Washington Post‘s Resigned Conservative Blogger Calls His Former Bosses “Fools” (UPDATED)
The Washington Post’s former conservative blogger Ben Domenech who resigned yesterday amid allegations that he plagiarized past work has ripped into his former editors, calling them “fools”.
His fiery retort comes in a story on the conservative website Human Events:
In his first public comments since resigning earlier today as a blogger for washingtonpost.com, Ben Domenech says his editors there were â€œfoolsâ€? for not expecting an onslaught of attacks from the left.
â€œWhile I appreciated the opportunity to go and join the Washington Post,â€? Domenech said, â€œif they didnâ€™t expect the leftists were going to come after me with their sharpened knives, then they were fools.â€?
Domenech has been under a steady stream of criticism since washingtonpost.com launched the new blog, â€œRed America,â€? on Tuesday. Domenech, an editor at Regnery Publishing (a sister company to HUMAN EVENTS), was accused of plagiarism by several left-wing blogs.
Although Domenech says there is an explanation for nearly all the examples cited by the left-wing bloggers, he felt he was left no choice by washingtonpost.com but to resign.
â€œI felt like if I didnâ€™t resign, they would have pushed me outâ€”if not today, then Monday,â€? he said.
But was it just a matter of liberals opening up both barrels against him or not? The bottom line: you can’t shoot a gun without ammunition and Domenech clearly had given those who did not welcome a conservative blog plenty of ammunition. Also, objective conservatives aren’t buying the line that it’s completely just a big, liberal witch hunt.
Writes Red State’s Krempasky:
A young man took something and called it his own. He owes apologies to those writers, his editors, and especially his friends who have rushed to his defense in the past 48 hours. It is an embarrassing offense — and one rightly criticized.
All of the leadership of RedState has struggled mightily over the past few days, and have tried at every step to take the right course of action. Now that the story is complete, we can move on.
If you, as many have done, dedicate thousands of man-hours to scrutinizing of his life’s work, you’ll find two things: First, you’ll find several instances of this behavior, some attributable to youth, and some not. Second, you’ll find an amazingly talented writer, a man of principle, and an earnest young activist seeking not to advance himself — though advance he did — but the things he believed in.
Certainly it may seem strange today to describe him as a “man of principle.” But those who know Ben — and all of us on the RS leadership team do — know that he is passionate in his beliefs. They also know that he is human. It was ignoring this humanity that led to our earlier posts about the situation. It is fitting then, that he chose â€œAugustineâ€? as his nom de plume here at RedState â€“ for who could serve as a better reminder of the full potential of fallibility and sin â€“ and yet existing within that peril – real hope of forgiveness.
And for his failing, his career is in ruins, and his public reputation is in tatters. 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.
But Krempasky also writes that Domenech is his friend who needs some time to get away from it all and that “his crime was not mortal, and his character is not irredeemable.” Domenech’s critics, he writes, are another matter:
Unlike Ben, there is far less hope for their redemption. You see – before they settled on the attacks on his writing – they spent three days proving that they are the lowest of the low…..Our critics can raise their glasses and toast to what they think is success â€“ tearing down a flawed conservative. But therein lies their greatest weakness: destroying a conservative is not to destroy conservatism.”
Two things are amazing about this whole (sordid) affair:
- That no matter what explanation the Washington Post may give, clearly they had not done a thorough vetting job.
- That no matter what Domenech may say, if there were pieces he had written with passages that were plagiarized, he should have known that they would come out and sink his career at the Post. Plagiarism is an intensely sore topic with the Washington Post, which has been snookered by fake reporting several times, the most famous case being the Janet Cook scandal.
The Los Angeles Times‘ media writer Tim Rutten writes:
While the initial concerns about Domenech were raised by liberal bloggers and online commentators alarmed by the extremity of his politics and the recklessness with which he expressed them, his critics didn’t stop there. Because his career â€” if a 24-year-old can be said to have such a thing â€” has essentially been conducted online, there was a digital trail to follow through cyberspace. And follow it they did, within hours. What they found was not simply vulgarity and intemperance, but serial plagiarism of an unsophisticated, unimaginative under-graduate sort.
