I really hadn't intended to write another post on puzzling things conservatives have recently said or done. However, the story of Ben Domenech (aka Augustine)'s apparent plagiarism made me change my mind. If you haven't seen it yet, here are some of the examples:
* Via a dkos diary: Here's a humor piece that Domenech published in his college paper. It's lifted from PJ O'Rourke. Here's a link I hope will work, to Amazon.com's 'Reader'; if that doesn't work, use this, and click where it says 'p. 176'. I won't excerpt, since that would require typing the O'Rourke in, but trust me: this one just goes on and on and on.
* From another dkos diary: Compare Domenech's review of "Bringing Out the Dead" to this one from Salon.com. The plagiarized part starts with the sentence "Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage) is a New York City medic who's haunted by the ghosts of the people he couldn't save, particularly that of a young girl named Rose." It's the second sentence of the Salon review's third paragraph, and (with 'haunted' changed to 'confronted') the beginning of the fourth paragraph of Domenech's.
* Still more from a dkos diarist: But note: I can't find a date for the Cox piece, so it could be that Domenech's piece preceded it. I've emailed the author, and will update if he replies.
"Translucent and glowing, they ooze up from the ground and float through solid walls, wriggling countless tentacles and snapping their jaws. They're known as the Phantoms, alien thingies that, for three decades, have been sucking the life out of the earthlings of “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.” Swollen nightmares from a petri dish, they're the kind of grotesque whatsits horror writer H.P. Lovecraft would have kept as pets in his basement."
"Translucent and glowing, they ooze up from the ground and float through solid walls, splaying their tentacles and snapping their jaws, dripping a discomfiting acidic ooze. They're known as the Phantoms, otherworldly beings who, for three decades, have been literally sucking the life out of the earthlings of the human."
I actually found my own bit. I noticed that when I clicked 'Home' on the reviews from Domenech's college paper, I got an error message, and I wanted to confirm that this was, in fact, legit. The ensuing Google search landed me with a whole list of Domenech's articles, and since (as a professor) I have some experience with using Google to discover plagiarism, I decided to try my hand at it. I didn't check many of them (life is short), but I did find this bit, from reviews of Toy Story Two:
"In this sequel, Woody (Tom Hanks) gets snatched at a garage sale by a bad guy, Big Al, voiced by Wayne Knight (Seinfeld's Newman, forever destined to play the role of an overweight jerk). Unbeknownst to most everybody else, Woody is now a valuable collector's item, part of a set of '50s Western-themed toys being put together by an unscrupulous dealer. He intends to sell the toys to a museum in (where else?) Japan. (...)
Woody's old gang ‹ Rex, the timid dinosaur (Wallace Shawn), Hamm the piggy bank (John Ratzenberger), Slinky Dog (Jim Varney) and Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) ‹ leave the security of Andy's bedroom to rescue their pal, led by the intrepid Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen)."
"In this sequel, Woody gets snatched at a garage sale by a bad guy. Unbeknownst to most everybody else, Woody is now a valuable collector's item, part of a set of '50s, Western-themed toys being put together by an unscrupulous dealer.
He intends to sell the toys to a museum in (where else?) Japan. (...)
Woody's old gang -- the timid dinosaur, Hamm the piggy bank, Slinky dog and Mr. Potato Head -- leave the security of Andy's bedroom to rescue their pal, led by the intrepid Buzz Lightyear."
I don't know Ben Domenech/Augustine at all well. The only post of his I remembered before this all happened was a spectacularly ill-informed piece on stem cells; I contemplated writing something on it, but decided to comment on RedState instead. So I really have no idea what to make of this. I'd be interested in the views of those who follow his work more closely.
However, there are a few things I do know.
First, plagiarism is very serious. I don't know how much this view is shared by people who don't write for a living, but for writers, it's pretty much the ultimate dishonor. Your reputation as a writer or a scholar depends on your written work, and the discovery that you have been passing someone else's work off as your own is the closest thing we have to a mortal sin.
Second, in my opinion, the Post should not have hired him, not because he's conservative, but because he has no journalistic experience, and besides, his first few blog posts were pretty dreadful. But if these charges pan out and they don't fire him, they have no standards at all. Likewise, if they pan out, you have to ask yourself why the Post didn't do a better job of vetting him before they hired him.
Third, what could he have been thinking when he took the Post job? If anything on earth is predictable, it's that if the Post hired a lightning rod like Domenech, his work would be gone over with a fine toothed comb. Could he possibly not have anticipated this? If he did, why didn't he just come up with a decent excuse to say no?
Finally, Ben Domenech/Augustine wrote:
"Ethical rules are the rules for a reason, and the Republican Party is one that respects the rule of law – that means really respecting it, not dancing along the edge. Because when the Democrats play dirty, they should have to stretch the truth; they should have to lie and connive; and they should have to find people like Ronnie Earle to do it for them. If they don’t have to do that, then something’s wrong. (...)
Ethical relativists do not belong in a party founded on moral absolutes. And just because the “Do as you're told” Republicans get elected doesn't mean we should ever let them get power. We need to push them out, for the good of the country and the party, and 2006 is the year to do it."
I completely agree about the need to respect moral values. If these charges are as well-founded as they seem to be, it will be interesting to see whether Ben Domenech has the guts to apply these principles to his own case, or whether he deploys morality only against other people.
Update: RedState's response is here. If you strip away the parts about liberals being awful, the response to the plagiarism accusations is:
"And now those opposed to Ben have googled prior writings that on the surface appear suspicious, but only because permissions obtained and judgments made offline were not reflected online by an out dated and out of business campus newspaper. But that's all the opponents want - just enough to sabotage a career, though in the process they will sabotage themselves. Facts have no meaning. Only impressions have any bearing on this. The charges of plagarism are false, meant to bring down a good and honest man. The presented facts to prove plagarism are specious -- products of shoddy work."
I can't believe they have read all the cases. It's not just a college newspaper; it's stuff that appeared in the National Review. Speaking for myself, I would not have written on this if I hadn't looked at them, and concluded that they were not specious. There are also more than enough cases to make you wonder: can all of these have a benign explanation? I am prepared to discover that they do. But I can't imagine that Erick (who wrote the RedState piece) would be as confident as he seems to be if he had read all the cases that are coming out.
I also can't imagine that he wrote his piece without talking to Domenech. If all this turns out somehow to be baseless, well and good. If not, it's hard to imagine that Domenech hasn't just added lying to his friends and defenders to plagiarism.