Yesterday Nora Roberts and I presented a morning panel at the Washington Romance Writers May meeting and talked about plagiarism. The point of our discusion was simple: “If We Don’t Talk About It, It Won’t Go Away.”
If you attended the session on plagiarism at RWA in San Francisco, you might have a sense of the general themes of the discussion. As Jane said that afternoon in San Francisco, the attitude toward the topic itself, from discussing it to reporting it to dealing with the aftermath, needs to change, and it needs to change now. Within romance and within publishing in general, there is a lack of cohesive response to allegations of, followed by proof of, plagiarism. Whereas one publisher might deliberately seek to handle the matter internally, another may do something entirely different.
But the reaction never changes. Within the community of writers, some bring up the issue as a matter of educational opportunity; others wish we’d stop talking about it already. Aside from the predictable excuses Nora outlined in her discussion, ranging from, ‘I would never do such a thing’ to ‘It seems my research assistant…’ or ‘my undiagnosed mental illness’ made me do it, the lack of an effective reaction to the plagiarism itself is frustrating.
Newspapers are a slightly different animal, especially since the four-page retraction-o-rama in The New York Times that followed the firing of Jayson Blair for multiple counts of plagiarism in May of 2003.
Now that it’s May of 2009, and Maureen Dowd has been caught plagiarizing Josh Marshall from Talking Points Memo, I’m very curious to see what will happen to Dowd.
What drops my jaw is that just yesterday, I was saying that the connectivity and immense number of searchable texts available online means one thing: if you do plagiarize, you will get caught. And Nora’s point about blaming the research assistant or some other unnamed individual is played out here, only in this case Dowd is placing the blame on a comment made by a friend while she was writing the article. In her statement to the NYT-focused blog NYT Picker:
josh is right. I didn’t read his blog last week, and didn’t have any idea he had made that point until you informed me just now.
i was talking to a friend of mine Friday about what I was writing who suggested I make this point, expressing it in a cogent—and I assumed spontaneous—way and I wanted to weave the idea into my column.
but, clearly, my friend must have read josh marshall without mentioning that to me.
we’re fixing it on the web, to give josh credit, and will include a note, as well as a formal correction tomorrow.
Good Lord, do we need to have a plagiarism drinking game? It wasn’t my fault (2 sips). It was unintentional (2 sips).
Fucking bullshit (please, someone get me a drink).
As one commenter, johnsonwax, pointed out at Daily Kos, Dowd’s friend made this point “so cogently that even the commas fall in the same places. That’s some seriously detailed conversation she has.”
The column at the NY Times site has been updated to include a mention of the original source of the line and states at the bottom:
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.
Failed? Yeah, you got that right, it failed on an epic fucking scale. Is this really such a difficult lesson to learn? It’s the internet, for heaven’s sake: don’t plagiarize. Not only does it make you a complete douchebag, but You Will Get Caught.
Readers of this site may have seen a kerfuffle or two played out in the romance world. But oh, Lordy, hell hath no kerfuffle like the seething torment of a left-wing or right-wing political blog. There is no equal.
I’m curious to see the response as this hits the news tonight and tomorrow. How many times will we see someone say, ‘Oh, it’s just a blogger,’ or ‘she fixed it and can we move on now?’ Or, ‘this isn’t the issue we need to talk about and it’s not important.’
Dowd’s column was about accountability when examining scandal and illegal behavior – in this particular instance, torture. And yes, we do need to examine the issue of torture like holy shit right goddam now. But if the individuals who are charged as journalists and newspaper columnists to raise and report the issue don’t have the integrity and sense of accountability to correctly attribute the sources of their ideas and arguments, then their lack of authenticity renders useless their contribution. Moreover, it reflects poorly on the journalism of every other person working to publish at a newspaper whose stock price per share a few months ago was less than the cost of the Sunday edition.
If accountability and ethical behavior are some of the issues at work within both of the situations at hand, I’ll be very curious to see how Dowd’s behavior is dealt with by the newspaper. If her point in that article is that ethical responsibility is important, let’s see how she walks that walk in the morning.