Thursday, March 23, 2006

Plagiarism Thursday

If there's anything worse than ESPN personalities and bilious right-wing hacks, it's plagiarism.

Chalk it up to Ralph Williams's dewey-eyed, start-of-the-semester lectures about the importance of honesty in your work; chalk it up to a few painful latenight meetings with my fellow college journalists where some wrongdoing was discovered and a staffer got fired. Whatever.

When my apartment was burglarized awhile back, it wasn't a big deal to me, because I can always buy more stuff. If I found out that someone stole credit for my work or ideas, though, it would be a different story. Stuff is replaceable, but your written work stems from personality and integrity. Whether it's a blog post, a newspaper article, or a novel, you take a risk in asserting an idea and putting your reputation behind it.

Two blog genres that I traffick heavily have been on fire today. In the college football realm, an earlier post at The Michigan Zone was lifted lock stock and barrel by an unscrupulous ESPN radio hack with the apt name of Colin Cowherd. Cowherd read over the air a Michigan Zone post without attribution. The original post is pretty good. It included stuff like this:
9. If Michigan has a 12 point lead with under 9 minutes left in the game, how much time will be left on the clock when the opposing team scores the winning touchdown?

a) 3 minutes
b) 1 minute
c) :35 seconds
d) none, last play of the game and immediately named ESPN Instant Classic
Though it's not one of my five-times-daily stops, The Michigan Zone has a place in my heart because in the unhinged days following a spectacularly painful loss, I left some assholeish comments criticizing one of their posters for a being little too cheerful, when all I wanted was rage. The guys at Michigan Zone were pretty nice about my rudeness, and for that, I like them.

With appropriate pique and seriousness, they wrote Cowherd to notify him that he cited their work without attribution. It might've been a simple error, easily cleaned up.

Cowherd couldn't be bothered, and wrote the following reply:
Date: Thursday, March 23, 2006 10:35 AM
From: ESPN Colin Cowherd Show
To: michiganzone at adelphia dot net
Subject: RE: From the M Zone
Size: 2 KB

The reaction on my blogs of choice have been swift. MGoBlog, Every Day Should Be Saturday, and Hey Jenny Slater have each posted some fired-up salvos noting their contempt.

As Michigan Zone noted, guys like these don't write because they're looking for big paydays or a guest slot on PTI. They do it because they love it. In its own way, their kind of work is a service, and a source of great pleasure for me. Seeing something stolen and then spit on by a thief like Colin Cowherd is disgraceful. It's the worst kind of bullying from an unoriginal, low-integrity tool. Colin Cowherd is scum.

You know who else is scum? McCarthyistic assweasel Ben Domenech, a 24-year-old political operative hired by the Washington Post's online outfit, ostensibly to provide right-wing balance to the paper's allegedly liberal, lefty ways. Nothing wrong with hiring a 24-year-old right-wing nut in and of itself, maybe, even if he comes from the kind of grievance camp that appears to view the Red State/Blue State breakdown as a meaningful paradigm, and conservatives as some kind of repressed minority. It may be lousy journalism and shoddy analysis, but if The Washington Post has a deathwish, I'm not riled enough to post about that issue in itself. (Um, no offense for those of you who work at The Washington Post. I say this out of love.)

It turns out that Domenech is a serial plagiarizer. Plagiarizes everybody. Plagiarizes P.J. O'Rourke. Plagiarizes Salon. Plagiarizes IMDB reviews.

There's much too much to digest about the implications of this Domenech episode and the fall of journalism. That would be the case even if he wasn't a thief. Suffice it to say, the Post staked its name behind an inexperienced and deeply suspect political operative, enraged media watchdogs and liberals, and will now be left to bury the career of a thief. This is an exercise in bad judgment for everyone.

I know about an aspiring lawyer whose college plagiarism prompted calls from the state bar. I've known people kicked out of extracurricular groups for their plagiarism. Joe Biden's 1988 presidential campaign sputtered in part due to plagiarism allegations.

What angers me about the Cowherd story is its bullying. It involves someone with a bullhorn and a prestigious title taking credit for someone else's work and not giving a shit. Domenech's problems are a different kind of hubris. Maybe it's time to leave the blogging to the bloggers and the journalism to the professionals.


spinachdip said...

At least with Cowherd, I'm surprised not just at the blatant plagiarism and the cavalier attitude about it, but that the old media continues to thumb its nose against the new media.

I realize there are still people out there who don't know what a blog is, but you figure someone in the media like Cowherd would realize its influence, and that sports radio listeners are also blog readers/bloggers themselves. When Cowherd gives bloggers a finger, he's giving a finger to a good chunk of his audience.

And a national radio show is always going to have a bigger audience than any individual blog, but what Cowherd didn't seem to realize the viral potential of blogs - that if you piss off one blogger, that blogger's going to tell his entire readership, and through the magic of emails and links, word's going to spread.

Stealing material from a blogger isn't just wrong, it's self-defeating. For the sake of the internets, I hope some lawyer works pro bono so they can sue ESPN.

CrimeNotes said...

The sports blogs have already made it their mission to shred ESPN the way that the right-wing blogs go after the "liberal media," although in this case, I think they're justified. ESPN has become a talentless, hyperbolic backwater, which is part of why I've become so attached to these college football blogs. What bothers me most is seeing a small-time guy from an out-of-touch, hobbling network steal the work of people with actual creativity, wit and insight -- then throw his theft back in their faces.

And while Cowherd may have committed copyright infringement, as the extremely wonky commenters noted at MGoBlog, there are no real monetary damages here. Probably not a likely lawsuit, but it hopefully will become a PR problem for Cowherd and ESPN. They deserve whatever grief they get.