Saturday, May 30, 2009

My dowdy prediction

A week has elapsed since I wrote about Maureen Dowd. I thought by now she would have acknowledged an intentional 43-word copy job, followed by a sorry-I-forgot-to-attribute apology.  I think that's all it would have taken to make this saga go away -- at least for me.

Ms. Dowd points out that in the column in question, she had given proper credit to two other writers and so by her reckoning, she could not have planned to copy from a third. Two out of three isn't bad.

I'd have preferred to hear her say she was working too quickly, or she was distracted when a bird smacked into her office window, or whatever, but that after she had knowingly used the work of another writer, she simply forgot to credit the author, but had meant to do so. I would have bought that, but it isn't what we are asked to believe, which is why this episode is extraordinary.

Maureen Dowd, Wikipedia
The essence of her account is this: After communicating with a friend about another person's work, she plopped some sentences in her column and then discovered she was using the same 43 words after bloggers told her.  Here's what she 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 explanation and Mea Culpa -- was laughably wrong.  I'm not sure that even another month will vindicate me.  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. 

I think Ms. Dowd made a mistake, got rattled during the firestorm and then made more mistakes by blaming her quotable friend.  My reasoning is that she didn't need to take foolish risks deliberately, so it probably wasn't 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, 43 words she borrowed.

I rarely agree with her views (save for the attention she aptly paid to Bill Clinton's peccadilloes in the 90s) and she strikes me as a Leftist in the Keith Olbermann tradition -- not the kind I can disagree with respectfully but someone who typically conveys opinions in a snarky, contemptible manner.  So I admit that 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 Goldberg, had inserted 43 words written by another and then proffered such a lame excuse, that I'd have been equally critical.  When and if something like that happens, we'll see if I rise to the task.