The University of Florida professor said in an e-mail to The Gainesville Sun that he has used descriptions written by others without proper attribution. The newspaper uncovered multiple acts of plagiarism in three of Mr. Twitchell's most recent books, "Living It Up: America's Love Affair With Luxury," "Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College Inc., and Museumworld" and "Shopping for God: How Christianity Went from In Your Heart to In Your Face."
Mr. Twitchell, a onetime contributor to Advertising Age, did not respond to several requests for comment.
Throughout his 34-year teaching career at the University of Florida, Mr. Twitchell has been widely quoted in this and other media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, Forbes and CNN. He is also the author of "Adcult USA: The Triumph of Advertising in America" along with "Twenty Ads."
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Mr. Twitchell penned several articles for Ad Age, as well as its sibling publication Creativity. According to information on the University of Florida website, Mr. Twitchell also made the rounds in the advertising industry during that time period, cultivating a reputation as an expert on advertising, consumerism and pop culture. He served as a consultant for Arnold Advertising, Nissan and Goodyear Tires, and he was invited to write pieces for Target, Euro RSCG and the American Association of Advertising Agencies.
According to The Gainesville Sun, Mr. Twitchell's plagiarism was uncovered by Roy Rivenburg, a freelance writer and former Los Angeles Times reporter. When Mr. Rivenburg conducted a web search for an article he'd written, Mr. Twitchell's work turned up. That prompted the newspaper and Mr. Rivenburg to investigate further.
The newspaper then uncovered striking similarities between Mr. Twitchell's work and that of pieces published in the Los Angeles Times, Time magazine, Harvard Business Review, The San Diego Union-Tribune and Reason magazine.
Now, the University of Florida is conducting its own investigation, according to Janine Sikes, a spokeswoman. "We certainly take allegations of plagiarism very seriously, and we have launched an inquiry looking into the charges," she said. "I anticipate [the inquiry] will be finished before the end of the summer."
Mr. Twitchell finished out the spring semester, which concluded on May 2, said another university spokesperson, Steve Orlando. "Nothing has changed as far as his employment status," he added.
Regardless of the outcome of the university's inquiry, Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick, said Mr. Twitchell's name has already been tarnished. "You have to have some sort of dramatic action to begin the recovery process," she said. "Someone resigns, someone's publishing contract is ended. And certainly an apology."
Simon & Schuster says it will delay publication of a paperback version of "Shopping for God" pending corrections by Mr. Twitchell.
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Contributing: Michael Bush