How to Respond to the Maureen Dowd Plagiarism Issue

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Photo: Patrick McMullan

Over the past few days, since it was revealed that Maureen Dowd inadvertently (in her words) plagiarized a paragraph of text from a post by Josh Marshall on his Talking Points Memo, there's been a variety of reactions. Many people have given her a pass, and accepted her explanation that she lifted the passage from a helpful e-mail from a friend. Her critics, like Hamilton Nolan at Gawker, took the opportunity to take pot shots at the Times, arguing that the incident proved once and for all the paper's hypocrisy in complaining that blogs lift their reporting. (Hammy, why don't we try an experiment: Let's see what happens when papers like the Times try to exist without your help, and then what happens when blogs like ours and yours try to exist without the Times.) But last night and this morning, we were provided with two examples of reactions on both extremes.

Josh Marshall finally commented on the incident, doing his best to rise above it:

I generally think we're too quick to pull the trigger with charges of plagiarism. I haven't said anything about this because I really didn't think I had anything to add. Whatever the mechanics of how it happened, I never thought it was intentional. Dowd and the Times quickly corrected it, which I appreciated. And for me, that's pretty much the end of it.

Sounds reasonable. Here's Michael Wolff, who was not involved in the situation, and whose Newser.com exists solely to take content reported elsewhere and use it to earn money for itself through pageviews (you'll recall, Wolff is the one who is cheerleading the death of the very newspaper he relies upon):

[Maureen Dowd] is titillating to the I-made-the-effort-to-read-the-New-York-Times-and-so-have-got-to-take-it-seriously crowd. She’s catnip to the I-can-be-a-media-insider-too wannabes. She infuriates the I-have-opinions-too-so-why-does-she-get-a-column bunch ... She is famously surrounded by an inside circle of friends and supporters — other famous-type columnists and New York Times reporters — who famously help her write her column. She regularly lifts their thoughts and sentences, which, since they are unpublished (supposedly), is not plagiarism— though it certainly is insiderism ... Her evident self-satisfaction and the obvious echo chamber in which she resides, not to mention her apparent ability to get by without doing too much work, rankles.

Wolff ends his column by saying, "Please don’t ask me about Maureen Dowd. I don't care." Frankly, we're not sure we believe him. Why devote an entire column to her, then? Oh, right. To earn pageviews based on yet another piece of someone else's content.

Earlier: Which E-mail Pal Helped Maureen Dowd Plagiarize