When Ben Domenech was accused (correctly) of being a serial plagiarist he called his accusers names. Within hours of resigning his plum new position as the conservative blogger for the Washington Post, he called his editors fools. Plagiarism is no petty crime in the world of commentary and journalism and the response of Domenech and his RedState.com compatriots looks terrible in just 48 hours time. The most fascinating aspects of this story, those which go some way in explaining how this reaction happened, have not been commented upon. For readers who did not follow this controversy from start to finish the story must be recounted.
Ben Domenech’s world collapsed in just a few hours on Friday and my guess is that a few hundred politics and media junkies, through the magic vision of the internet, “watched” the whole thing happen. Just put together the timestamps on RedState, DailyKos, and NRO’s “The Corner” and you can reconstruct Ben Domenech’s Friday, hour by hour. Domenech has been one of the brightest stars among young conservatives. He began working at Human Events when he was fifteen. By the time he began college he was a regular contributor to National Review Online, covering the Sunday Talk shows and writing cultural pieces. He became a speechwriter for the Department of Health and Human Services at an incredibly young age. He co-founded RedState.com in 2004, which has since become the largest conservative community and activist site on the web.
Last week, after months of preparation, Ben Domenech, launched a blog, sponsored by the Washington Post, called “Red America.” The title was provocative and Ben had wrangled with his editors at the Post regarding how the title positioned him. Weblogs on the left balked. Ambitious and opportunistic critics began to dig. Many of the criticisms leveled at Ben were plainly unfair and in some instances vulgar. Ben was criticized as inexperienced (obviously untrue) and as a racist (despite a long record of anti-racist writing). For two days it seemed that the left wing of the blogosphere was picking up anything with which to beat him down. His colleagues at RedState naturally and admirably leaped to his defense. When charges of plagiarism surfaced, to many it seemed like more of the same: a new tactic in a dirty war. But once a few paragraphs Domenech had written for his college paper were compared to work found at Salon.com everything began to unravel.
RedState Editor Charles Bird asked for a full response from Domenech, citing the fact that Ben’s name is attached to the “masthead” of their site. Soon, posting under the name “Augustine,” Ben did respond. But before mentioning anything about the ominous black cloud over his credibility — he recounted the “hate mail” he received, drawing attention to the profane and violent nature of these “attacks” against him. Domenech explained that many of these perceived instances of plagiarism were attributable to his past editors, to his youth, an all too human sloppiness in his notes, and, in one instance, he said P.J. O’Rourke had given him permission to customize a chapter of Modern Manners for his college paper.
He concluded with another salvo, “To my enemies: I take enormous solace in the fact that you spent this week bashing me, instead of America.” One RedState editor declaimed prematurely, “on the surface [it] 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.”
Things began to move quickly. Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review soon contacted Domenech to put him on notice that they would be investigating the pieces he had written for them going back to his freshman year of college. This must have been cold comfort to Domenech as he had been criticizing “K.Lo” for her support of Mitt Romney for some time. RedState.com’s editors lamented the “rush to judgment” by conservatives, obviously referring to Michelle Malkin and Rick Moran who had called Domenech out. NRO soon posted the results of their internal investigation. They were not good. Several paragraphs were copied from other writers verbatim. Unique turns of phrase were stolen and it was discovered that Domenech had even lifted some material from NRO itself when he was writing for his college newspaper. Domenech soon posted again on RedState apologizing to NRO and disowning his previous “obsfucation.” That night, P.J. O’Rourke told the New York Times that he never gave someone else permission to print his material under their byline.
No one can fault the reflexive defense mounted by RedState for their co-founder, especially when Domenech’s original critics gave no indication of being fair or decent. They succumbed to a pressure unique to the blogosphere — to publish faster than the speed of thought. They acted on instinct for everyone to see. But as the facts came out, RedState’s editors were surprisingly unfazed. Mike Krempasky had the last word, announcing Domenech’s leave of absence and prophesying his walk down the road of redemption. The harshest words were not for the colleague that had only a few hours ago refused to own up to his intellectual theft, and used RedState to lash out at his critics and spin the story in his favor, but for that man’s critics. “Loathesome (sic), vile, and disgusting — their contempt for civil behavior surpassed only by the emptiness of their own souls.”
In short, it was a poor show all around. Domenech’s lashing out at his editors at the Post in a Human Events interview seemed petulant and, in light of later revelations, despicable. However, it was the Post who urged the title “Red America” onto Ben Domenech’s blog. Perhaps they felt they needed to answer conservative media critics and place an unapologetic conservative on staff. Or perhaps the name functioned as a kind of warning label: “Toxic, Do not Listen to this Guy.” Either way it made Domenech into a target. He called his editors fools “if they didn’t expect the leftists were going to come after me with their sharpened knives.” But he had long ago sharpened the knives that killed this project.
Thanks to the internet, material he had published at a very young age was available for everyone to scrutinize: a sobering reminder to any ambitious young writer. Thanks to the internet, vulgar little diarists were able to inflame Domenech and give him hope for a way out of this mess. Thanks to the internet his colleagues looked gullible and haughty in their defense. And thanks to the internet, a few politics and media junkies like myself (the kind that check the masthead of a magazine before the table of contents) were transfixed this Friday, hitting the refresh button every few minutes as Domenech’s personal tragedy played out before us.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Andrew Stiles
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Kathlyn Ehl