In short order, the evidence was up on the Web for all to see and judge for themselves. That’s when something important happened. Now, the Web is about as polarized as a virtual place can be. It doesn’t value civility; ideologically, the law of tooth and claw attains. But because the liberal bloggers and commentators had fashioned a convincing and utterly damning case against Domenech out of his own vanity â€” who in their right mind compiles an archive of his own thefts? â€” by Friday morning, conservative bloggers, one after another, began calling on the young man to resign. One of the first, in fact, was [Michelle] Malkin, whose last book Domenech edited at Regnery.
Reports Editor & Publisher:
Criticism of the Post’s hiring of Domenech had also emerged from within the paper’s own ranks. Political reporter Dana Milbank in an online chat at the paper’s Web site said today: “What I don’t understand (although I haven’t inquired) is why the website couldn’t recruit somebody with more stature to do the job. This city is crawling with good conservative journalists with lots of heft.”
Instead, it appears, the Post inadvertently recruited a conservative journalist with lots of journalistic theft.
Meanwhile, some issues will surely linger due to this controversy. Newspapers that want to leap into doing blogs (left or right) need to tighten up their background checks which should include a comprehensive Google search. Newspapers should take into account (as if they haven’t noticed) that if they have what is effectively a blog on the left, people on the right will then clamor for a blog on the right, which will then upset people on the left. Etc. One solution is that, perhaps in their rush to get bloggers newspapers could try to get some of the more thoughtful and less polarizing writers on the left and right (more ideas and less adjective-hurling).
People who apply to newspapers usually know one essential fact: you are judged by YOUR CLIPS. In this case, the problem was that his past writings somehow resembled other clips elsewhere.
But, as the LAT‘s Rutten points out, the blogosophere acted in practice how it was conceptually supposed to work in the ideal. Political motivations aside, in the end, it led to group scrutiny and values (you cannot lift other people’s material) that transcended party lines.
There is a lesson here for not just newspapers but writers who want to become bloggers for mainstream media companies: if you have a hidden secret about your writing, it’s likely to become unhidden.
FOOTNOTE: The award-winning headline on this story goes to the website Capitol Hill Blue: “All The News That’s Fit To Steal.”
UPDATE: The National Review Online now has also found instances of reviews on its site that either reflected psychic abilities or copying someone else’s work. It lists them and then writes:
You get the idea. Put alongside other pieces that we’re looking at and that have been linked to elsewhere in the blogosphere, it’s hard not to conclude there was something amiss. We’re still looking. And again apologize to our readers that this ever happened on our site.
THIS IS BEEN A HUGE STORY ON WEBLOGS. HERE’S A CROSS SECTION OF VIEWS
–Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit writes “I’ve had my differences with Domenech in the past, but I hope there’s nothing to this. Some earlier writings of mine on plagiarism can be found here and here.“
–Vaughn Ververs at CBS Public Eye blog:
Letâ€™s say another conservative is hired to take over for Domenech. Is the Web site obligated to launch a â€œBlue Stateâ€? blog? Most editorial pages contain a mixture of voices, some conservative, some liberal some sort of moderate. But is there any obligation to operate under some formula? They may alienate a large segment of their audience, but they are free to print whatever voices they choose.
Iâ€™m of mixed feelings on this subject. On the one hand, it seems preferable to give space to a wide variety of opinions. On the other, this obsessive attention to â€œbalanceâ€? inevitably leads to â€œCrossfireâ€? type discussions. Help me out here, should we seek balance for the sake of balance? If not, what role should balance play in our national discourse?
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.
As someone who has worked in daily journalism for 14 years, I have a lot of experience related to this horrible situation: I’ve had my work plagiarized by shameless word and idea thieves many times over the years. I’ve also been baselessly accused of plagiarism by some of the same leftists now attacking Ben.
