Fact-challenged conservative columnist (make that the fact-challenged conservative columnist) Mark Steyn has been accused of plagiarism or something like it for a takedown he wrote of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.”
The case against Steyn is made by Language Log‘s Mark Liberman, who says the style and content were lifted from two posts about Brown’s crimes against the English language that had been written by his co-blogger, Geoffrey Pullum, in 2004 and 2005. Liberman offers links and analysis — everything you need to come to your own conclusion.
A lot of it has to do with Pullum’s — and Steyn’s — bemusement at Brown’s leaving out the “the” in describing what people do, as in, “Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own.” This construction is so common in journalism that it may not be immediately recognizable as wrong (or at least weird), but, in fact, the sentence ought to be preceded with a “the.”
I wish the case against Steyn were clearer. The problem is that Steyn actually cites Pullum even as he apparently rips him off. This isn’t classic plagiarism; rather, it strikes me as inadequate attribution. Steyn’s not-quite-there crediting of Pullum is either clumsy or disingenuous. Take your pick.
Liberman makes some good points about the different shades of plagiarism and its ilk here; he also reports that Steyn’s assistant has threatened him with legal action. Nice! More on those threats here. It seems that Steyn’s claiming he’d never heard of Language Log until he’d been attacked.
File this under: “How Mark Steyn Got Pissed, Got Wild and Got a Lawyer.”