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La Dowd in 2007.

ink-stained wretches

Which E-mail Pal Helped Dowd Plagiarize?

Should the New York Times' most controversial columnist's byline read "Maureen Dowd & Friends"? Over the weekend, Dowd was busted for including a sentence in her Sunday column that was reproduced almost word-for-word from a blog post by Talking Points Memo's Joshua Micah Marshall. The Bushworld author immediately 'fessed up, sort of: She never read Marshall's post, she claimed; instead, the passage in question came from a conversation with "a friend." Dowd has so far declined to identify the friend in question (or, for that matter, to comment on how often she presents the sentences of others as though she had written them), and has yet to respond to our e-mail query.

Which means it's guessin' time! There's no shortage of names to speculate on, thanks to Dowd's unusually active social life and rich dating history.

Alessandra Stanley: The Times TV critic and the redheaded op-edder are the best of besties, the kind of pals who jet off to a high-end spa together and charge it to the paper. But the explanation Dowd gave to the Nytpicker — "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" — would seem to rule out Stanley as well as the other Gray Ladies in their tight-knit girls' club, like Michiko Kakutani and Jill Abramson.

Aaron Sorkin: Dowd and the West Wing creator used to date, and they're still friendly. He's exactly the kind of liberal who would read TPM religiously and get worked up about torture and phony Iraq intelligence. And it wouldn't be the first time their correspondence yielded an e-mail snafu: Back in 2001, when they were first heating up, Dowd accidentally sent a series of flirty e-mails meant for her new crush to her Times colleague Andrew Ross Sorkin, a business reporter.

David Geffen: When the former Dreamworks mogul wanted to kill Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy in the crib, he poured a stream of vitriol into Dowd's ear, which she eagerly transcribed. These days, Dowd and Geffen have more to talk about than ever, with the latter engaged in a coy-but-public bid to buy the paper. And why does he want it? According to "a person close to him," it's because "[h]is favorite people are political journalists." Hmmm ...

George H.W. Bush: Okay, this one's a stretch. But consider that, according to Ariel Levy's 2005 profile of Dowd for this magazine, she and the former president were e-mail pen pals and remained so even after she took to regularly pummeling his son in print. Sure, it's hard to imagine an 84-year-old Republican ex-head-of-state spending his Friday afternoons forwarding blog tidbits to a columnist for a left-tilting op-ed page (even if Bush 41's ambivalence over the second Iraq war has been much-reported). But it's also hard to imagine a writer as idiosyncratic as Dowd thinking she could pass someone else's language off as her own.

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Photo: Patrick McMullan