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

Slideshow for Dowd plagiarism discussion

Later this afternoon I’ll be leading a discussion of the Maureen Dowd plagiarism story in Steve Burgard’s graduate ethics class at Northeastern. Here’s the slideshow I’ll be using.

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23 Comments

  1. bob gardner

    Dan, here's what a prominent media critic, you, wrote in 2000."This stuff has long since entered the public domain, and there are only so many ways someone can describe well-known historical events that have been written about over and over. Thus, it's patently unfair to describe [these] actions as plagiarism."Every time you write about plagiarism, I go back to your defense of Jeff Jacoby when he paraphased an entire column, and I find you making excuses for an obvious act of plagiarism–excuses that you didn't make before and haven't made since.I feel like I'm beating a dead horse with this–but I've brought this up several times and I don't think I've ever gotten a straight answer. Is it plagiarism to paraphrase an entire column and have it printed as your own work?

  2. Lou Heldman

    Our rule at Wichita State University defines plagiarism as "using the work of others as one’s own, without assigning proper credit to the source." As a practical matter, I also think there has to be intent present for plagiarism to occur. Maureen Dowd has been a wonderfully original voice for a long time. She doesn't need to steal ideas and I don't think she did so here. Lou HeldmanDistinguished Senior Fellow in Media Management and Journalism

  3. ShelT

    "Plagiarism" is a school word, like "tardy." What we're talking about is copyright infringement. When Marshall put his figurative pen to paper, it was his. He may not have registered his words with the US Copyright Office, but Ms. Dowd's near verbatim reproduction of his passage is actionable, and her explanation for doing so, unconvincing.Other prominent journalists have recovered from isolated incidents of "plagiarism" (Nina Totenberg springs to mind for a long ago transgression involving a Tip O'Neil piece)and Ms. Dowd should not have her career toppled over this. But a little more crow-eating from the NYT would have been welcome.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Bob: The single most important fact about Jacoby is that he explained exactly what he was up to in an e-mail he sent, pre-publication, to more than 100 people. Here is the most relevant part of the column I wrote about Jacoby:One would think, too, that Jacoby's intentions would play an important role in deciding the punishment. Yet on that score the evidence is clear that Jacoby meant no harm. On July 2, the day before his column appeared, he e-mailed it to about 100 friends and family members (including me, as a joke, since I had recently needled him for passing along Internet spam), preceded by this introduction: "Please note: This is NOT a mere rewrite of an anonymous piece that has been making the rounds on the Internet. That one is well-meant, but much of it isn't actually true. What follows should stand up to scrutiny. Have a great Fourth of July."Jacoby's reward for presenting this exculpatory document was to be told that he was also being punished for sending his column out in advance of publication — a violation of the Globe's exclusivity rights, to be sure, but hardly worthy of anything more than a "don't do it anymore" admonition. If only Jacoby had pasted the same introduction on his column when he turned it in to his editors, he'd still be working. Why didn't he? "The simple and honest reason is it just didn't occur to me," he says, explaining that the material he used struck him as being in "the public domain." He adds: "I believe in dotting every ethical i and crossing every ethical t, and, by that standard, sure, I wish I had added that in the column."If you read my column in full, you will see that Tom Rosenstiel, head of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, was mystified as to why Jacoby was being punished so harshly. No one would ever accuse Rosenstiel of being soft on plagiarism.And did you notice that I wrote a two-week suspension for Jacoby wouldn't have been out of line? Remember, he got suspended for four months — a clear and obvious attempt to get him to resign.I suspect I've explained this to you before. Haven't I? When you say I've never given you a straight answer, I can only conclude that the real problem is that I've never given you the answer you wanted to hear.

  5. Dan Kennedy

    ShelT: Another way to think about it is that plagiarism is an ethical violation — a serious one — but it's not illegal.Plagiarism is frequently accompanied by copyright violation, which is illegal.By far the most important part of a copyright-violation case is showing that the violation cost you real money. Given that, it wouldn't be worth Marshall's time to sue.

  6. Alex

    Dan,Why do you not address this issue:Dowd's friend has never been publicly identified. Nor has that friend, apparently, been identified to Times staffers. Wouldn't such a disclosure — name, e-mail, etc. — be required of any student accused of plagiarism? I don't wish to sound like Doubting Thomas, but I see no reason for Dowd's explanation to be given special, self-proving status. Who was this friend? Is it not possible that Dowd made a simple mistake in copying — an accidental plagiarism — and in a momentary panic tried to cover up her own sloppiness by inventing a friend?

