Attacking Ben Domenech II

On Wednesday, I defended Ben Domenech against inflammatory and over-the-top attacks by several bloggers on the Left, challenging opponents to, “Criticize his arguments, not his upbringing.” Now, a second round of attacks are underway that attempt to do just that.

Several people are calling Domenech a racist by lifting selected quotes from various blog posts, including one referring to Coretta Scott King as a “Communist.” Most of the examples are pretty silly. Such things as comparing the judiciary to the KKK leave one open to such criticism but, frankly, are well within the scope of legitimate polemical rhetoric. Certainly, one could find comparable examples without much trouble looking through the archives of Eschaton or DailyKos. Further, it is often difficult to differentiate irony and hyperbole from serious discussion in the written form. This line of argument, therefore, does not impress me.

More problematic, however, are several pretty obvious cases of plagiarism throughout Domenech’s writing career. See here, here, here, here, here, and here for examples. And, as Lindsay Beyerstein notes, this is particularly problematic in light of Domenech’s statements on Jayson Blair and the like.

While some of this may be explainable by editorial miscues or poor reading skills on the part of his critics, I agree with Susie Madrak that these excuses alone do not explain away what seems to be a substantial pattern. Patrick Frey and Dan Riehl, hardly part of the leftist lynch mob, agree. See Julian Sanchez, too, for a Reason’ed take.

While I sympathize with my friend Erick Erickson‘s arguments about most of the attacks made on Domenech, the plagiarism examples are so glaring that they can not be dismissed by arguing that “permissions obtained and judgments made offline were not reflected online by an out dated and out of business campus newspaper.” Even if one has permission to publish an excerpt from a piece, I have never heard of a legitimate outlet doing so under someone else’s byline. The readers of these publications–in one case, National Review–would reasonably have expected that something under the byline “Ben Domenech” was in fact written by Ben Domenech, not merely copied wholesale from someone not attributed. So, too, would a prospective employer reading a clip thinking young Ben had the writing chops of a fledgling P.J. O’Rourke when in fact the words he was reading were P.J. O’Rourke’s.

This Argumentum ad Consequentiam is puzzling, too:

[T]hese people are shooting in the foot bloggers across the board — shutting down opportunities to advance into the mainstream media that many of us on the left and right would otherwise have. Here is a guy who got started in the blogosphere and moved toward the mainstream media only to get savagely assailed from the other side. Should these people succeed, how many bloggers from either side will ever again get so far? I would suspect none — not when there are people closer to the media who would fit the bill. The media, already skeptical of both the left and right side of the blogosphere, gets to watch us all tear each other apart over something that would otherwise be insignificant. What media company would want to take the risk of a blogswarm? And the media gets to reaffirm its own self-image as the rational arbiters of news and opinion — clearly 1606 must be defeated. Look at this example as another reason why — bloggers are too immature to handle such freedom — they must be regulated.

But one of the great virtues of the Blogosphere, I have always thought, was its self-correcting nature. Even big shots like Kos or Andrew Sullivan get taken down very quickly if they put up shoddy arguments. Surely, we should not easily dismiss conduct within our own midst that we savage when done by CBS News or the New York Times.

I am not ready to toss Domenech under the proverbial bus or call for his firing at the moment. There may, indeed, be perfectly reasonable explanations for these charges. But while Erickson is probably right that “Facts have never been debate winners among the haters,” they should damned well be debate winners among the rest of us. Let alone, I should add, the side that so loudly heralds traditional virtues like honor.

Update: Kevin Drum takes no position on the issue other than to point out that virtually no one who does not read blogs have ever heard of Domenech and that blogswarms over such inside baseball issues are likely irrelevant. True that. But the blogosphere is probably the favorite subject of bloggers, just as the mainstream press loves stories about the media.

Update 2: Michelle Malkin, whose last book was edited by Domenech, writes, “I certainly understand the impulse on the Right to rally around Domenech. But I can’t ignore the plain evidence. And the charges can’t be dismissed as ‘lies’ or jealousy attributed to Ben’s age.” Rich Moran, commenting on the final paragraph of my original post, believes “the only possible ‘reasonable explanation’ is that either Mr. Domenech’s work is being copied by people like P.J. O’Rourke or Mr. Domenech has been caught red-handed.” Both call for his resignation from the WaPo gig.

