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5/17/09

I know I’m prone to railing against the plummeting quality of the MainStreamMedia™ (much to commenter cm’s annoyance) but Maureen Dowd – probably the most widely-read columnist at the NYTimes, just lifted an entire paragraph from another blogger and put it in her latest piece (now corrected, of course).

You can see the side-by-side comparison here, but the most delusory part of this is Dowd’s explanation:

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.

Which, of course, would lead anyone to ask… um, did your friend dictate the blog’s contents word-for-word to you? To which she responded:

no, we were going back and forth discussing the topic of the column and he made this point and i thought it was a good one and wanted to weave it in;

i just didn’t realize it was josh marshall’s point, and we’ve now given him credit

my friend didn’t want to be quoted; but of course i would have been happy to give credit to another writer, as i often do

Now, I don’t like to pick on Maureen Dowd, as I think she’s one of the good guys, and I’ve agreed with her outrages large and small. The worst I’ve ever said of her is that she thinks of a painfully clever phrase first, then writes a column around it – and if that were illegal, they would have taken this blog away from me back in 2002.

But she is doing nobody any favors with this kind of low-rent, sloppy “attribution”. I love the New York Times and despite its many flaws, it’s the Paper of Record that this country desperately needs, as (perhaps) all others fall away. 150 years from now, our descendents will be able to see their great-great-great-great grandparents’ wedding as having happened on a particular day in a particular place. In the meantime, it’s the newspaper that has to be the grownup, the Old Gray Lady by which everything else is measured.

Anyone with more than two fingers can see a “cut and paste” for what it is, and Dowd’s paragraph in question is – except for a couple words – a carbon copy down to the punctuation. There was no “friend” “discussing” the “point”, and just saying that makes me embarrassed.

Three things could have happened:

1) Maureen Dowd has no idea how plagiarism works in the post-Google era

2) She’s farming out her columns to be written by staffers with little oversight

3) After a week full of television appearances and other media events, she quickly hammered out an obligatory column on Dick Cheney, and took a paragraph from previous research – or an email from friends – and absent-mindedly pasted it into her file, and hit “send”.

If it’s any of the above, JUST SAY SO. You don’t get to be casual about this, not at the New York Fucking Times. You don’t get to say “oh man, it’s all cool, I was just talking to some dude who mentioned blah blargh bleughgh”. Your liberal readers are all moral relativists and will cut you abnormal amounts of slack, but only if you’re honest with them.

If not, then fuck it. There are thousands of columnists and passionate writers who would give their left pancreas to have that gig. That’s one lesson I’ve learned here in Hollywood: if you’ve got the Dream Job, behave like you deserve it.