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Alex: I think there's plenty to chew over even if we take Dowd at her word. And I have no reason not to take her at her word. Seems to me that if she wanted to make something up, she could have done better.

  8. mike_b1

    Maureen Dowd has been a wonderfully original voice for a long time. She doesn't need to steal ideas …The same could be said for lots of famous lifters. Doris Kearns Goodwin comes to mind, as does HG Wells. One could in fact argue the opposite: A long and successful career might induce the writer to lift rather than face the world with a crushing case of writer's block or a loss of freshness or criticism that they've peaked, etc.(Count me among those who don't think Dowd is being honest here.)

  9. bob gardner

    Dan: Your answer is off the point. I did not ask if Jacoby's punishment was fair. I asked if he committed plagiarism. Did he?

  10. sivekmedia

    As a journalism prof, I find Dowd's excuse completely unconvincing and the wording far too close to Marshall's for comfort. I have failed students in entire courses for plagiarizing the same quantity of language. Dowd should have received some sort of punishment for this, even if a relatively small penalty, and though I agree that it probably should not ruin her career forevermore, this is sloppy and unethical work. At our university, we do not distinguish between intentional and unintentional plagiarism, which ups the ante for students' careful use of attribution and rigorous research notes. Working journalists should be doing the same.

  11. Dan Kennedy

    Bob: If lifting is plagiarism only if there is intent, then no, Jacoby did not plagiarize. Much rides on the pre-publication e-mail.

  12. aml

    After seeing you on "Beat the Press" saying that since bloggers haven't turned up other instances of Maureen Dowd plagiarizing, I tried to do a bit of searching myself. I wound up being unsuccessful, but only looked at about a month of her columns. I don't quite buy the idea that if previous examples of plagiarism haven't been found by bloggers, they don't exist. Its amazing what the blogosphere can uncover, but I don't think its valid to assume they are working on the projects that you want them to work on. Sometimes there can be what people would think of as the Kitty Genovese problem going on. Everyone else things that someone else is going to do something. It was tedious to do manually, and difficult to do in an automated fashion. Since she is a popular writer, she is quoted frequently (with and without attribution.) Taking every thing that she has written, find out if it is written elsewhere, subtracting all those results that mention here or are dated after when she published the words, still leaves too many false positives to sift through. (at least for me and my attention span.)Since the Maureen Dowd incident came out around the time of the NAA meeting in Chicago, I found it amusing that newspapers would entertain using systems like Attributer, Inc to find copyright violations but don't seem to consider using tools like that on their own work before publication. (checking if a columnist's work already exists on the web before it should be published is an easier problem than trying to find if other people have excessively quoted it after publication.Maybe the end result would be the same, though. If NYT had sent Marshall a Cease and Desist notice for publishing a paragraph of Dowd's column several days before it appeared in the paper and on nytimes.com, it would have just saved him from having to discover it himself (or through his readers.)

  13. O-FISH-L

    It doesn't matter where the material is stolen from or the mechanism of the larceny, so long as the thief is an unabashed liberal. There are few if any long term repercussions for plagiarizing progressives, in fact many advance in their fields, e.g.:Joe Biden, from small state US Senator to VP.Mike Barnicle, from small city columnist to national radio and TV personality.Mauren Dowd, only weeks after plagiarism scandal, lauded over the weekend for her criticism of Sarah Palin.I won't even get into Barack Obama's theft of Deval Patrick's "Just Words" speech, a scandal in the making that was quickly buried by the press. Until the media can begin policing itself, public trust in it will continue to decline.

  14. Daniels Schoolboy

    Mr Fish-L: How about this spin? White miscreant journalists get a pass; black ones get sacked.Jayson Blair, NYT, plagiarized and out-and-out lied, fired.Patricia Smith, Globe, plagiarized, fired.Janet Cooke, WashPost (didn't plagiarize, but made stuff up), fired.Or, one might say each case is weighed on its merits, and different regimes at different papers treat each case as they deem appropriate, based on the malfeasant's experience, record, and misstep … nope, guess you can't read a conspiracy or a political bias into that, so it's not fit for the web.

  15. mike_b1

    Mike Barnicle, progressive? What kind of reactionary cave do you live in? He's as much about protecting the status quo as anyone around.Let's get this straight: Boston isn't a liberal town. It's occasionally moderate. But it's not liberal, not by a long shot. Nothing changes here. One can't complain about the entrenched state of the politicians while simultaneously labeling the place liberal. That's a contradiction in terms.