As I hope the remainder of the post makes clear, this is my view as well. But refuting allegations usually requires more effort than flinging them, especially when there are so many. I am willing to listen to fact-based defenses by Domenech and his defenders. “The evil liberals are out to get him” angle, however, will not fly.

Update 2: Domenech has resigned. WaPo Managing Editor Jim Brady writes,

Plagiarism is perhaps the most serious offense that a writer can commit or be accused of. Washingtonpost.com will do everything in its power to verify that its news and opinion content is sourced completely and accurately at all times.

We appreciate the speed and thoroughness with which our readers and media outlets surfaced these allegations. Despite the turn this has taken, we believe this event, among other things, testifies to the positive and powerful role that the Internet can play in the the practice of journalism.

True all around. Still, many have been found guilty of plagiarism and gone on to regain their respectability. As Famous Plagiarists notes,

even the best authors—including some of our most (in)famous writers, politicians, scientists, civil rights activists, science fiction authors, theologians, musicians, historians, and even international terrorists—are not above stealing the words and ideas of others. The author of a work on Famous Plagiarists has many accused plagiarists from which to choose: civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; science fiction author H.G. Wells; Jayson Blair; Jack Kelley; Jack London; Benjamin Franklin; Bruno Bettelheim; Mark Twain; Dan Brown; Edgar Allan Poe; Bruce Springsteen; T.S. Eliot; Doris Kearns Goodwin; Stephen Ambrose; Helen Keller; Iris Chang; Albert Einstein; international arch-terrorist Osama bin Laden; Madonna; Joseph Smith; Joe Biden; Ward Churchill; Al Gore . . .

Sadly, the list is a long one.

Update 3: More post-mortems: Steven Taylor and Kieran Healy offer professorial observations.

Kevin Drum echoes the thoughts of the last line of my original post, with a better one: “if you’re going to write spittle-flecked polemics about the moral decay of liberals you really ought to think up your own insults.”

Update 4: Ben Domenech reflects on the events at RedState under his Augustine pseudonymn. He offers some reasonable explanation for some of the transgressions and less plausible ones for some of the others. Ultimately, though, he acknowledges wrongdoing: “The truth is, a more responsible teenager would’ve nipped this sort of thing in the bud. A less sloppy writer would have made sure that material copied from other places never made it into a published piece, and never necessitated apologies or explanations that will do nothing to stop the critics. I was wrong not to do so.”

Update 5 (3/25): Mike Krempasky informs us that Domenech has taken an indefinite leave of absence from RedState and notes “It is a long road back for Ben Domenech. And he’s going to pay a steep price to regain lost trust among colleagues, readers, and friends.”

Update 6 and final: Ed Morrissey has a long post mortem on this that echoes Erick Erickson’s fear of the blogosphere’s eating its own.

If anyone wanted to make an argument that the blogosphere is too immature to be considered partners in information dissemination with traditional media outlets, we’ve provided it in spades this week. We finally had an opportunity to garner a high-profile setting for bloggers at the nation’s premiere newspaper, and what did we do? We tore each other to shreds because we didn’t like the ideological perspective of the first person chosen for the experiment. We engaged in crude character assassination that greatly overshadowed the actual value of the blogosphere to find and correct real transgressions and deficiencies, as demonstrated by the discovery of Domenech’s plagiarism.

This strikes me as completely wrongheaded. Indeed, while there is no doubt in my mind that numerous liberal bloggers went over the top in their invective–and many conservative bloggers out of their way to excuse the inexcusable–the net result was incredibly quick fact finding and resolution of the issue. Further, the blogosphere is no more a “we” than the mass media. The New York Times and the Podunck Tumbleweed stand or fall on their own merits.

Dan Riehl is quite right in laying down a far different litmus for “maturity” than mindless embrace of “our own.”
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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Fersboo says:

    JJ, explain to me which side has the Secret Police working for them, the Left of the Right?

    I thought I belonged to the party of the Jack-booted thugs & Gestapo, but the Dems seem to be more effective with thier own NKVD/KGB.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Fersboo: I’m not sure how name calling addresses what appear to be serious factual examples being adduced. Whether the accusers are meanspirited seems beside the point with regard to the evidence.