The bottom line is: I know it when I see it. And, painfully, Domenech’s detractors, are right. He should own up to it and step down. Then, the Left should cease its sick gloating and leave him and his family alone.
In some ways, the most interesting thing about Ben Domenech’s plagiarism is its discovery. If you’re a young writer reading this blog, tattoo this on your typing fingers: The internet never forgets.
It’s not that Ben’s plagiarism ceased, as it’s appeared to continue, in slightened form, even after graduation from William and Mary. But the bulk of it certainly took place there, much of it in meaningless movie reviewettes for the school paper, writings that Domenech, almost certainly, assumed were irrelevant nothings long ago lost to the mists of history. And yet here they are: resurrected, and shuffling forth to eat Ben’s face.
—Burn The Liberals: “Ben Domenech is done and it is time to move on to the real issue here, which is the Washington Post….If the Washington Post was anything other than a news source, these problems could be overlooked. But investigating is what you do for a living, so I find it amazing that you couldnâ€™t investigate Ben Domenech, properly.”
But back to that first line in this update, I understand defending a friend. I absolutely understand it. I do not understand and cannot condone, however, blaming everyone else for one manâ€™s pattern of behavior going back several years. Ben blames his editors at the Flat Hat, then blames his editors at the Post. He hasnâ€™t yet blamed the editors at NRO, but that may because he was himself a contributing editorâ€”blaming them in a sense blames himself, and apparently thatâ€™s out of bounds. Iâ€™m sorry, but these excuses donâ€™t fly and have to stop. Now.
—My Vast Right Wing Conspiracy has drafted a want-ad for The Washington Post:
Requirements: Must be progressive, cannot have parents with employment histories, must have attended public school, must have never said anything to which another person took offense. Ever. At least five yearsâ€™ journalism experience desired, â€œnetrootsâ€? and other extraordinary experience a plus. No applicants with noms de plume, please. Also required: skill with Microsoft Word.
Pulled the plug so quickly? He’s been saying all day that HE quit. The only thing we know is that the Washington Post was investigating the charges of plagiarism. If they’re all so innocent, as he asserts in the interview and on the RedState blog today, then how did the Post “pull the plug” if all they were doing were investigating the charges? Sounds like something happened behind the scenes that he’s not telling us about. Then again, consider the source.
—Ed Morrissey: “Plagiarism is a cardinal sin of writing, regardless of the format. Bloggers have just as much responsibility to credit their sources as any other writer, and the blogosphere rightly holds us all to this standard. All any of us have as writers are our own words, and when those are stolen for someone else’s benefit, we lose everything. If Domenech is guilty of this offense, he will not soon regain his credibility, nor should he.”
—Digby: “They were fools for not expecting the left blogosphere to find out that Domenech was a phony and a plagiarist. And they were fools for assuming that the blogger from the racist RedState blog, the editor for the sleazy Regnery publishing, and the speechwriter for the unprincipled John Cornyn was anything but an unethical GOP operative. When will they ever learn?”
—Press Think’s Jay Rosen calls for a competition at the Post and suggests three blogs:
An open competition on the Web to be the next political blogger at post.com, but instead of hiring one â€œred stateâ€? person and leaving it at that (a strategic error in my opinion) Brady should say that three slots will be filled over the coming year. One from column right, one from column left, and a third voice that is definitely neither of those, which could mean libertarianâ€” or not.
When I say open I mean open: anyone can apply. But experience as a political blogger counts. You have to be an original linker and be able to think for yourself. Finalists and semi-finalists get named. Thereâ€™s a weekâ€™s try-out period for the final few and a big bake off at the end â€” all with comments enabled. The competition would generate high interest online, and give the winning bloggers a great introduction.
—Atrios: “17-year-olds do dumb stuff, their 24-year-old versions shouldn’t be trying to justify that stuff.”
