Sunday, May 17, 2009

More Than Just Cut and Paste

Via thejoshuablog, Maureen Dowd’s column in today’s New York Times contains a paragraph that, with the exception of four words, looks to be a direct and uncredited lift from Josh Marshall at TPM. See for yourself.

Ms. Dowd today:

“More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when the Bush crowd was looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.”

Josh Marshall on Thursday, May 14, 2009:

“More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.”

The difference is “the Bush crowd was” in Ms. Dowd’s column and “we were” in Josh’s.

Coincidence? Two writers coming up with the exact same thought and phrasing right down to the punctuation? Possible, but the odds are astronomical. Subconscious? Ms. Dowd read Josh’s piece, liked it, and when she wrote her piece, recalled it word for word but forgot where she read it or thought it was so brilliant it just had to be hers. Accidental? She meant to credit Josh and just forgot to do it? Possible, and probably the excuse she or the editors will use when they’re asked about it.

Ms. Dowd’s history for skating a little too close to the edge of journalistic ethics is not new. The most recent example I can think of was her column from the New Hampshire primary in 2008, datelined “Derry, NH,” when in reality she was in Israel at the time the column was filed and published. The New York Times has been a tad lax in their strict enforcement of the rules of editorial integrity — which probably explains why William Kristol was allowed to work the term of his contract — but blatant word-for-word plagiarism is different than getting your facts wrong or filing under a dateline that would appear to put you in the story when you’re not. Given Ms. Dowd’s celebrity status and her snarky persona — at least on TV — I wouldn’t be surprised if she probably thought that no one reads TPM and what’s a little pilfering from a blog, anyway? It’s not like it’s real journalism.

To me, plagiarism is a capital offense. If you’re a reporter, you’re fired, and when I was in grad school it meant an end to your degree path. We’ll see what happens.

Joshua notes that in a stirring moment of irony, it was Maureen Dowd who uncovered Joe Biden’s plagiarism of Neil Kinnock that led to his withdrawing from the 1988 presidential race. The story can be found here at Slate.

As someone once said, what goes around comes around.

UPDATE: The column now has a footnote: An earlier version of this column failed to attribute a paragraph about the timeline for prisoner abuse to Josh Marshall’s blog at Talking Points Memo.

Ah, the passive voice to the rescue: “Mistakes were made.” It’s meant to sound like an editing error. Feh.

HT to Shaker ralfalfa.