Last week, Jody Rosen over at Slate wrote a somewhat epic column about his recent discovery that much of his work, and the work of other writers, has been plagiarized in the pages of The Bulletin, an alternative weekly in Texas, by a writer called Mark Williams. Starting with a Jimmy Buffet profile that borrows unabashedly from his own, he uncovers Williams’s weird paper trail of deceit by feverishly stalking each and every one of the writers’ purloined phrases.
I found myself reading and rereading and rereading again, poring over “Spring Fling” like a Talmudist … was the prose surrounding my own actually Williams’ work? I began to wonder. When the borrowings from my Slate essay end, four paragraphs from the bottom of the article, Williams makes a jarring genre shift from think-piece to celebrity profile, complete with boilerplate quotes from the singer himself. Did the Bulletin really interview Jimmy Buffett? I Googled a phrase from Williams’ piece — “leaves the Parrotheads with this head scratcher” —“and the search returned two results: “Spring Fling” and a USA Today piece from July 8, 2004, “Buffett takes country out for a boat ride,” written by Brian Mansfield.
When we first read this, we were kind of like, how weird of you, Jody Rosen, for obsessing about this as you did, as if we hadn’t spent like ten hours just last week on the far weirder and more pointless task of Googling people from high school. But, obviously, we saw his point and thought that the Bulletin’s publisher, a man by the name of Mike Ladyman, and his writer Mark Williams, would be duly shamed by Rosen’s rather open-and-shut case against them.
True, Ladyman did shut down his paper in the wake of Rosen’s piece. But not because he thinks it’s his fault. Rather, he claims, it was Rosen who acted unfairly. After all, he told the Houston Press, they were the little guy:
It is a low-budget publication. Or was. It’s no longer a publication. I’m quitting. After this Slate article and this is the future of journalism in New York City. I don’t want any part of it.
Better yet is the statement Ladyman passed on from Williams, whom the publicist swears exists — although no one involved has actually heard from him directly — and who is full of righteous venom and is, actually, quite eloquent, assuming he wrote this himself:
It must have taken years of seasoned investigative know-how to push me off my lofty perch. It takes a dogged, intrepid journalist to expose the alleged wrongdoings of a 44-year-old college dropout who drifted from one lousy media job to another for 20 years; it takes courage to debase someone with a mouthful of cut-rate dentures who, up until 2007, lived in his parents’ home for seven years due to near-fatal bouts of clinical depression; it takes a journalist of a certain caliber to torpedo a pathetic hack who has barely squeezed out a living for nearly a decade at seven cents a word … So there it is, Mr. Rosen — congratulations on breaking an already fragile soul. In the end, I’m not sure what the point of all of this truly is, other than some sort of small dully colored feather in your journalistic cap. We bow to you, Mr. Rosen — to your talent, to your humanity, to all that is you.
Wow. We’re sure that hit Rosen right where it was supposed to. After all, exposing a serial plagiarist is one thing — but he might have thought twice if he knew he was toothless.