The cat is not only out of the bag, but well into the next county by now. Originally exposed by thejoshuablog at TPM Cafe, it was obvious that Maureen Dowd, in her Sunday column, lifted some of Josh Marshall’s prose from Talking Points Memo. To her credit, and that of her taskmasters at the Gray Lady, she quickly owned up to the “error” and issued a correction in the online version of the column.
But what sort of an apology did we get?
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, in an email to Huffington Post, admits that a paragraph in her Sunday column was lifted from Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall’s blog last Thursday.
Dowd claims that she never read his blog last week but was told the line by a friend of hers. In a follow-up email, she forwarded her desire to apologize to Marshall, writing that had she known, she would have gladly credited Marshall.
josh is right. I didn’t read his blog last week, and didn’t have any idea he had made that point until you informed me just now. 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.
On the one hand, Nancy Pelosi could take a quick but important lesson from Ms. Dowd about what to do when you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar. You come up with both an apology and a cover story, you issue a correction and you move on. Eventually it will fade away.
But Down’s excuse here rings pretty hollow. She “heard it from a friend” last week? Let’s look at Josh Marshall’s version and the one that showed up in the New York Times without crediting him.
Dowd: “More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when the Bush crowd was looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.”
Marshall: “More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.”
What Ms. Dowd has going for her here is the million monkeys theory. Eventually, they would produce a copy of Hamlet, right? But for that to apply, we need to believe that Maureen’s “friend” read this idea at Talking Points Memo, was impressed enough to remember it, spouted it back to her during a discussion, where it rooted in the columnist’s mind, and she then typed it out for he column. Do me a quick favor. Without scrolling back up the page, pick up a pen and a piece of scrap paper and try to write down either version of the sentence I quoted for you above. See how close you get.
In that fairly run-on, forty-five word sentence, Dowd managed to change only “we were” to “the Bush crowd was.” The other 42 words were a mirror image. What are the odds? Pretty darned low, I’d say.
But we’ll never be able to prove it and Maureen has done the minimum damage control required, as any professional would. The fact is, the “conversation” with the “friend” may have been, for example, an e-mail exchange. Perhaps the friend sent her the quote without attribution and she just pasted that in to her draft and didn’t remember to reword it. That would have actually been fine, assuming the friend didn’t object. Either way, it’s a shady little story which will soon disappear down the memory hole, but can serve as a reminder to all who publish their thoughts and opinions in a public forum.