Well, That Was Quick


Under a heavy barrage of plagiarism charges, The Washington Post's new conservablogger, Ben Domenech, has resigned.

Addendum: Blogger DHinMI at Daily Kos is annoyed by an omission in the post's announcement of Domenech's deparrture:

He just CAN. NOT. mention that it wasn't just generic "media outlets" that "surfaced these allegations." (And "surfaced these allegations?" What kind of crappy writing is that?) No, Brady can't admit that some bloggers and readers put in more due dilligence in vetting their quota hires than did the Washington Post. Like I said, crony journalism.

But that's not entirely fair to the Post: The truth at the core of much often-tiresome blog triumphalism is precisely that the Post probably couldn't have vetted anyone as effectively as a blogospheric swarm. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but I assume it was something like this: When Domenech got hired, hundreds or even thousands of bloggers and blog readers began looking back at his previous work. Maybe someone saw a phrase they thought looked familiar and started Googling. Once the first instance of apparent plagiarism was spotted and blogged, thousands more began looking through that same body of writing, perhaps with each individual only checking a few pieces, a few phrases at a time. The same task would have taken a committed body of researchers days, but because the task was what Net theorist Yochai Benkler would call highly modular and granular—capable of being broken up into highly fine-grained microtasks—a distributed swarm of bloggers was able to accomplish it incredibly quickly, turning up many more instances in a matter of hours. The blogosphere's virtues on this front are not necessarily the Post's defects, any more than it's a problem with the blogosphere per se that it's less well suited to producing intensive, sustained investigative reporting on stories that aren't similarly modular and granular. They're different kinds of information systems with different comparative advantages.

Second Addendum: Domenech has a post up at RedState (where, incidentally, some of his cobloggers have been having a GodwinFest) attempting to explain some of the pieces he's accused of having plagiarized. On one, a music review for National Review Online, he gets a pretty clear pass since it turns out that he was the author of the un-bylined piece he was charged with ripping off. He says that the similarities between this New York Press article and this Washington Post piece are just the result of both reporters having attended the same press conference and written down the same description of events; I figure we should probably give him the benefit of the doubt on that one.

Then we get to this piece written for William and Mary's college paper, largely lifted from P.J. O'Rourke's Modern Manners. Domenech says he'd gotten O'Rourke's O.K. to run a piece "inspired by" the humorist's take on "real parties." The problem here is, even if that's true, plagiarism isn't just wrong because it rips off the original writer; it's wrong because it deceives readers—and there's nothing I see on the student paper page to indicate to the reader that any part of the piece was written by anyone other than Ben Domenech. As for other suspect pieces that appeared in The Flat Hat, Domenech says the plagiarized material was inserted by an unscrupulous editor. Well… possible. I'd be interested to learn this editor's name and current whereabouts; it would be a very strange case if it were true.

But what's particualrly suggestive—and what makes me suspicious of this story about the nefarious editor—is that we get no attempt to explain the clear similarities between this National Review Online review of the movie Final Fantasy and a Cox News Service review of the same film, credited to one Steve Murray. Nexis confirms that the latter review ran first. Unless Domenech's nemesis from The Flat Hat somehow wormed his way into the NRO offices or "Steve Murray" is one of Domenech's pseudonyms, that one sure seems hard to explain. And if that's a genuine case… well, as I said, I'd like to hear from this cut-and-paste-happy editor from William and Mary.

Last One: I'll second Ezra Klein's suggestion here: If the Post is looking for a young socially conservative blogger, Ross Douthat (who, full disclosure, I know socially slightly) would be a good pick if he'd be willing to do it.