Maureen Dowd, Pulitizer Prize winner. Sunday. New York Times:
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. Blogger. Last Thursday. Talking Points Memo:
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.
Dowd's first explanation was that a friend had suggested that paragraph as Dowd was writing her column, and Dowd didn't realize the language was cribbed from TPM. Of course, it was pretty amazing that her friend had perfect photographic memory, down to comma placement, and Dowd had perfect photographic memory, down to comma placement!
Of course that explanation was ludricous. It was obvious Dowd had gotten that passage either from TPM directly, or made a habit of ripping off her friends' prose wholesale. Politico's Michael Calderon asked Dowd's boss for clarification. This is what editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal had to say:
Maureen had us correct the column online as soon as the error was brought to her attention, adding in the sourcing to Marshall's blog. We ran a correction in today's paper, referring readers to the correct version online.
There is no need to do anything further since there is no allegation, hint or anything else from Marshall that this was anything but an error. It was corrected. Journalists often use feeds from other staff journalists, free-lancers, stringers, a whole range of people. And from friends. Anyone with even the most passing acquaintance with Maureen's work knows that she is happy and eager to give people credit.
See? There was no plagiarism, even though the paragraphs were word for word and comma for comma almost entirely the same. And since Josh Marshall isn't throwing a hissy fit about it, it's all kosher! It was just a mistake. A mistake in which someone else's words were magically transposed into the column of a major NY Times columnist. Like tripping or making a typo! So innocent!
Dowd was never going to face any serious repercussions. Star columnists rule the roost, and can essentially get away with things lesser mortals (including rank and file journalists at her newspaper) would never get away with.
I don't think she tried to pull a fast one and use a TPM passage without anyone noticing. But I think this incident sheds light on the use of content without attribution -- even if from a friend -- that seems to be acceptable at the Times. Of course a columnist will take ideas from those they speak with, but entire passages verbatim?
If I was e-mailed a 40-plus-word block of text for this blog, and I used it, I'd include some sort of attribution -- whether "a reader writes in," "media insider points out" or whatever the case may be.
But from The Times' response, it seems the paper finds it acceptable for columnists to take entire paragraphs from friends (or sources?), over the phone or e-mail, and reproduce them verbatim in the paper under the columnist's byline.
Writing two columns a week is hard work! So Dowd just, er, takes from other sources to lighten the load. And as far as the New York Times is concerned, that's A-OK!