And the charges of racism, home-schooling (home-schooling!), conservative views and creationism mostly didn’t pass the laugh test as legitimate or important criticisms. Mostly, so far, I’ve wondered about what this media-storm says about us.
When this much media and blogospheric attention is given to a single blog on the website of a newspaper that carries a plethora of blogs, I think we’ve reached the top of the blog buzz bubble; it’s become a narcissistic media/blog circle jerk. We write about them, so they pay attention to us, which makes us write about them. Everybody loves attention, and everybody involved is feeding off this cycle far more than should be the case…That said, I think the new allegations about plagiarism are clearly and categorically different than the initial quibbles. What’s more, as often as he appears to have plagiarized… I can’t even conceive of an exculpatory explanation.
I hate plagiarism, since I’ve been plagiarized so many times and feel violated each time. As I’ve said before, imitation is NOT always the sincerest form of flattery. It’s the most dishonest form of robbery. At least an armed robber has the guts and decency to tell you to your face that he’s stealing from you.
My problem with the piling-on of Ben Domenech is not that he doesn’t deserve it. He does. It’s that so many right-wingers–and left-wingers–that are calling him to task don’t have a problem with much more prominent conservative plagiarists. That’s hypocrisy.
Whether it happens in a college classroom or a college newspaper, we presume that our students are adults and that (as principled conservatives once liked to remind us) their ideas and actions have consequences they should be prepared to accept….Sometimes the students confess; sometimes they make a bad situation worse.
Whatever else we might think of him….the simple truth is than Ben Domenech does not take critical thought seriously. He not only committed a series of loathsome ethical violations in college and beyond, but today, confronted with massive evidence of his own pilferage, he could not even bring himself to utter the words “I [screwed] up. I stole someone else’s ideas without attribution for my own personal aggrandizement. And I did so as a student who was privileged enough to attend a 300-year old university where intellectual virtue was a cardinal priority.”
The point is that when it came to Ben Domenech, the Post tried desperately to handle the situation with kid gloves — even though the paper’s own editorial credibility, as opposed to its hiring judgment — was never on the line. One suspects that if the sins of a Janet Cook or a Jayson Blair had been exposed so quickly, they would have vanished without a trace within minutes. But of course, they weren’t former political appointees who had powerful friends (and Daddies) in high places.
No matter, I’m sure there are plenty of other well-connected young GOP apparachiks out there willing to take on the evil MSM conspiracy by going to work for it. And many of them probably aren’t serial plagiarists. All the Post has to do is ask around. Maybe Jack Abramoff can suggest someone.
—Oliver Willis: “I officially declare Saturday, March 25, 2006 to be â€œWrite Like Ben Domenech Dayâ€?. If youâ€™ve got an original, new and exciting piece of writing youâ€™d like to share with everyoneâ€¦ now is the time to do it!”
—Paterico has a MUST-READ POST comparing Domenech’s writings with some others. It’s mind-boggling. He writes:
I vehemently disagree that the specifics are â€œbeside the pointâ€?; they are the point. But the specifics donâ€™t help Domenech. Far from it. And itâ€™s not just the liberal blogopshere taking note, so he should stop whining about how this is all about unfair partisan attacks. Itâ€™s a good thing he resigned.
P.S. I will say this, however: many clowns throughout the blogosphere are glossing over the fact that Domenech has not been shown to have plagiarized at the Post. If that had been shown, the decision to fire him would have been a no-brainer. But when the examples all appeared to come from years ago, that fact initially made it a closer question in my mind whether he should be fired. The people who have (deliberately) failed to make this clear are simply out to score cheap partisan points.
Journalists and editors should no longer appease the right-wing. It doesn’t matter if it’s hiring Ben Domenech or listening as Bush tries to convince you of the link between 9/11 and Saddam or that Iraq is now named ‘flowers and candy land’, journalists should no longer listen to the right-wing. Ken Mehlman’s statements about Russ Feingold wanting to surrender to terrorists are no longer part of your story. Period. The idea that the media is hiding the good news in Iraq is not a story. Period.