  16. Amused

    It continues to be very troubling that Dowd's "friend" has yet to be identified.Even when tempted to accept the "my dog ate my homework" excuse, the prudent instructor checks to make sure the household includes a dog.Dowd has offered a verifiable excuse for her actions; it is stunning that there has been no verification.I do not believe in "liberal" media bias, whatever that is supposed to mean, but I very much believe that pack journalism is alive and well, and there are very definite leaders of the pack. It seems that the pack has looked upon Dowd and seen that she is good, which apparently has qualified her for indefinite tenancy in a protective cocoon.Those leveling charges of plagarism has met their burden of proof; in rebuttal we have only the unverified, and thus unsubstantiated words of Dowd.The allegation is not disproved by the absence of additional allegations. Nothing is proved by the theory that some blogger would have found it if there are similar instances of improper use of the words of others somewhere along Ms. Dowd's journalism trail.

  17. Treg

    An important and so far largely neglected question in this debate is addressed in one of Dan's slides here – "Does Marshall have a say in this?"Josh Marshall played his hand very, very wisely. His work was clearly plagiarized. Yet he issued a carefully timed statement, after the whole thing had played out for a while, saying he didn't think Dowd committed plariarism. I don't know the guy at all. But I suspect he understands that he gains a lot more readers at TPM in the long run if he makes nice with Dowd and the Times. The initial flurry of attention surely brought many new visitors to his site.Then, he does something admirable and endearing to his readers, new and old – he forgives. In doing so, he appears magnaminous, above the fray, too secure in his own fastly growing New Media outlet to be concerned about some old newspaper columnist pilfering his work. And of course, that means Dowd owes him another big plug sometime, right?All of which is to say, in answer to Dan's question: No, I don't think Marshall has a say in this. It's plagiarism, whether he's okay with it or not.

  18. bob gardner

    ". . .no, Jacoby did not plagiarize. Much rides on the pre-publication e-mail."Sorry Dan, I had forgotten the email defense. I was relying on this: "But you needn’t read 900-page books in their entirety to evaluate charges of plagiarism. You need only compare Goodwin’s passages with her sources." That's from one of your columns. So Joe Biden should be off the hook immediately, he gave his stump speech with the "plagiarized" quote properly attributed, to literally thousands of people before he left out the attribution. As for just about everyone else, I guess we'll have to suspend judgement pending a thorough review of email records because "Much rides on the pre-publication e-mail." Obviously, Jeff Jacoby is no favorite of mine, but for the record, neither is Barnacle, Goodwin, Dowd or Biden. Also, for the record, I have no opinion on whether any of these people were punished appropriately, and I certainly don't want anyone to be punished further. But to sign your name to someone else's work is plagiarism, no matter who is on your email list. To continually change your definition of plagiarism to suit one person is special pleading. And it's pretty appalling that someone who engages in such special pleading is teaching ethics.

  19. Dan Kennedy

    Bob: You left out the fact that I wrote some punishment would have been appropriate for Jacoby, up to a one- or two-week suspension. Which is the most I'd give to Dowd, too.I have not changed my definition of plagiarism. But because part of the definition goes to intent, accusations always have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.Whether or not it's a first-time offense matters, too. Barnicle, in particular, was a repeat offender. (And a fabricator, too.)Tell me where I said Biden should be left off the hook.

  20. Treg

    Bob, for what it's worth – over time, I've come to see Dan's point on the Jacoby incident in question.Jacoby's real crime in that instance was hackery – regurgitating that tired old thing because he ran out of fresh hate rants that week. I agree with Dan that he was open with his colleagues about the fact that he was recycling something. His editor (if the Globe has editors?) should have done something. And Jacoby should have acknowledged what he was doing in a subtitle to that piece (of crap). It should have been made clear to anyone reading it what was going on.But it doesn't rise to the level of Barnicle or Smith.Take heart – there are still plenty of other reasons to despise Jeff Jacoby.

  21. bostonmediawatch

    The better search tools get, and the more stuff that gets crawled, the more people are going to start "seeing" plagiarism everywhere.

  22. BobH

    On the "talking" vs. e-mailing point: My kids say they were talking to someone when in fact they were Facebook-ing.

  23. Dan Kennedy

    BobH: I'm inclined to give her a pass on that. The problem is, she messed up her first opportunity to clarify when she responded to a blogger's query, and only made it clear that she meant e-mailing when she talked with Clark Hoyt. But I think it makes sense to take her at her word and analyze what happened in that light.

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