By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Steyn Central responds

Mark Steyn’s assistant, Chantal Benoît, has sent a response to my earlier item. I reproduce it here in full:

Dear Mr Kennedy,

I did not threaten Professor Pullum with legal action. He sent us an e-mail which was somewhat threatening and then another one 15 minutes later declaring “Your fifteen minutes is now up.” And then after I sent a polite reply he accused us of “brazen” “stonewalling”.

I am French-Canadian so I do not always understand the famous English sense of humour but it was apparent the conversation was becoming argumentative with no end of sight and that is a waste of time for all parties. So I concluded as follows:

“It is up to you whether you wish to escalate this any further. We have invited you to pursue it with Maclean’s and have offered Mark’s resignation if they agree with you. But, given the intemperate nature of your e-mails, I think it would be better if you spoke to your lawyer and we will refer him to ours.”

As you know, Maclean’s did not agree with Professor Pullum. Mark credited the Professor for the only thing he “stole” from him — the technical term for the missing definite article, which I discovered via a Welsh link to Professor Pullum’s site.

Everything else Professor Pullum and his co-writer accuse him of “stealing” are points others have made. Two of the three posts Professor Pullum claims were “plagiarized” were never seen by anyone in this office until the Professor brought them to our attention. In the most ridiculous of Professor Pullum’s accusations, he accuses Mark of “stealing” an observation on the meaning of Leonardo da Vinci’s name that Mark first made on the BBC in 1994. His co-author is now claiming Mark steals jokes from Professor Pullum. We’re happy for any scientists to arrange controlled studies with readers and random sampling of side-by-side pieces to test this proposition.

Mark did not, as you put it, “get pissed”, “get wild” or “call a lawyer”. Having worked in Fleet Street, he only gets pissed in the British sense. Instead, he offered to resign from Maclean’s if they thought the Professor’s charges had merit. They did not. But, as you know, Mark writes for a wide variety of publications from The Atlantic Monthly to Hawke’s Bay Today in New Zealand. You are a widely respected media commentator. If you wish to take up the Professor and his co-author’s accusations with the publisher and editor-in-chief of any of those newspapers and magazines and they agree with the Professor, then Mark will resign from each of those publications, too. For an e-mail or two, you can have the satisfaction of ridding the world of a notorious right-wing hack.

With best wishes to you, and thank you for your profile, about which we still receive many amusing letters.

As ever,

Chantal Benoît
Assistant to Mark Steyn

If either Geoffrey Pullum or Mark Liberman wishes to respond, Media Nation will be happy to add that as well.

Update: Jeff wonders whether I believe Chantal Benoît really exists — or, for that matter, Tiffany Cole, another Steyn assistant, with whom I exchanged e-mails in 2004. Answer: No, probably not, although it hadn’t previously occurred to me that Steyn was lame enough to engage in such a ruse. But if he actually does employ a Chantal Benoît, I hope it’s this one.

Update II: OK, that was too flip. I’ve done some poking around with Switchboard and Intelius and can report that there’s a Tiffany Cole in the same New Hampshire town where Steyn lives, as well as several people named C. Benoit who are nearby. Funny, though. Two years ago a couple of bloggers who call themselves the Brothers Judd defended Steyn, and poked fun at me, for supposedly being naive enough to believe in the existence of Cole and Benoît. So, for what it’s worth, this cuts both ways.

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  1. Anonymous

    Wow. As if Steyn wasn’t smarmy enough.

  2. jeff

    Does anyone else wonder whether there actually are Steyn “assistants?” I mean, Tiffany (2004 Phoenix profile) and Chantal (2004 and now). Just asking.

  3. Mark

    Sounds like a couple of porn star names.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Jeff — Oh, it’s probably Steyn himself, but it’s not something I could prove. But if a Chantal Benoit really does work for Steyn, I hope it’s this one.

