Loser's Guide Loser's Guide

 Loser's Guide to Life

Saturday, March 25, 2006


Was I brought here merely to have my nose dragged away as I was about to nibble the sacred cheese of life? It is preposterous.

—Stephen Crane, "The Open Boat"

The past week saw an instructive little drama unfold. It was rather more than a kerfuffle yet not quite a full brouhaha. Maybe bagarre would be the best term.

In summary, the Washington Post decided to add a conservative weblog to their site and hired for the position Ben Domenech, the son of a former White House liaison to the Department of Interior and himself a former Bush appointee. He had no experience in journalism beyond writing for The Flat Hat while a student at the College of William & Mary. People might grumble about nepotism, but that's how things are done. In fact, no matter where you look, the more important the job, the less likely it will be subject to actual competition. It's only migrant workers that have to fight for a place on the truck.

So Mr Domenech's abilites were really neither here nor there. But soon people started digging through such of his journalism as they could find, only to uncover massive, word-for-word plagiarism, which is actually rather unusual. When university instructors talk about plagiarism they usually mean ideas and arguments taken from elsewhere without acknowledgement. That's why it's difficult to track down. In the case of literary plagiarism, some examination is often required to conclude that plot, characters and so on are too similar to be coincidental. But these thefts were plentiful and obvious enough to turn up on a simple Google search, making the whole thing an egregious case of copy-and-paste plagiarism. On top of that, the pieces were all produced in a comparatively short time, so his oiginal:plagiarized ratio is probably staggering.

"... little more than a conduit
for state propaganda."

After a few days of this there was a note announcing Domenech's resignation on the Post's Post.blog:

In the past 24 hours, we learned of allegations that Ben Domenech plagiarized material that appeared under his byline in various publications prior to washingtonpost.com contracting with him to write a blog that launched Tuesday.


We appreciate the speed and thoroughness with which our readers and media outlets surfaced these allegations. ...

But that's not correct. They weren't confronted with allegations, but with the thing itself, passages from Domenech's writings identical to the published work of other writers. The discovery of these pieces was live-blogged at Eschaton and many other places, with commenters at the sites Googling texts when they weren't indulging in parodies of the affair (see for example Metacomments). People only say "alleged" when they are talking about something still to be proved. Lawyers may allege things about a crime but they don't say "the alleged headless torso allegedly found in Mr So-and-so's alleged backyard". They should have written "evidence".

And so the story is still important even without Mr Domenech, because it would be interesting to know what's going on at the Washington Post. A short while ago Judith Miller of the New York Times turned out to be little more than a conduit for state propaganda. So what's going on?


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