Outsourcing the scut work
Paul Waldman on the plague of plagiarism among top tier pundits:
Not long ago I was getting a shiatsu massage in my office when my assistant came in to tell me that he'd gathered the data on government spending that I'd asked for, and written it up in text form so I could drop it into my next column. When I read what he'd written, it looked suspiciously like turgid think-tank prose, so I asked him whether these were his own words or those of the source from which he got the data. When he began his response with "Um..." I knew he had failed me, so I flung my double espresso in his face, an act of discipline I thought rather restrained. Over the sound of his whimpering and the scent of burning flesh, I explained to him that real journalists don't pass off the work of others as their own. As part of his penance, I forced him to write my columns for me in their entirety for the next three weeks. The scars are healing nicely, and with my benevolent guidance he is well on his way to becoming the journalist I know he can be.
OK, that didn't actually happen. I don't have an assistant. I suppose if I resided at a higher tier of the Washington opinion journalism hierarchy, I would. Like Juan Williams, who finds himself in a spot of trouble today. As Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon reports, parts of a column Williams recently "wrote" for The Hill were lifted almost word-for-word from a Center for American Progress report on immigration. read on ...
I guess when you spend a lot of time in limos and green rooms you just don't have time to be meticulous about this stuff. But honestly, in the internet age it's just daft to plagiarize. All that has to happen to get caught is for someone to plug in a phrase from your writing and you're a dead duck.
I don't get it. But then I just write seven days a week without a research assistant (or ride in limos and green rooms) so what do I know?
I suppose that many of the biggest of big-time columnists have research assistants, though I'm not really sure. After all, someone needs to look up obscure quotes from the Federalist Papers for George Will (and imagine if there's actually an intern transcribing the insights of Bangalore cab drivers on Tom Friedman's behalf). If I'm ever offered a New York Times column and become fabulously well-paid for doing basically the same thing I do now, but I also have to fit in the writing between appearances on Meet the Press and lucrative speeches to the likes of the National Grommet Council, maybe then I'll hire a research assistant. There's nothing wrong with that. But there is something wrong with having an assistant who doesn't just do research for you but actually writes prose that you then present as your own, even if it's only a paragraph here and there. When you're a writer and articles go out under your byline, your readers believe that the words are yours. If one week your assistant wrote half your column, then he should get credit for it, not only because he deserves it, but because otherwise, you're deceiving your readers. Just a line at the bottom saying "This column was prepared with the assistance of Jimmy Olsen" could be enough. If you can't manage to write your own words, then you should get into another line of work.
I think many of these folks crossed over long ago from being writers to TV celebrities. It's a different line of work for most of them much more lucrative and satisfying. Of course they're going to outsource the shit work. That's what wealthy TV celebrities do. There are only so many hours in the day.