Claremont Insider: Pomona College's TSL Runs Petropoulos Article

Monday, April 7, 2008

Pomona College's TSL Runs Petropoulos Article

The Student Life (TSL), the newspaper put out by the Associated Students of Pomona College, had a front-page, above-the-fold article in the paper's April 4th edition about the contretemps surrounding Claremont McKenna College history professor Jonathan Petropoulos:

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The article is not online, unfortunately, so we can't link to it. However, the piece, by TSL editor Travis Kaya and staff writer Cindy Hernandez, was notable for several reasons.

First, the headline, "CMC Professor Petropoulos Found Not Guilty of Blackmail in Nazi-Stolen Pissaro [sic] Scandal," was incredibly misleading. Petropoulos was never charged with anything, so he could not possibly have been found guilty or not guilty of any crime. Petropoulos never faced a trial court, and the only finding that was made was by a law firm hired by CMC to look into the matter. That private investigation, while no doubt helpful to CMC and Petropoulos, hardly constitutes a court determination of guilt or innocence.

Second, the article appears to be mostly an unattributed restatement of work done by Wikipedia and Elise Viebeck at CMC's Claremont Independent. The article does attribute information taken from an Associated Press article, but the bit that's cited does not exactly show Petropoulos to have been "found not guilty":

[German prosecutor Christian] Schmidt-Sommerfeld said the investigation does not extend to Petropoulos because he is an American citizen and his alleged crimes would have been committed outside Germany.

According to that information (lifted almost verbatim from the Claremont Independent article, not the Associated Press), Petropoulos was merely found to be not a German citizen. Not other finding of guilt or non-guilt regarding Petropoulos was made by the German authorities prosecuting the professor's partner, Munich art dealer Peter Griebert, in their attempted deal to return the painting in question to its rightful owner, Gisela Fischer, for a fee of 18% of the Pissarro's auction value.

Apart from those errors and omissions, and seeming at times as if the writers were being spun with information from a Friends of Petropoulos Society, the article also contained one very serious factual error: it ran the wrong painting! The painting shown in article is a different Pissarro than the one involved in the scandal. Rather than the Fischer Pissarro, it is another, painted in the same year, 1903, and titled, "Le Louvre, matin de soleil, Quai Malaquais."

The attribution for the image is also incorrect. The photo credit reads: "" If you try that address, you'll find it's non-existent. In fact, the correct website address has no "e" towards the end and is

In any case, wrong painting, guys and gals:

Photo Credit:
CAPTION: "C. Pissarro, 'Le Louvre, matin de soleil,
Quai Malaquais', 1903"

And here is the correct Pissarro, "Le Quai Malaquais, Printemps," from the ARTnews article describing the Petropoulos-Fischer matter:

Photo Credit: ARTnews, Summer, 2007
Camille Pissarro,
Le Quai Malaquais, Printemps,

Charles Johnson at the Claremont Conservative also finds fault with the TSL Petropoulos article writers, whom he thinks may have plagiarized the Claremont Independent. Johnson calls the TSL work "lazy writing," and he's right.

Besides managing to wrongly imply that Petropoulos had been charged with a crime and was "found not guilty," failing to give proper attribution for the portions of their piece pulled from the Claremont Independent article and other sources, and using the wrong painting in their article, the TSL writers completely ignored the ongoing debate about the ethics of Petropoulos' dealings with Gisela Fischer and with Bruno Lohse, the former Nazi who had acquired the stolen painting and the subject of a forthcoming Petropoulos book.

Note to prospective Friends of Petropoulos: Next time, invest some time and money in finding a good PR firm to write a news release and include your own images. It gets your message out more effectively, and TSL can simply run it as a news piece.