Dateline: Downtown

Dateline: Downtown

Dan Roche

“It is the expressed policy of the University that every aspect of academic life–not only formal coursework situations, but all relationships and interactions connected to the educational process–shall be conducted in an absolutely and uncompromisingly honest manner.”

The problem with enforcement is that no one thinks about the consequences of bad actions when committing them. The above passage, from the UMB code of student conduct (available on the school website) is based on the optimistic assumption that students will comport themselves soundly whatever the case may be.

But deviant students will not stop to think, while snipping lines from, that the outcome will be dire provided the professor is the least bit discerning and has access to Google. It is an unintended slight on the teacher’s intelligence that spells the death knell for the thought-thief.

Professors know what their students are capable of. I wager that there is not a polisci major in the school who writes as well as Glenn Greenwald, but if the latter’s work shows up in any of the formers’ papers, it will be known. If plagiarism is what, say, steroids is to baseball, as a tool for the inferior to measure up and for the superior to excel even further (with a prayer in each case that the truth stays stifled), our school like any has its Neifi Perezes or its Barry Bondses.

Nothing I say, no statistic I hand out, will impress on someone so inclined the importance of academic honesty. Conviction to be honest has to come from within and can’t be imposed. But, if life is a big process of trial and error, sometimes even the most corrupted (which no one thinks of themselves as) can still learn from another’s mistakes before they make their own. If the urge to goodness doesn’t persuade, self-interest may. And the consideration here is this: Being caught plagiarizing will wreck your life. People are protective of ideas and you will get nuked.

Don’t believe me? Ask Ben Domenech.

Ben was the kind of guy you luv-to-h8, as 5ex0RZ would write on the intertubes. A ‘net semi-celebrity, the self-described “youngest member of the Bush administration” (though this claim is unclear) was 24 when opportunity knocked- well. Opportunity had knocked for Ben all his life and been brought in, a best buddy. His dad, Doug, is the White House liaison for the Department of Defense, which is perhaps where the “youngest member” claim comes from if it is genuine, a matter of nepotism and probably not merit. He went to fancy pants William and Mary, but left early to edit books for the conservative, price-chopping writer mill Regnery. He co-founded, a well-trafficked wing nut webpage. Everything yer average Joe Energy-Drink at UMB ain’t.

Opportunity yodeled for Ben again, but this time it brought robbery tools. It was the job writing for the Washington Post that cold done did him in.

Ben was hired by WaPo to “balance” another online commentator, Dan Froomkin. Froomkin was evidently considered a “liberal” voice, and the idea was that Domenech would balance him out. Froomkin, it should be noted, has an extensive background in journalism, even serving as the Post’s online editor in two previous years. Domenech’s work was slim clippings, but they picked him anyway.

I forgot to mention something about Ben Domenech. He was an inveterate plagiarizer. This fact it seems was not known before the Post job. The first installment of his blog, Red America, is a panegyric of sorts for the 1980’s anticommunist cheese flick Red Dawn.

Once Domenech had inked the deal, irate liberal computer nerds on Daily Kos and elsewhere sniffed into his past. As a writer at the William and Mary newspaper the Flat Hat, Ben had swiped from libertarianish humorist and NPR game show foil P.J. O’Rourke. I am convinced that Domenech, after stealing the piece, was high-fived after this article was written, and it produced many campus chuckles. Something like the reward system known as “the criminal mindset” was in place in Ben’s brain early.

The allegations bubbled in the blogosphere for a day or two while evidence built up. But he hadn’t just swiped from P.J., and not just in his college days. That was kind of the thing. It soon came out that his string of forgeries extended through his time at the school paper and well into his professional life.

Even as the accusations gathered, his website defended him. “He has done nothing wrong and does not deserve urban legends about his wrong doing solely because of the lies of those who are jealous of his success,” Erick of RedState said.

The Post did its own investigation. Wikipedia cites movie and music reviews and political writing he stole from Rolling Stone, the National Review, a Dallas newspaper and hey now! the Washington Post. It was too much.

I mentioned the first Red America post, which seems to have been written all in his words. The second was not written by him. And not because he’d plagiarized it. For once, someone else’s words showed up under Ben Domenech’s name without any choice on his part.

“In the past 24 hours,” Post editor Jim Brady wrote on March 24th 2006, “we learned of allegations that Ben Domenech plagiarized material that appeared under his byline in various publications prior to contracting with him to write a blog that launched Tuesday.”

The next day, Domenech launched a last volley at his perceived liberal foes as the ship went down. “To my friends,” he said, “thank you for your support. To my enemies: I take enormous solace in the fact that you spent this week bashing me, instead of America.” Ah, humility.

And thus the inglorious end. What is up with Ben Domenech now? Who cares. He can live off his rich dad. This matters to you because we at UMB don’t tend to trade on our last names and connections, but our ability to outwork and outsmart people who think they’re better than us. We have to trade on our own reputations. Not on our terms, granted, but with our own ideas.