Ms. Dowd points out that in the same piece, she had given proper credit to two other writers and so by her reasoning, she could not have planned to steal from a third. Two out of three isn't bad.
Weak defense. I would have preferred to hear her say she was working too quickly, or she was distracted when a bird smacked into her picture window, or whatever, but that after she had knowingly used the work of another, she simply forgot to mention that she had failed to credit the author, but had meant to do so. I would have bought that, but it isn't what we were asked to believe which is why this episode is extraordinary.
Such a bright person trying to sell such a dim witted explanation - serendipity. It just happened.
|Maureen Dowd, Wikipedia|
The essence of her account is this: After communicating with a 'friend' about this other person's work, she plopped some sentences in her space and then discovered she was actually using the same 43 words after bloggers told her.
Here's what she actually wrote to explain her actions (repeated from Michael Calderone's space at Politico.com):
"i was talking to a friend of mine Friday about what I was writing who suggested I make this point, expressing it in a cogent -- and I assumed spontaneous -- way and I wanted to weave the idea into my column.
but, clearly, my friend must have read josh marshall without mentioning that to me. we're fixing it on the web, to give josh credit, and will include a note, as well as a formal correction tomorrow."
My prediction that within a week Ms. Dowd would be finished by the absence of a plausible admission and a big Mea Culpa - was laughably wrong. She's still breathing and I'm not sure that even another month will vindicate me and my sorry prediction. I misjudged how serious the matter would be taken by the New York Times. I see a lot of reader (and writer) outrage and scorn, but little from the Times itself. More's the pity.
I think Ms. Dowd made an honest mistake, and got rattled during the firestorm. My rationale is a practical one: she didn't need to take such foolish risks deliberately, so it probably wasn't deliberate theft. She's already a famous, award-winning columnist in little danger of losing her space so she doesn't need to lift other people's work - including the unremarkable prose she borrowed. It's the type of thing you'd expect from an obscure Midwestern writer like me, or someone with motive to deceive, but Maureen Dowd is already the Mona Lisa of liberal columnists and should have no such motive.
The problem for me (and apparently many others) was the fantastic excuse. As Nixon said in Oliver Stone's movie by the same name, "It's the lie that gets you." She didn't need to cover up - unless, there's more. Thus far, nobody has discovered any more coincidentally-verbatim paragraphs, in her past columns. We'll see.
I rarely agree with Ms. Dowd's views (save for the attention she aptly paid to Mr. Clinton's peccadilloes in the 90s) and she strikes me as a snarky type of leftist in the Keith Olbermann tradition. You know, not the kind you could disagree with amiably and respectfully but someone who conveys opinions in a contemptible manner. So my antennae went up easily when I learned about her ordeal.
However, I'd like to think that if a columnist I normally agree with like Noonan, Krauthammer, or Jonah Goldberg, had committed the writer's ultimate sin (plagiarism) and then proffered such a lame excuse, that I would have been equally critical. When and if that happens we'll see if I rise to the task. Either way, I promise to be original, or give attribution if I'm not.