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

Maureen Dowd’s real sin

It’s not plagiarism, assuming Sunday’s column was an isolated incident. Rather, it’s phoning in a lazy, solipsistic column that is sometimes entertaining but rarely digs deeper than the conventional wisdom of the day.

Or so I argue in the Guardian.

Discover more from Media Nation

Subscribe to get the latest posts sent to your email.


NU students report on Egyptian dissident


Dowd’s modified limited hangout


  1. NewsHound

    No argument!

  2. Treg

    Dan, that’s a good piece. My only quibble is that to assume this was unintentional is to assume a lot.Especially when you consider that the not-very-credible explanation she gave is at odds with the boneheaded but entirely credible explanation you suggested. She may very well have cut and pasted the passage with the intention of citing Marshall. But this act of verbatim text lifting did not come about as the result of a conversation with a friend.I realize you point to this in your column, but feel it’s worth emphasizing – Dowd is almost certainly lying, unless what she meant was that she and a friend were “talking” via email. Watching for a “clarification” from her soon.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Treg: I’m assuming nothing one way or the other. But let’s say she meant to say that she was “talking” by e-mail. Suddenly her explanation seems totally credible. Lame, lazy way to write a column, but there you go.

  4. lkcape

    Explainable, but still inexcusable.Somehow the branding iron does not seem as red hot when one of the glitterati columnists is the one on the receiving end.Wonder why…

  5. Leslie

    When Maureen Dowd is good (e.g. Cheney pieces)she is very, very good. When she is bad (e.g. those recent I Went to San Francisco pieces) she is boring. And I don’t have particular problems with opinion writers not breaking new news, long as they opine in a new way. But — this revelation is making me sad in a way that Barnicle’s laziness and Jayson Blair’s craziness did not. I’m not sure why but I really hope this turns out to be isolated. Leslie

  6. Treg

    Absolutely. I’m just saying no one’s going to believe the “stupidity plea” now. She said “talking,” not “emailing.” I don’t know anyone who uses those terms interchangeably. Which to me means it’s worse than just lazy hackery.Bet there’s a roomful of lawyers and editors right now asking why she didn’t check with them before offering up that explanation.

  7. Treg

    Leslie, do you feel Dowd is sometimes good because you happen to agree with her (as do I) about Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al.? Or do you find her enlightening?Not to speak for him, but I don’t think Dan is suggesting that an op-ed columnist should continually break stories. I agree with him that we have the opportunity to learn from good columnists when they write about an issue in a way that hasn’t already been done or isn’t completely obvious.I enjoy Dowd’s sarcasm when it’s aimed at people who deserve it, but so what?

  8. Treg

    And (last comment of the day, I swear), I will repeat what I said in the earlier thread: Even if Dowd’s explanation is true, it doesn’t absolve her. Using the words and ideas of others without attribution isn’t just a lame way to go about writing a column – it’s plagiarism.

  9. Leslie

    Treg, I’m an old yellow dog, pretty much. So yeah, I agree with Dowd’s bias. But I think a paragraph like, “But with W., ‘Back Seat’ — Cheney’s Secret Service name in the Ford administration — clambered up front. Then he totaled the car. And no amount of yapping on TV is going to change that…” passes the test of good writing (which I enjoy) and of clever metaphor (which I also enjoy,) and reminds me of why I think what I think (which everybody enjoys,) while showing off a sharp intelligence with a sense of humor (both of which I am hopelessly biased toward.) I’ll bet I’m not the only one who reads an opinion piece reflecting an opinion I already hold just for the sheer enjoyment of it. That’s not a bad thing. To quote Emerson, “…. if eyes were made for seeing, then beauty is its own excuse for being.” (PS: to correct my other hastily written post today — I did like the Slouching Toward Oblivion piece from San Fran about the demise of newspapers. I liked that because it was well-constructed and funny. (‘And who have they got now? Some nobodies — a lot of pale little frogs croaking pish-posh.’) I’d forgot about that one.

  10. liamstliam

    Dan: I have been following this here and on twitter all morning.You really seem to be enjoying the “gotcha” here, but I am just not seeing this as that big a deal.Certainly, what Barnicle did was far more egregious (more examples, taken from a published book), and I am a huge maike Barnicle fan.I certainly don’t think she did it on purpose. I don’t think anyone’s that stupid these days.Honest mistake. It happens.Although the additional phrase “the Bush crowd” grates at me.

  11. BasilM

    Dan:You are missing the point here. Plagiarism is passing off as your work, the work of another. It doesn’t matter whether it is someone known, e.g. Marshall, or someone unknown and private. She still passed it off as her own work. A phrase might be forgiven in that context, but a whole paragraph. And Maureen is one who frequently does say, e.g. “My friend, Jill Abramson, say…” If it walks like plagiarism, and talks like plagiarism, it’s plagiarism. Marshall has nothing to do with that issue.

  12. HNG

    This’s obviously overblown, and since what needs to be said has already been said above, let me add this: I’ve accepted Dowd’s explanation, but that’s because I like her writing (which is sometimes witty and usually very funny) and her politics. Still, the sort of sentences Leslie quotes are rare in her writing. Which brings me to Barnicle: I didn’t like his writing or his attitude (as reflected in his writing), so I cheered his exit from the Globe. Didn’t he once write a column in which he appeared to defend the unfair treatmet of an Afro-American defendant on the ground that the man had a history of troublemaking?

  13. Dan Kennedy

    Normally I cringe when journalists say that they’re making both sides angry, so they must be doing something right.In this case, though, I’ll take it.

  14. Mike from Norwell

    I’ll go “old school” here: when I went to Middlebury College (pre-Internet), we had this quaint little feature called the Honor Code. You cheated and were caught, you were gone. And mummy and daddy usually couldn’t pull you out of that one.If that was enough to get you booted starting out, why doesn’t that apply to the journalism profession? HNG, I hope you’re cringing somewhere down the road rereading your post. “I’ve accepted Dowd’s explanation, but that’s because I like her writing”. How about a Bob Lobel “do over” comment for that line?

  15. I. M. Lost

    I read Maureen Dowd infrequently, so I’m not sure if she quotes extensively or often. 40 something words seems quite a lengthy quote, so I can’t figure how she would forget to attribute. But, really, it does seem unlikely that this was anything more than a sloppy oversight; she’s not stupid, she had to know that people look for these things, and she would have had to be nuts to think she could do something like that in the NYT and not have it come back to bite her. Regardless, she’s more of a “fun” columnist than a serious one – give me Frank Rich or even David Brooks any day to her.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén