Kaavyat Emptor


Bestselling Harvard plagiarist Kaavya Viswanathan does a relatively unfriendly interview with the Today show's Katie Couric, and weaves the web of deception more tightly around herself. An exchange:

Kaavya: The last thing that I ever wanted to do was cause any distress to Megan McCafferty, who's an author that—I loved her books. I have so much admiration and respect I have for her.

Katie: You tried to reach out to her but have been unable to contact her I understand?

Kaavya: I've been unable to contact her. All I want to do is just tell her how profoundly sorry I am for this entire situation; and I just hope she believes that I would never ever intentionally lift her words, and the last thing I ever wanted to do was upset her.

Viswanathan has also pledged to add an acknowledgement to McCafferty, whose books Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings provided the source for some 40 phrases—so far—and the general outline of Viswanathan's How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. She also has bravely outed herself as a "huge fan" of McCafferty's work.

But she forgot to add, "I'm such a huge fan that I never mentioned her name in public, not even once, until I got caught ripping her off. And in fact last week when the Newark Star-Ledger asked me about my inspirations I replied, 'Nothing I read gave me the inspiration.'"

This is what is so infuriating about high-profile plagiarism cases. The victim (and I realize, as Jesse Walker has noted in another context, that McCafferty will most likely benefit from this contretemps) is always somebody the plagiarist regards as too small to worry about. McCafferty toils in the Young-Adult ghetto of contemporary fiction, where she has already aged out of the personal marketability writers increasingly need to move units; Viswanathan had the self-promotional drive to avoid that trap and position her book (and with the help of a consultant*, herself) in the wider, greener pastures of Chick Lit. Now that the deception has been exposed, it's still all about Viswanathan: Although Couric does stick the knife in at the end of the interview, she also clucks sympathetically about Viswanathan's "shattered dream." Imagine, having your dream of getting rich by stealing somebody else's work shattered!

* A relatively unexplored question in this controversy is how much material the "book packager" Alloy Entertainment contributed to Opal Mehta (none at all, Viswanathan claimed before the controversy), and whether the consultant will ultimately take the fall for introducing the purloined passages.