There is yet another plagiarism scandal afoot. I declare it a silly one, and therefore predict that what I am writing here will raise a mini-foofaraw in journalistic circles. It may well get me targeted by the same journalism Internet sleuths who broke this “scandal,” and they might comb my oeuvre trying to prove that I am a plagiarist myself, which might explain why I am daring to question the agreed-upon level of public tsk-ing, using the agreed-upon hair-trigger definition of what constitutes theft in our a shabby new world of frantic Internet journalism that, in its very DNA, happens to encourage and reward theft.
To make A Point About Plagiarism—in particular, the forty-some-odd instances of plagiarism committed by BuzzFeed's Benny Johnson in his viral listicles—the Washington Post's crappy, lazy internet writer Gene Weingarten, willfully and explicitly plagiarizes a sentence written by Malcolm Gladwell, about plagiarism: "The ethics of plagiarism have turned into the narcissism of small differences: Because journalism cannot own up to its heavily derivative nature, it must enforce originality on the level of the sentence." Like Weingarten's complete bull-doody pathetic little phony piece, it performs the work of distinguishing degrees of plagiarism in order to diminish a particular instance of it.
Weingarten, up there on top of that high horse whose feet are sunk in the mud, after admitting that he cribbed "the best sentence in this piece" from Gladwell, writes, "Now, had I not disclosed stealing this line, I would have been reprimanded by The Washington Post, probably disciplined with a suspension, and possibly fired. I would not have contested whatever punishment I received, because I would know I deserved it because I had been a thief." I have done the same thing with the first paragraph of this piece, which is why it reads like the beginning of a wretched, groveling post. (Please imagine that there were quotation marks around it, or that it was slightly offset, indicating that it was an extended quote. It is now no longer stolen.)
But what Weingarten does not disclose is that he clearly stole the second best line in the piece—"I contend you cannot steal something of no intrinsic value; say, a fart"—which is good enough to have been curaggregated elsewhere.
Several days earlier, Awl pal Mat Honan had tweeted:
Trying to take Buzzfeed guy's plagiarism seriously but the posts in question… It's like he stole someone else's signature fart.
— mat honan (@mat) July 27, 2014
Weingarten's plagiarism of Honan's plagiarism fart joke has not gone unnoticed:
— mat honan (@mat) July 29, 2014
But, just because one cannot steal a fart, does that mean one cannot steal a fart joke? Weingarten should perhaps apologize, probably in farts. But one hopes the Washington Post will not treat him too harshly: someone who steals a fart joke is a weird, disreputable person, perhaps, and even someone deserving of firing, perhaps, but not a thief.
Photo by Doug Brown