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.
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.”