  5. Tom Sumner

    I suppose my credentials for commenting on this situation are almost up to Ms. Benoit’s; that is, I’m not Mark Liberman or Geoff Pullum, but I have served as editor for their book, and I have been CC’d on some of the correspondence between Geoff and Ms. Benoit (and, naturally, I’ve read all there is to read about the topic on Language Log, backword, Wikipedia, Bitch Ph.D., Crooked Timber, etc.), and I received correspondence on the matter from Ms Benoit myself a couple of weeks ago.I’d like to add a couple of observations on what I’ve seen: First, Dan Kennedy here and some others have put out that Ms. Benoit (on behalf of Steyn) has threatened legal action in some way, but she has not. Also, some have turned this (I saw this coming from the get-go) into a partisan issue. On Crooked Timber, one commenter supposed that if the author were Naomi Klein rather than Mark Steyn, Pullum would have seen it all as some kind of joyous homage rather than inappropriate borrowing without credit. Ms. Benoit has intimated here that a “victory” in the court of public opinion (where this issue now sits) would bring much happiness among the tribal Left seeking to rid the world of a “notorious right-wing hack.”I don’t have much to add to this if it’s a Left-Right debate (We know, after all, that Steyn is publicly Right, but who can tell me where Pullum stands, anyway?) or a matter of who’s acting nastier, Geoff Pullum or Mark Steyn (or, in his stead, Chantal Benoit).I would like to contribute one observation: In Ms. Benoit’s first correspondence with Pullum, she asserted that Steyn had only seen one printout of one single Pullum post and was otherwise unfamiliar with Language Log. I jumped into that discussion and pointed out that the one post was quite enough; there was plenty of borrowing in Steyn’s writing from that one post, regardless of how familiar he was with Language Log in general. I received a reply from Ms. Benoit that included this:”I am the only one here who has ever visited your website. I was the one who, asked by Mark [Steyn] to find out if there was a linguistic term for this phenomenon, researched around and found a Scotsman article, which led to a Welsh website, which led to your site. I reported back to Mark [Steyn] the term and the name of the originator, both of which appeared in the column. I will be the one testifying in court if your friend wishes to pursue this.”She’s wrong to turn Language Log into “my” site and call Pullum my friend (friendly we are very much so, but ours is a strictly professional/working relationship), but that’s all beside the point. Here Ms. Benoit is contradicting what she told Pullum:”Mark saw only one page of a printout of one post of yours, and nothing of the second post you cite.”I’ve been uneasy all along with Ms. Benoit’s talk of copyright and courtrooms. She’s basing all defense on legal definitions and expressing no willingness to have an straightforward conversation about it. Here’s some typical phraseology from a Benoit correspondence: “We do not believe you have a case here under US, Canadian or British law,” “it would be better if you spoke to your lawyer and we will refer him to ours,” and “I will be the one testifying in court if your friend wishes to pursue this.”In other words, if there is no legal case to be made, there’s no reason why Steyn or Maclean’s should be obligated to acknowledge what everybody knows: Steyn got a lot more from Pullum’s post than affirmation of the meaning of “anarthrous.” One more thing: In Wikipedia, this line appears: “Steyn’s office have responded robustly to these accusations, stating that no-one at the office had accessed Pullum’s key blog entries at the time the column was written, and that they would be prepared to demonstrate so in court.” But as we can see, Steyn’s office has absolutely verified that the one key Pullum post was accessed before Steyn published his piece, and that Steyn himself had seen it, despite any back-pedaling and covering of tracks that undoubtedly could stand up in a legal case.

  6. jeff

    …and i’m on this now! The real clue to whether Tiffany and Chantal really exist may be here, when Chantal (allegedly) writes in the opening sentence: “I did not threaten Professor Pullum…”Ah, the “I” slip up. Encough said.Got to get back to my actual life now….

  7. Anonymous

    Wow. Talk about your Inside Baseball…..

  8. ron hornblower

    I think Mark Steyn uses this to generate his assistants’ names:

  9. Anonymous

    Dear Mr Journalism Professor,We were hoping that instead of speculating whether I am a porn-star fantasy or a man you might like to take Mark up on the proposal I made earlier.Fondly,Chantal Chantal BenoîtAssistant to Mark SteynPS Is not the real question not whether I exist but whether Mark exists? You managed to do a profile of Mark for which you interviewed all kinds of people from several publications and countries, none of whom has ever met Mark. Is it not more likely that he is the porn-star fantasy?

  10. Sven

    My, what a very Steynish retort!Yours,VilmaVilhelmina GripenskiöldAssistant to Sven

  11. Specks

    And all don’t consider Steyn to be carrying water for someone else?

  12. Rick

    Mlle. Benoit has prompted some who deserved it to look up “petard” in their Funk & Wagnalls….

  13. Anonymous

    This is pretty simple and obvious stuff: Steyn filched the essence of the Pullum piece and is now trapped between wanting to make light of his escapade and wanting to stave off the plagiarism police. Thus his multi-personality retorts, which have a “scrotum stuck in the zipper” quality to them. What’s great is you can picture Steyn hunkered over his desktop, highball at the ready, trying (as it were) to bat the moths off the screen. But on the Internet, everyone is a moth, and there are just so many screens …

  14. metallicaMobes

    All good and dandy, but just don’t picture Steyn with his “scrotum stuck in his zipper”

  15. Anonymous

    You’ve really got a hard on for Mark Steyn dan.

  16. John

    I think I’ve read a Steyn piece where he suggests his own name may be a pseudonym. The Wikipedia article makes it plain that not a whole lot is known about the guy. He does live in Lyme, NH, which is not exactly skid row, but with losing so many outlets in recent years, I’m not sure how he supports it with an assistant.John Bruce

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