When copying and pasting goes awry

WHEN COPYING AND PASTING GOES AWRY…. As you may have heard by now, the New York Times‘ Maureen Dowd ran into a little trouble over the weekend. A TPM Cafe blogger noticed a phrase in the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist’s latest piece that sounded pretty familiar.

Here’s Dowd, yesterday:

More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when the Bush crowd was looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.

And here’s TPM’s Josh Marshall, in a post on Thursday:

More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Where Josh wrote “we were,” Dowd wrote “the Bush crowd was.” The other 41 words, including every comma, are exactly the same.

I’d assumed that Dowd would chalk this up to a careless error, perhaps pin it on a research assistant, explain that she meant to credit TPM, and express contrition over the mix-up.

But that’s not quite what transpired. Dowd told the Huffington Post that the quote was obviously from TPM, but said she doesn’t read the blog. “I was talking to a friend of mine Friday about what I was writing 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,” Dowd said. “But, clearly, my friend must have read Josh Marshall without mentioning that to me.”

That’s not much of a response. The friend told Dowd an exact-word quote, including the commas, and she “weaved” it into her column? (It seems more likely to me the friend emailed Dowd the paragraph, Dowd liked it, and pasted the paragraph into her column.)

Dowd’s explanation is, to put it mildly, unpersuasive. In fact, Jamison Foser asks the right question: “So how do you think Maureen Dowd would react if, say, Joe Biden ripped off a few dozen of someone else’s words, then offered up an excuse this lame? Or if Al Gore did?”

The Biden question is especially relevant, since Dowd personally helped end Biden’s presidential campaign in 1987 … exposing a plagiarism problem.