Michele Schalin is a forty-something woman who lives in or near Austin, Texas, where she owns a web-design company, hosts a weekly Internet TV show (this you gotta see), and writes film reviews for her website, The Movie Junkies.
Well, that’s misleading. For one thing, The Movie Junkies seems to be gone now. For another thing, Michele Schalin didn’t write the reviews she posted there — she mostly plagiarized them from real writers, like some kind of craven word-thief.
Nobody knew who Michele Schalin was until Wednesday, when my colleague Mike McGranahan of The Aisle Seat discovered that she’d stolen significant portions of several of his reviews. Mike poked around and discovered that she’d also pilfered from Will Goss, MaryAnn Johanson, Jeffrey Overstreet, and — aw, hells no! — Eric D. Snider. That’s meeee!
It was my review of “The Change-Up” that had caught her attention. It’s a very well-written review, I admit. The temptation to steal it must be intense. Here is what she wrote, next to what I wrote, with the identical parts underlined for easy reference. (Click to embiggen.)
Sometimes it is difficult to identify an instance of true plagiarism. This was not one of those times. I sent Michele Schalin a message that read approximately as follows. (I used the contact form at The Movie Junkies and didn’t keep a copy, but this is as close as I can remember it.)
I’m writing to inform you of something you already know: your review of “The Change-Up” is largely plagiarized from my own review of “The Change-Up,” published here: https://www.ericdsnider.com/movies/the-change-up
Please remove the stolen review at once, along with any others that are not your own work. If you do not comply by Monday, April 2, 2012, I will notify your web host of your activities and pursue legal action.
I don’t want any excuses or apologies. Just get rid of the stolen review and don’t do it anymore.
Eric D. Snider
A couple hours later, I got this response:
I apologize for the error. The review has been changed Eric. Please let me know if you see anything else that needs to be changed.
Ah, yes. The “error.” Just an ordinary ol’ mistake, copying and pasting my words into a text document, rearranging a few of them, and posting them on her site. Could happen to anyone! But like I said, I didn’t care about apologies or explanations. She wants to save face by calling it an “error,” fine with me.
But then I looked at her site. Here is how she had changed it. (Click to embiggen.)
I responded thus:
Well, no, Michele, it’s still full of plagiarism. For example:
You wrote: They both do an impressive job of establishing their opposite characters in the filmâ€™s opening scenes, and then do an even better job of impersonating one anotherâ€™s mannerisms after theyâ€™re switched.
I wrote: Bateman and Reynolds do an impressive job of establishing their opposite characters in the film’s opening scenes, and then do an even better job of impersonating one another’s mannerisms and delivery after they’re switched.
You wrote: I especially enjoyed Bateman as he gets to cut loose like I have never seen him do before.
I wrote: There is glee in both actors’ performances, but especially in Bateman’s, as he gets to cut loose when inhabited by the reckless spirit of Mitch.
You wrote: I think the script went a bit over board when Mitch is supposed act like a lawyer for Dave and instead behaves like a goof, swearing in board meetings and stealing free snacks from the break room. Heâ€™s an irresponsible slacker, not an idiot. I am sure he would know how a responsible adult would act. Also, he makes a living as an actor but makes no effort to play the role of Dave until finally really pressured by Dave to do so.
I wrote: Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t trust the actors’ facility with comedy and goes overboard to ratchet up the wackiness quotient. When Mitch is in Dave’s body and must pretend to be a grown-up and professional lawyer, he instead behaves like a moron, swearing relentlessly in board meetings and pilfering free snacks from the break room. This is all wrong. Mitch surely knows how mature adults act, even if he isn’t one himself. He’s a slacker, not an idiot. (He’s also an actor, yet he makes no effort to play the role of Dave.)
Some of that is word-for-word theft, and the rest, while not word-for-word, is obviously a rewritten version of my review.
You need to remove the review entirely, or else write one that is COMPLETELY your own.
I got this reply a few hours later:
I have amended it again for you. While I am sorry for the initial error, I would like to point out that just because I choose to write about the same aspect of the movie and possibly use the same word such as “slacker” which I removed for you does not mean it is plagiarism.
I have read many movie reviews or for that matter written material on an endless list of different subject matter where individuals write about the same angles and sometimes use some of the same words.
It’s hard to read between the lines, but what she’s saying there is, “My name is Michele Schalin, and I’m a weasel, and I’m terrible at lying, and I can barely write a coherent sentence, and I steal other people’s work and eat my own poopie, for the devil!”
Tragically, I neglected to get a screenshot of her second revision of the review before it disappeared altogether. But it STILL had plagiarism in it! This, coupled with her brazen assertion that she had done nothing wrong, made me angry. Stealing my work is one thing. I’m not going to tolerate it, but it doesn’t raise my blood pressure. Stealing my work and then treating me like an idiot — like somehow YOU’RE the aggrieved party here — that rankles me.
This was my response to her:
You didn’t “write about the same aspect” and “possibly use the same word.” You COPIED AND PASTED what I wrote. Do you not see how this is plagiarism?
YOU: They both do an impressive job of establishing their opposite characters in the filmâ€™s opening scenes, and then do an even better job of impersonating one anotherâ€™s mannerisms after theyâ€™re switched.
ME: Bateman and Reynolds do an impressive job of establishing their opposite characters in the film’s opening scenes, and then do an even better job of impersonating one another’s mannerisms and delivery after they’re switched.
In other instances, you copied what I wrote and changed a word or two. For example, I wrote “He’s a slacker, not an idiot”; you wrote “He’s an irresponsible slacker, not an idiot.” It’s not just the word “slacker” that’s the same, you dishonest hack.
Or where I said “he instead behaves like a moron, swearing relentlessly in board meetings and pilfering snacks from the break room,” you wrote “instead behaves like a goof, swearing in board meetings and stealing free snacks from the break room.” Changing “moron” to “goof” and “pilfering” to “stealing” doesn’t make it not plagiarism when the remaining sentence structure is unchanged.
Please don’t insult my intelligence by pretending it happened accidentally, or that you didn’t realize it was plagiarism. You can’t be that stupid. Nor can you believe I’m stupid enough to buy it.
I’m not the only one you’ve stolen from, as you know. Twitter has been abuzz with it all day; to my knowledge there are at least five other writers who’ve found their stuff plagiarized by you. So this isn’t going to end here. It’s going to end with EVERYTHING you’ve stolen being removed from your site. This won’t stand.
I got no response. Meanwhile, people had been calling her out on Twitter and posting comments on The Movie Junkies Facebook page (comments she immediately deleted). By the next morning, The Movie Junkies site was gone, replaced by a page that says it’s “undergoing scheduled maintenance” — which makes sense, because that’s obviously a lie, and Michele Schalin is a liar. The Movie Junkies Facebook page and Twitter account have been deleted, too.
I assume this is the end of it. Without having to admit any fault, she got rid of the stolen material and has slunk off into the recesses of the Internet. She will hopefully move on to other endeavors and quit her fanciful notion of being a “movie critic.” The job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway, what with dummies ripping you off all the time.