Et tu, Ms. Dowd? Maureen Dowd, the love-her-or-hate-her op-ed columnist for
the New York Times, scored one for the hate-her team on Saturday when she got caught
act of apparent plagiarism.
In her weekend column, Dowd sought to highlight the
of the Republicans holding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s feet to the fire for
not opposing Republican policies on torture aggressively enough. Interesting as this
might have been, it subsequently drowned in the backwash of controversy over
her almost verbatim use of a 43-word paragraph that had already appeared in
a column written by Josh Marshall on the political website
Talking Points Memo.
The similarity was first noticed by TPM on Sunday, and by the evening a mortified Dowd had
apologized, saying she had not read Marshall’s column but that evidently
someone she knew had. “I was talking to a friend of mine Friday about what I was writing,” she wrote in an
e-mail to the Huffington Post among others, “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.’ The
amended the web version and noted the correction.
But, as the blogosphere quickly pointed out, this idea was not so much woven
into the column as slathered in Elmer’s and pasted right on. It seemed
implausible, many noted, that Dowd could repeat word for word what she said she
Or that the friend had expressed the idea in precisely the same way as
Marshall without knowing it. And if the idea was not her own, why didn’t she
attribute the friend
“[Dowd] didn’t say whether it was conveyed by phone or e-mail,” pointed out
spokesperson Diana McNulty. “In any case it was an error. It was corrected.
Anyone with even the most passing acquaintance with Maureen’s work knows
she does not hesitate to attribute other people’s work.”
Indeed, Marshall was, or would have been, the eighth person Dowd cited in
her 16-paragraph story, quoting four directly. It’s that cherry-picking of
others’ thoughts and opinions that agitates her detractors, of whom she
has many within the Times newsroom. In one
article on anti-semitic remarks made by Mel Gibson in 2006, more than half
the column comprised direct quotes from her friend New Republic editor
Wieseltier. ‘It was seven paragraphs of a 13 paragraph story,’ grumbles one
To be fair, to write as many columns as Dowd does ,
writers can become a little like idea magpies, taking whatever shiny object
they can find to make their creation robust and attractive. Dowd has to
make her voice heard over
all the political static that constantly buzzes over the blogosphere. And,
inevitably, mistakes slip through. Or she plum runs out of inspiration on
given topic and falls back on less-than-original notions.
Yet it’s especially ironic that
the Pulitzer Prize winner fumbled in this area. Back in 1987, she
then Presidential-hopeful Joe Biden borrowing heavily from a British
speech. On the other hand, things worked out OK for
him in the end.See TIME’s pictures of the week.