Judging from the voluminous hate mail the topic has generated in the past, I'd doubt I'm going to get very far with a defense of Blair Hornstine, but I'll give it the old (non-Ivy-League) college try. But before we start, here's Hornstine's mug shot to remind you of why you fight:
You'll recall Hornstine as the Moorestown, NJ high school valedictorian, Epstein/Barr sufferer and apparently pathological overachiever whose father sued her school this spring to spare her the indignity of having to share the valedictorian title.
Hornstine's predicament exercised the passions of countless detractors, who were further emboldened when the young graduate was caught not attributing some information taken from court decisions and presidential speeches in stories she'd written for a local newspaper.
Now, with this report that Harvard University has revoked Hornstine's acceptance, I say the young woman is being punished beyond all proportion to her crimes. Not because she doesn't deserve the smackdown (I'd support a constitutional amendment requiring her to attend Fairleigh Dickinson), but because this "plagiarism" charge is a big flaming bag of poop.
Hornstine is charged with not properly attributing material taken from several Supreme Court decisions and some speeches by President Clinton. Failing to attribute that stuff is unprofessional and likely to cause confusion among close readers of the newspaper, but what could possibly be more public information than a court decision or a presidential speech? Is a writer who alludes to the "national malaise" plagiarizing Jimmy Carter? Did I owe Judge Woolsey's estate a nickel when I complained that Ulysses "did not tend to excite sexual impulses or lustful thoughts"? This is the kind of journalistic sin that should have been caught by some editor at the Cherry Hill Courier-Post, with a margin note that says "Need a source for this." To pretend that this is plagiarism on the order of Shalit/Ambrose/Goodwin et al is, well, the kind of thing I'd expect from a Yalie!
Anyway, here's that Hornstine picture again:
Update: I'll be a monkey's uncle. Reader Evan McElravy has found what I was trying to locate before putting up this post: An actual textual comparison between Hornstine's writings and her sources, which changes the situation quite a bit. The borrowed material was not statistical or factual stuff, as I had assumed from reading Courier-Post's coy and dry description of it, but lengthy passages (of the kind of studied banality you can only get in a presidential speech) that Hornstine was passing off as her own prose poetry. All I can say in my defense is that I did not realize reporting on Hornstine's predicament required the same standards of knowing what the hell you're talking about as do school assignments.