Hiding Behind the Readers

Last week, the New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt meted out a half-hearted wrist-slap to Maureen Dowd for her rip off of a Josh Marshall posting. This week, Hoyt lets the readers have their say. They are not amused by Dowd’s lame excuse or by the Times’ spinelessness in dealing with a high-profile columnist who plainly broke the rules of Journalism 101. One writes:

If Maureen Dowd actually got a 42 word “quote” in writing from a friend and then used it almost verbatim, why didn’t she attribute the comment to the e-mail correspondent who gave it to her? The fact that Ms. Dowd did not realize from whom she was taking the quote does not mean she was unaware that the unattributed words were not her own, which is the essence of plagiarism. You should have named it as such.

Another argues:

Crediting two bloggers doesn’t justify copying and pasting the words of a third. The words were clearly not Maureen Dowd’s, and even the punctuation was the same as Josh Marshall’s. Mr. Marshall isn’t pressing the issue and considers the matter closed, but that doesn’t justify letting Ms. Dowd off the hook with just a correction. The passive-voice note that she “failed to attribute a paragraph” seems to play down what actually occurred.

So Hoyt and the Times management haven’t the nerve to punish Dowd, but they are content to rummage through the mail bag and give space to readers who aren’t intimidated by Dowd. It is a rather passive-aggressive performance. And the question remains: is the standard at the Gray Lady now “one free plagiarism”? Or does that only apply to the grande dame of snark?