  3. ken says:

    â??Facts have never been debate winners among the haters,â?? they should damned well be debate winners among the rest of us. Let alone, I should add, the side that so loudly heralds traditional virtues like honor.

    Which side would that be James? Certainly not the conservative side, which defends such things as illegal wars, presidential directives that allow for torture, borrow and squander fiscal policies and clear violations of the law on the part of their republic president.

  4. LJD says:

    Ken- Link one shred of irrefutable proof of your allegations, or STFU.

  5. Ugh says:

    The P.J. O’Rourke example is damning. Word for word for an entire column.

    And Erick Erickson is laughable too, “out dated and out of business campus newspaper”?!!? The paper in question has an editorial on the matter, published today here. Why defend the guy with such an easily verifired lie?

  6. ken says:

    LJD, your response itself is proof of conservative defense of such things.

    The dishonor conservative have brought upon America is not going to be allowed to stand. We are better that what conservatives have made us out to be.

  7. Jack Ehrlich says:

    Ken, your response indicates you have no proof, yet you refuse to STFU. That is why you and your ilk can never be taken seriously on a forum such as this.

  8. ken says:

    Jack, if you had a shred of honor you would condemn the president who is responsible for the change in American policy to allow for torture.

    Instead you attack me. How pathetic. I am not responsible for the dishoner of America. Your republic president and his conservative administration is the guilty party.

  9. LJD says:

    Surely, we should not easily dismiss conduct within our own midst that we savage when done by CBS News or the New York Times.

    O.K. Ken, I’ll bite.

    1441 and the other resolutions leading up to it clearly authorized the use of force by the U.S. The fact that some countries, including Russia, China, France did not support action, did not remove the force of the resolution. We now know why they voted against action, they were deeply complicit in violating sanctions and making money doing it.

    O.K. a few terrorists have been tortured here and there. A few military personnel have been prosecuted. (By ‘few’ in both cases I mean an overwhelming minority of the total number). Nowhere has a ‘presidential directive’ to treat prisoners this way EVER been uncovered. I defy you to show complicity of any individual higher than the rank of Brigadier General Karpinski, who has since publicly embarrased herself, acted in a manner unbecoming an officer, and generally shirked any responsiblity for not knowing what was going on under her command. On the contrary, I can show you numerous instances where high level Commanders and members of the administration have directly spoken out against torture.

    Borrow and squander? I’m sorry you feel that the following represent ‘squandering’: 9/11 & the subsequent homeland security spending, Tsunami aid, Hurricane aid to Florida and the Gulf States, Kashmir earthquake aid, Central American floods, Phillipine mud slides,… I thought you people were supposed to be more humanitarian minded. I guess all you care about is your own pocket book.

    Clear violations of the law? So now you are judge and jury. So much for our legal system. Obviously you do not have any faith that it works. In this country we like to believe the accused is innocent until proven guilty. We have all sorts of safeguards to be sure that our elected officials do not misuse their power. Even with all of the talk of censure and impeachment, nothing has come to pass. Why is that? Because the ‘evil empire’ has become impermeable to our laws, or because you don;t have a shred of evidence?

    I am not responsible for the dishoner of America.

    guess what? Wrong here also. When you say that our honorable men and women in uniform are torturers, instruments of an ‘illegal regime’; When you say that the enemy is justified in their actions; When you level unfounded accusations against our leaders; You serve support these misconceptions elsewhere in the world. You know, places that get wads and wads of aid to get a better quality of living for themselves, and while they hate us so much, for some reason are attempting to migrate here by the millions. While countires like China and Russia actually do violate innternational law, and actually do issue directives for human rights abuses, somehow they are immune from scorn. Know why? They don’t have a media that hates their country. They don’t have useful idiots like you to criticize. At least, not for very long because they probably end up dead.

    The fact is that we have the most free society, the most opportunity, the most equality. We are truly the most philanthropic country anywhere in the world, whether it be money, food, clothing, assistance, or the very lives of our citizens. I know it’s been said before Ken, but if things are so tough around here, why not try another country on for size?

