomed to cryptic news tips, but it doesn’t often receive clandestine suggestions to investigate itself. That, however, is just what happened in the case of a local writer who had a half-dozen essays published on the Web site.
After being tipped by a reader, Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen launched an investigation into the integrity of the work submitted by Santa Barbara resident Steven Kunes. Finding significant examples of apparent plagiarism in two of the essays, Macfadyen ordered all six removed earlier this month.
When looking into Kunes, much, if not all, of his self-proclaimed résumé seems to be full of holes. His name doesn’t appear in periodicals he claims to have written for, on Web sites of awards he claims to have won, or in the credits for screenplays he’s claimed to have written.
Further investigation found that Kunes has submitted numerous unsolicited commentaries to Noozhawk and other local media that appear to be plagiarized from other sources. Two Kunes essays published on Noozhawk — “My Children the Experts” and “Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover” — were copied, in places verbatim, from Newsweek commentaries by best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Anna Quindlen.
Kunes has also had columns published in the Santa Barbara Independent and the Santa Barbara News-Press that were plagiarized from Newsweek columns by Frederick Lynch and Gary Wiener. The Santa Barbara Daily Sound reportedly published a faked Kunes interview with singer Jimmy Buffett.
“We do take allegations of plagiarism very seriously and will act quickly to protect our name and copyrights. I apologize to our readers for betraying their trust and to Ms. Quindlen, the unsuspecting victim.”
Kunes did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
Macfadyen said Noozhawk editors do conduct basic Web research on readers who are submitting essays and commentaries, but that a Google search of “Steven Kunes” returns an Internet Movie Database profile of him as the first entry.
“The profile appears to be legitimate, although we now know there’s less there than meets the eye,” he said.
IMDb officials could not be reached for comment.
While Noozhawk is embarrassed to be duped, Macfadyen said he is grateful that a reader brought the deception to his attention.
“One of the benefits of the Internet, despite its anonymity and often impersonal nature, is that communities of readers actually emerge and take ownership,” he said. “Noozhawk has such a community, and our readers want us to be successful and to improve. They consider it their responsibility to participate and help where they can.”
Kunes, 54, has a criminal history of felonies, including serving time in prison for check forgery and related crimes. He was arrested March 17 for a parole violation and is being held in the Santa Barbara County Jail, Sheriff’s Department spokesman Drew Sugars said.
In December, he was arrested for second-degree commercial burglary, intent to commit larceny and any felony, and counts of forgery for attempting to pass $12,000 in bad checks at Montecito Bank & Trust. His prior felonies — in both Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties — added special allegations to the charges.
The payee of one bad check was “Producer-Writers Guild of America.”
Two decades ago, Kunes advertised that he was selling a special interview with Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger to People magazine. The notoriously media-shy Salinger said he had never given Kunes an interview and subsequently sued him. The case was settled in 1982 and Kunes was barred from “exhibiting, transmitting or distributing documents, writing or statements attributed to Mr. Salinger,” according to an archived New York Times story.
More recently, in a Jan. 6 essay published on Noozhawk, Kunes wrote:
“The stages of a writer’s professional life are marked not by a name on an office door, but by a name in ink.
“There was the morning my former college roommate came over carrying a stack of Sunday papers because my byline was on the front page, and the evening I persuaded a security guard to hand over an early edition, still warm from the presses, with my first column. But there’s nothing to compare to the day when someone — in this case, the Starbucks guy — handed over a national magazine with my name on the cover. And with apologies to all the techies out there, I’m just not sure the moment would have had the same grandeur had my work been downloaded instead into an e-reader.
“The book is dead, I keep hearing as I sit writing my novel in a room lined with them. Technology has killed it. The libraries of the world are doomed to become museums, storage facilities for a form as antediluvian as cave paintings …”
The passages strongly resemble a Quindlen column published by Newsweek nearly a year before, on March 26, 2010:
“The stages of a writer’s professional life are marked not by a name on an office door, but by a name in ink. There was the morning when my father came home carrying a stack of Sunday papers because my byline was on page one, and the evening that I persuaded a security guard to hand over an early edition, still warm from the presses, with my first column. But there’s nothing to compare to the day when someone — in my case, the FedEx guy — hands over a hardcover book with your name on the cover. And with apologies to all the techies out there, I’m just not sure the moment would have had the same grandeur had my work been downloaded instead into an e-reader.
“The book is dead, I keep hearing as I sit writing yet another in a room lined with them. Technology has killed it. The libraries of the world are doomed to become museums, storage facilities for a form as antediluvian as cave paintings …”