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Breaking a Caterpillar Upon A Wheel?


So Ben Domenech’s tenure as the token conservative blogger at the Washington Post is over. The real journalists are all in a huff about plagiarism. And the more aggressive of my fellow travelers on the left are enjoying the moment. But I have to ask, is what he did wrong that big a deal?

I don’t know Ben — obviously my fellow Spot-oner Josh Trevino does, having co-founded with him —and equally obviously I don’t agree with 99% of his political views. In addition, what happens to one young conservative punk don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. There’s plenty more opportunist cannon fodder to take his place.

That the Washington Post thinks that it has to start providing a blog at all (and their complete incompetence in doing it without screwing it up twice) shows that for that once great newspaper what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. Some editorial staff you just can’t reach. Do they seriously think that it’s hard to find either conservative or liberal blogs out there? If they have a spare dollar, perhaps they should spend it on, I don’t know, more reporting?

But while it’s all fun and games playing Gotcha on both ends of the political spectrum, let’s be reasonable about one or two things.

First, none of this was about Domench’s current ideas.

On Friday afternoon, Domenech offered a detailed and emotional response to the allegations in a posting on, a conservative blog that he helped create. He said some of the plagiarism accusations were simply wrong. Other allegations were related to a “single semester’s worth of pieces” when he was a 17-year-old undergraduate at William & Mary, he said.

It was about his “work”, sloppy and unpaid work though it was, when he was a teenager. And as far as I can tell (and I certainly can’t be bothered to review more than the news articles about it)  he was lifting lines here and there from other people’s writing. OK that’s not clever, it’s not particularly ethical, but in the end who the hell gets hurt? I mean it was only movie reviews and ripping off PJ O’Rourke. He wasn’t making up stories, writing propaganda for money, or claiming to have been out in the field while he was drinking in bars on the lower East Side. He was a kid who was stealing term-papers off the Internet and passing them off as his own. Hands up anyone who’s never done that, or for that matter peppered their article with unattributed movie quotes!

And not just in school. For instance, I once went to see someone at a state medical association, and in the reception scanned through their newsletter. I found an article by the Association’s President that reminded me of something I wrote. On closer examination it was an exact reprint of a 1,500 word article I’d written, passed off as the president’s authorship. Now if that had been in Health Affairs or the New England Journal of Medicine I might have been a little grumpy. But in an association newsletter? So what. I said nothing to my contact there, and forgot about the whole thing. Because it really didn’t matter.As does a movie review in a college newspaper

Which brings me to the second point. There are times when the exact line by line examination of history or manufactured history really does matter, as does the reaction to it. There are times when that issue matters because it goes to eleven. The Swiftboat episode, the Bush desertion episode, the WMD lying, all were examples of where there was a real political consequence to all of us from the fall out. And I know that from a leftish perspective, we lost on all of those. And next time when it’s a serious issue around getting actual facts from things that happened years ago out to the electorate and controlling the spin, we need to do better. But those issues actually mattered because they impacted the election.

Domenech’s career doesn’t matter to anyone apart from him. Screwing him over because of some pretty minor misdeeds when he was young and foolish shows that we’ve lost all perspective. And besides, at the ripe old age of 24 he can now go on Oprah and become one of the youngest ever to confess all his misdeeds and emerge pure as the driven snow. Who knows, it’ll probably be good for his Presidential campaign in 2036.

But taking him down cannot have been worth the effort expended by the liberal bloggers this week.

Share  Posted by Matt Holt at 11:20 AM | Permalink

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