  10. ken says:

    LJD, Bush lied to America in order get our support to launch his war on Iraq. That you refuse to admit that is a shame on you. If the rest of America agreed with you it would be a shame on America. But we are not as stupid as you are. We know the truth. We were told why Bush wanted to attack Iraq and all those reasons turned out to be a lie.

    Americas greatest enemies are people like you.

    We are not afraid of a few chumps overseas who fanticize about destroying America. We know it is just a fantacy. What we do worry about, those of us who care about our country that is, are conservative borrow and squander fiscal policies, about violations of law through illegal wiretaps, about a president who changes policy to allow for torture.

    That you are not outraged about these things just proves your values are more conservative than they are American.

  11. Craig says:

    He’s gone. Actually, plagiarism is the first thing he’s done which strikes me as noteworthy.

  12. LJD says:

    all those reasons turned out to be a lie.

    Uh, Yeah.
    Saddam WAS in compliance with international law.
    Oil for food reallly DID help the Iraqi people.
    Saddam PROVED that he destroyed all of his WMDs.
    Our pilots IMAGINED being shot at.
    Riiiggghhhht.

  13. Fersboo says:

    Well, I guess you don’t have to half-ass a defense for him any longer. Like I was saying earlier, I thought it was my side that had all the dirty tricks and pride in personally attacking our political opponents.

  14. yetanotherjohn says:

    I think it is at least worthwhile to read his response and rebuttal to the charges.

    http://www.redstate.com/story/2006/3/24/151255/259

  15. Carl says:

    I thought I belonged to the party of the Jack-booted thugs & Gestapo, but the Dems seem to be more effective with their own NKVD/KGB.

    It was Google that brought Ben down, not the KGB.

    And his own actions, of course.

  16. dan of steele says:

    So LJD

    Do you enjoy your work at the Lincoln Group? Tell your supervisor that the script you are working off is a bit dated and overcome by events.

    If you should want to actually read resolution 1441 you would be able to see that no where in that document is it written that the United States is given permission by the UN to unilaterally invade and occupy Iraq. If you can find a passage that states that please post it.

  17. Roger Ridenour says:

    More education for LDJ (post 03/24 at 13:17). He writes in para 2: “O.K. a few terrorists have been tortured here and there.” In para 4 he writes: “So now you are judge and jury[?].” Hmmm. I don’t recall any of those tortured having been convicted of anything. A little logical disconnect there LDJ.

    In para 2 he sneers: “I defy you to show complicity of any individual higher than the rank of Brigadier General. . . .” Hmmm. Try googling Cheney and torture. Their you can read all about Cheney defending torture. Sounds like complicity to me. As does Bush’s “signing statement” when he claimed he could ignore McCain’s anti-torture bill whenever he chose.

    Para 3, LDJ seems confused on Bush squandering 100’s of millions on a poorly executed war of choice. Must be a bit slow. I guess that was obvious enough already.

    Para 4. LDJ is unclear on what law was broken by Bush. We’ll leave aside the torture of untried and therefore presumably innocent people, lying to Congress during the run-up to the war, etc. Let’s just leave it at tapping the phones of not-even-accused Americans without obtaining a FISA warrant as required by law. Bush has admitted tyo the offense. What confuses you about this, LDJ?

    You are a funny man.

  18. LJD says:

    So know we have once again seen the liberal ‘belief system’ laid on the table. Any one here for some proof, or do we just continue to press the talking points?

    no where in that document is it written that the United States is given permission by the UN to unilaterally invade and occupy Iraq. If you can find a passage that states that please post it.

    Your assumptions. The ‘invasion’ was not unilateral, nor did we intend to occupy. Our present situation, as I said before, is due to the inaction of other members of the security council who are proven to have been in violation of international law. Interesting you lefties only like laws when they suit your needs.

    A little logical disconnect there LDJ.

    I was clearly talking about crimes that have been punished. Combatants without a country do not fall under the same set of laws. I don’t understand why you lefties want to extend your constitutional rights to terrorists.

    Hmmm. Try googling Cheney and torture. Their you can read all about Cheney defending torture. Sounds like complicity to me. As does Bushâ??s â??signing statementâ?? when he claimed he could ignore McCainâ??s anti-torture bill whenever he chose.