Do not appease the right-wing. When you do, and when you treat the conservative movement as if they are a legitimate source of information, you end up with WMDs in Iraq, 9/11 linked to Saddam, or on a small scale, an unethical racist trashing the brand of the Washington Post and the career of Jim Brady.
An angry swarm of left wingers posted scathing diatribes at the Post, and in fact, all over the internet. They spent their days scouring through every word he’s ever written until they actually hit paydirt and busted him as a plagiarist.
Itâ€™s hard to believe this guy thought that he could get away with plagiarizing other people writings and then take a controversial job working for the Washington Post. Didn’t he think that he would be intensely scrutinized if he started working at the Post? It seems like the batty left, while their motives were malignant… have actually done a good thing. No conservatives want to read anything from a right wing blogger who is a fraud and a thief of intellectual ideas. Ben Domenech has resigned and that is a good thing.
For a writer, the biggest sin is to steal from someone else. To do so without attribution is just plain wrong. To have done so once or twice â€” especially given Box Turtle Benâ€™s tender age, might have been understandable. But to do so repeatedly â€” while writing for the college newspaper, for National Review, on Red State and on his own websiteâ€¦well, in my prosecutorial days we would call that a distinct pattern of behavior. The words lazy, stealing and ethically challenged spring to mind, for starters….
….Jim Brady will be answering that question to management over the weekend, no doubt, but the Postâ€™s readership deserves to know as well why so little regard for due diligence was given in this hiring decision.
—Windy Weather: “It’s always particularly satisfying to hear of plagiarists getting their comeuppance. Domenech’s attempt to defend himself ends with this wonderfully lame sneer: “To my enemies: I take enormous solace in the fact that you spent this week bashing me, instead of America.” Take that, commie moonbats! (“Moonbats”, in case you don’t know, is what right-wing bloggers invariably call left-wingers. Left-wing bloggers return the favour by calling right-wingers “wingnuts”.)”
…I sometimes wish mainstream news outlets would hire more gaffe machines like Ben Domenech. It might serve as a wakeup call to moderate news consumers who basically don’t understand that people like Domenech really exist….
However, if the guy has a long history of plagiarizing material from sources online and off â€” and he does â€” then he needs to go. I’m all for giving Blue America a taste of what Red America is really all about, but if you’re going to write spittle-flecked polemics about the moral decay of liberals you really ought to think up your own insults.
—The Rolling Barrage: “This is not an issue of conservative versus liberal, but rather of right versus wrong.”
Ben, you can’t hold the Washington Post to blame for your serial plagiarism, both during college, and afterward. You don’t have an inherent right to work for a major news organization, you don’t have a greater level of privilege, and you certainly shouldnâ€™t expect a lesser level of accountability. You don’t get a free ride. Do you think you are French?
–Mother Tongue Annoyances has a detailed post on the specifics of plagiarism.
Letâ€™s have none of this half-hearted grudging acknowledgment – we were right with RatherGate, and they were right here. Furthermore, they did us a service, believe it or not, by finding these examples of â€˜idea theftâ€™ and bringing them to light. We donâ€™t want the conservative viewpoint, in such a high-profile outlet, to be represented by a plagiarist….
….Iâ€™m glad Ben did the right thing – Iâ€™m sorry for the embarrassment this must cause him, but actions have consequences. Plagiarism is a very, very serious matter for a writer. It was the only decision that could be taken under the circumstances. This need not be embarrassing for other conservatives – as I said, the idea of reaching out to the right by the WaPo was a good one. It will turn into an embarrassment, however, if we pretend this is anything other than what it is. Itâ€™s not a leftwing conspiracy – itâ€™s a problem Domenech brought on himself.
—Michael Reynolds: “My own position on this is that I don’t approve of plagiarism, but I also don’t hold irresponsible youth against sober middle age. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. (Feel free to quote me on that.)”