Punditry: I’ve Heard it all Before

As I was writing my article on the Ben Domenech scandal, doing my best to make it impartial and present all sides, bloggers were working feverishly to poke holes in Deomenech’s defense and, more significantly, something was swirling around inside Domenech’s head. He knew that he had been caught and that the lies he had told the world in his defense would soon be discovered. 

He then did what most plagiarists do in these circumstances. He apologized and asked for mercy. Some granted it, others have not.

Personally though, I didn’t have to wait for the apology or the evidence to debunk his defense, I knew Domenech was a plagiarist. I knew it not because I had any proof or had even read the works involved, but because, in solving over 300 cases of plagiarism involving my own work, I’ve heard the entire Domenech defense before.

The Curse of a Journalism Degree

There are days that I literally hate being a journalist. In school, as well as in the field, I was taught to report a story fairly, to present both sides and make no accusations that haven’t been completely proved. There’s a reason that a man can commit a crime in full view of a thousand witnesses and ten cameras but be listed as the "alleged" perpetrator in the next days paper. Everyone, in a free society, is innocent until proved guilty and if one doesn’t admit the act or is found guilty in a court of law, then they get the benefit of the doubt.

The problem is that, many times, we know someone is guilty but can not voice that on the one in a million chance of being wrong. So, like a poker player with an incredible hand, we have to watch how things unfold before laying down our cards.

It’s difficult, but it’s what ethical journalists do. Journalism requires a degree of restraint and, if that’s not for you, then you’re better suited for punditry.

Nonetheless, though I was skeptical about the age and significance of the Domenech claims, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs that he was a plagiarist, or at least was at one point.

The reason is simple: I’d heard every excuse he offered before, only not from a discredited blogger, but rather, plagiarists stealing my own work.

The Excuses

Let’s take a look at Domenech’s excuses one by one.  

  • That Editors inserted passages from other works into his stories (His excuse for the plagiarized passages discovered in his work for The Flat Hat).

Plagiarists, it seem, never actually insert the nicked literature themselves. It’s always someone else. Dozens of times in my battles I’ve had people tell me that they let someone else work on their site, blog or profile and that it must have been that person who put up the stolen works. Sisters, friends, teachers, editors, it’s all the same. Plagiarists consistently try to find some plausible person that is not present to defend themselves to take the blame.

  • That he had permission from P.J. O’Rourke (His answer to allegations of plagiarizing a section of O’Rourke’s "Modern Manners" book).

Though, in reality, it’s debatable whether or not Domenech actually met O’Rourke, this excuse rings hollow for another reason. Simply put, why would anyone give permission for their work to be plagiarized? Nonetheless, I hear it all the time. Plagiarists claim that a mysterious friend gave them permission to use the work and take credit for it though, when asked, none can actually produce the person in question.  

The truth is that no one in their right mind would give permission for someone to take credit for their work like that and, if they did, it should be treated with great skepticism. However, even with permission, it’s still a form a lying. After all, getting permission from the author doesn’t give you permission to lie to the world.

  • That he wrote both articles (His answer to allegations he plagiarized a review he submitted to the National Review Online).

Though no plagiarist has yet to tell me personally they wrote the work, which would be basically calling me a liar and a plagiarist in my own right, one did try to claim that he was some how sending me the works to post on my site. The account was quickly cut soon thereafter and I learned my lesson, never letting another plagiarism battle go public like that again. 

In the end though, there was nothing unique about Domenech’s excuses, they were the standard set of lies in every plagiarist toolbox

Lies, Lies and More Lies 

A plagiarist is, fundamentally, a thief and a liar. They steal words, thoughts and expressions from one and then lie to the rest of the world by claiming it as their own. Though we might be tempted to say a plagiarist is "fundamentally good" and that plagiarism is a minor offense, what plagiarism says about a person’s character is unmistakable. 

While anyone can make a mistake, how can we trust someone who repeatedly plagiarizes (stealing from others and lying to the world), to tell the truth about anything else?

If there’s a lesson that can be learned from the Domenech scandal, it’s that plagiarists are liars and they will continue to lie so long as there’s a chance that the lie can keep them out of trouble. Generally speaking, a repeat plagiarist will only stop lying when they can carry him/her no farther. Then, they’ll offer an apology but one less out of remorse and more out of an attempt to get the pressure off.

In that regard, Domenech’s response to being caught was no different than that of a sixteen-year-old plagiarist getting caught swiping poetry and essays for his Myspace account. No more mature, no more responsible and no more honorable. 

When it’s all said and done, it’s not a matter of age, race, gender, political affiliation or class, but one of personal character. Plagiarists just don’t have it. 

It’s that simple.

[tags]Plagiarism, Domenech, Contenth Theft, Copyright, Copyright Infringement, Conservative, Liberal[/tags] 

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