    I guess it depends on your definition of torture. I guess you would have us feed them milk and cookies…

    LDJ seems confused on Bush squandering 100â??s of millions on a poorly executed war of choice.

    Again, your perspective. I guess you didn’t have a family member over there getting shot at to enforce the will of the U.N. At least you get to enjoy not having your head sawn off by terrorists.

    Weâ??ll leave aside the torture of untried and therefore presumably innocent people, lying to Congress during the run-up to the war, etc. Letâ??s just leave it at tapping the phones of not-even-accused Americans without obtaining a FISA warrant as required by law. Bush has admitted tyo the offense.

    Lying to Congress, again your interpretation. You must really think your elelcted officials are stupid. So please, enlighten me with you proof (no more of your assumptions like the ones previously posted). Wire-tapping not-even-accused Americans? Well, if they’re calling KNOWN terrorists OUTSIDE of the country, during a time of war, I would say they have given up their rights. Please show one individual who was damaged by this process.

  19. Roger Ridenour says:

    LDJ states “Interesting you lefties only like laws when they suit your needs.” He just can’t seem to overcome that logical disconnect in his reasoning that makes it appear to him that when he ignores the law he’s supporting law and order. Sort of like our great leader, come to think of it.

    Anyhoo, we’ll continue to examine his problem. LDJ states “I donâ??t understand why you lefties want to extend your constitutional rights to terrorists.” LDJ, how do you know the people being tortured are terrorists without some legal process to determine their guilt? By your standard, if the Bushies torture you, you must be a terrorist. See the logical disconnect?

    LJD states “I guess it depends on your definition of torture. I guess you would have us feed them milk and cookiesâ?¦.” Wow, you got me there LDJ. Ouch! (Just kidding!) My definition of torture is the kind of stuff we’d imprison our own soldiers for doing–like we’re doing. Was this another logical disconnect, LDJ? I think it was was. Yes, yes, it was. Darn it. On second thought, maybe the Bushies just like locking up our own soldiers. Hmmm. I’ll have to think about that one. Can you help me out here LJD?

    Um, LDJ, I left aside the lying to Congress. (Read it again. Take your time, we know you’re a bit slow as evidenced by the logical disconnects.)

    To continue, LDJ writes “Wire-tapping not-even-accused Americans? Well, if theyâ??re calling KNOWN terrorists OUTSIDE of the country, during a time of war, I would say they have given up their rights.” Playing judge and jury again, I see, LDJ. Please refer to the original logical disconnect I mentioned in my first post.

    LJD, please document just one of the KNOWN terrorists you’re speaking of. See, two can play at that game–but I do have an answer for your attempt. See below. Your problem is that your position relies on blind faith in the great leader. Mine doesn’t, and I don’t, given the history of lies and lawbreaking by the Bushies. I’ll keep trying to educate you, LDJ, but you need to do your part and not repeat the same exact error. OK, it’s a learning curve. I’ll give you that one.

    LDJ,it appears you’ve conceded the complicity of Cheney and Bush in the torture. So, apparently you can be taught. Good job and a gold star on that one. I also have a correction to make, it’s HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS wasted on a war of choice poorly executed, not 100s of millions as I stated. My bad.

    LJD states: “Please show one individual who was damaged by this process” referring to spying on Americans without a warrant. That would be every single one who was spied on without a warrant since their consitutional rights were violated according to existing American law. Logical, right? See, it’s not that hard to figure this stuff out, LJD. Just apply some logic.

  20. Roger Ridenour says:

    It appears we’re done here, I guess. Just a sum-up review on what LJD has learned (with a nod to Ken):

    1) UN resolution 1441 DID NOT authorize the US to invade IRAQ under UN auspices.
    2) Both Bush and Cheney are complicit in torturing unconvicted and thus presumably innocent people.
    3)Bush has admitted to illegally tapping Americans’ phone calls without a warrant in violation of the FISA law.
    4) Any time an American’s constitutional rights are violated, that American has been “damaged” in a legally prosecutable sense.
    5) Just because Bush or LJD says it doesn’t make it so.
    6) Neither LJD nor Bush has been elected God, Judge and Jury over the rest of us and his belief in this was logically unsound.

    Best wishes to all and may God Bless America and protect us from further terrorist attacks despite our incompetent govt.