Maureen Dowd Admits to an Act of Accidental Plagiarism

Yesterday we learned that an entry in Maureen Dowd's Sunday Times column appeared to be lifted straight from a blog post by TPM's Josh Marshall on Thursday. Last night, Dowd admitted to plagiarizing Marshall.

The controversy started when the following 45-word passage appeared in Dowd's column, titled "Cheney, Master of Pain," on Sunday:

"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."

Now compare that to Marshall's 43-word passage from a Talking Points Memo post on Thursday titled, "Bubbling":

"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."

The similarities were caught by a TPM contributor on Sunday afternoon who pointed out that the only difference between Dowd's words and Marshall's was that Dowd used the phrase "we were" instead of "the Bush crowd was."

On Sunday night, in emails to "The Nytpicker," a blog devoted to covering the goings-on at the New York Times, and the Huffington Post, Dowd admitted that the similarities weren't accidental and that she had indeed plagiarized Marshall, though she placed the blame for the mishap squarely on one of her friends.

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.

Having looked at this from every possible angle, would it be completely out of line to state that there's something distinctly bullshit-y about Dowd's explanation? Dowd, who ironically played an integral role in exposing Joe Biden's speech plagiarizing in 1988, needs to explain the "my friend did it" excuse in more detail. Who is this mysterious friend who helps Dowd limp across the finish line of the marathon that is two 750 word columns per week for the Times? Was the conversation in question over the phone, in which Dowd would have written down her friend's words in a note, or was it via email or instant messenger, where perhaps there's an electronic record of the exchange? And finally, why was Dowd needing help expressing the thought contained in the passage in question, a sequence of words which, with no disrespect directed at Josh Marshall, don't seem all that remarkable. It's a point well made with words, for sure, but it's not something that couldn't have been expressed in a number of different ways.

Look, most people who write can sympathize with being "blocked" occasionally, perhaps even spitting out a thought via a sentence or two that was conceived by reading something written by someone else that went on to take root in the subconscious, perhaps then creating the appearance of plagiarism when in reality there was no writerly malfeasance involved, but this, this just doesn't seem to make any sense. At all.

If there's one absolute certainty to come out of this whole fiasco it is this: If Maureen Dowd needs help from friends composing two cohesive 750-word arguments per week, she'd be one hell of a shitty blogger.

NY Times' Maureen Dowd Plagiarizes TPM's Josh Marshall[TPM]
Dowd Admits Plagiarizing to TNYTpicker [The NYTpicker]
Maureen Dowd Admits Inadvertently Lifting Line From TPM's Josh Marshall[HuffPo]
[Trainwreck photo via On The Brink]