I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Bush movement is unburdened by behavioral standards

(updated below - updated several more times)

I haven't blogged about the raging blogosphere controversy arising out of the hiring by of former blogger and Republican operative Ben Domenech because I have not had much to say about it. I thought the hiring reflects some highly questionable editorial judgment, given that Domenech's writings are trite, rage-fueled rants filled with mindless talking points which one can find anywhere -- he aspires to be some sort of juvenile online Rush Limbaugh -- but has the right to associate itself with that level of writing and analysis if it wants. And while there are some journalistic issues raised by the supposed need for "balance," others have discussed that issue thoroughly.

But now that it has been conclusively demonstrated that Domenech is guilty of a long pattern of repeated, deliberate and extensive acts of outright plagiarism -- routinely lifting paragraph after paragraph verbatim from other people's articles when purporting to write his own -- this little episode does now illustrate a significant dynamic worth commenting upon. Most Bush supporters have no behavioral standards of any kind and will defend any behavior at all -- no matter how venal or corrupt -- as long as it's engaged in by a fellow Bush supporter. Allegiance to the Bush movement outweighs every other attribute, and renders acceptable, even justifiable, even the most dishonest and reprehensible conduct.

Plagiarism is a serious and destructive offense. It has nothing to do with political views or ideology. Copying someone else's writing and claiming it as your own is deceitful, fraudulent and wrong. It is stealing. And Domenech is clearly guilty of that -- deliberately and repeatedly.

But Domenech loves George Bush and works as a Republican operative. He worked for Sen. Jon Cornyn, was a RedState regular, and edited Michelle Malkin's book. So behavioral standards don't apply to him. By definition, nothing that he does can be wrong -- certainly not that wrong -- because he's a person at his core who is incapable of doing anything truly blameworthy, and the proof of that is that he is a Bush supporter. As a result, in the face of this truly disturbing and facially conclusive evidence that Domenech is a serial plagiarist, his comrades at RedState are searching around desperately for some rationale to defend and justify his conduct, literally insisting that there is nothing wrong with overt acts of deliberate plagiarism.

I first began writing about the NSA scandal when -- almost immediately after the New York Times had disclosed the program, literally the day after -- I began reading in the blogosphere all sorts of twisted, plainly uninformed "legal" justifications from Bush followers as to why the eavesdropping the NSA was engaged in actually has nothing to do with FISA, how it's not even the type of eavesdropping covered by FISA.

There was one particular "legal theory" created by a Bush follower who deliberately misquoted FISA in order to create a facially false claim as to why FISA does not require warrants for the type of eavesdropping Bush ordered -- a justification that was instantaneously disseminated far and wide by Bush lovers such as Instapundit, a law professor, whose only desire was to find some justification for Bush's behavior before having any idea if the behavior was justifiable. That justification was never even raised by the Administration and was quickly discarded once revealed as fraudulent, but the speed and disregard for the truth which characterized its instantaneous adoption was truly amazing.

What was so striking in that case was how immediately these defenses were concocted and spread like some aggressive virus. Bush followers had no interest in knowing whether the Commander-in-Chief broke the law. Their sole interest was in hunting around desperately to find some explanation as to why he did nothing wrong -- before knowing if he actually did. He is George Bush, and he therefore can do nothing improper, or if he did, it is for good reasons and therefore should be defended. And that ethical shield extends to all Bush followers.

That same standardless, ethics-free mindset is thus painfully apparent with Domenech's plagiarism. Domenech is a Republican operative, Malkin editor, and Bush supporter. He is inherently ethical, and any charges that he has done anything improper are to be rejected regardless of the evidence and without even waiting to consider it.

RedState's Leon Wolf initiated the defense-at-all-costs of Domenech by first claiming that he was only 16 or 17 years old when these offenses were committed and this outright, extensive plagiaraism was merely an innocent and understandable matter of not being "fluent in APA guidelines for blockquoting and attribution." Once it was revealed that some of this plagiarism was actually quite recent, when Domenech was in college (he's now 24), Wolf shifted his defense to the only thing he had left -- an outright justification of plagriaism. Wolf explained that he recently read a book and:

Since I've read that book, I've been chewing a lot of the ideas in my head, and I'm sure if you read over my posts from the last month, you'll find me saying things that are on the surface very similar, and it's possible that I may have even used some identical turns of phrase (although this certainly was not intentional and I didn't have a copy of the book in front of me while writing any of the aforementioned posts.) That's not plagiarism, that's being influenced.

All the same, Ben can answer for himself on these issues. I stand by my original comment in this thread, however (I think it's number three), and will continue to do so even if someone produces a videotape of Ben doing everything they've accused him of - because none of what he did in his teenage years, even if we grant that it is all true - will diminish from the truth and strength of what he is doing now.

There are now posts up at RedState entitled "We Must Defend" and "We Must Attack," insisting that Domenech did nothing wrong and demanding that Bush followers defend him regardless of whether he did. The former actually claims that all of this seems like plagiarism "only because permissions obtained and judgments made offline were not reflected online by an out dated and out of business campus newspaper"-- as though all of the magazines and journals in which his plagarized articles appear, including magazines such as National Review, really did arrange permission with all of the authors from whom Domenech stole but simply forgot to include that permission. They resort to every excuse, every justification, every false defense in order to shield their comrades, or, like Michelle Malkin and Powerline, who were eager to defend and praise Domenech before he stood revealed as a serial plagiarist, they say nothing.

It is a base, tribal mentality where group allegiance cleanses any and all wrongdoing and immunizes the individual from any accusations of wrongdoing. We have seen this play out over and over with every Bush scandal, where no conduct is too extreme and too facially wrong to be beyond their willingness to defend it away and justify it. If you support George Bush, you can do anything -- including stealing, like Domenech did repeatedly and extensively -- and still be defended, because your allegiance to the Leader means that anything you do is good, right and justifiable. That is the mentality that has been governing our country for five years now, and it is vividly apparent with this tawdry debacle.

UPDATE: Pro-Bush blogger Patterico commendably comments on the Domenech scandal, admitting that, at the very least, it is an "embarrassment." He also says he is "suspicious" about RedState's facially ridiculous defense of Domenech that the newspapers simply forgot to include all of the permissions they obtained for Domenech to lift all of that material. And he points out:

We all talked up the fact that this guy was getting a blog on the WaPo. This is a genuine issue, and it should be discussed on conservative blogs.

We'll see if his fellow pro-Bush bloggers heed his invitation for this discussion.

UPDATE II: Credit where it's due - other right-wing bloggers have now condemned Domenech's plagiarism, including Political Pit Bull and Confederate Yankee. Dan Riehl says that "if the facts are as they appear - Ben Domenech has to go. And the sooner the better." Riehl adds:

If the plagiarism allegations are true and RedState and other notable right wing bloggers stand behind Domenech - it won't be because of principle. It'll simply be a classic example of cronyism and connections getting in the way of the truth.

Indeed. How much longer can Red State go without retracting their false claims in defense of him and acknowledge that their founder is a serial plagiarist? How much longer can bloggers like Malkin and Powerline who defended Domenech remain silent about this, particularly Malkin, who called Domenech "[m]y very smart and talented editor, Ben Domenech, of Regnery Publishing."

UPDATE III: I think we also need to be hearing quite soon from Hugh Hewitt, since Domenech also edited his latest book. Hewitt says about him:

Domenech is a superb writer/reporter and very well wired on all things conservative. He's also coming to his job from Regnery, where he has just finished editing my new book.

This strikes me as a very significant story now. The founder of RedState and Regnery editor (who, among others, edited the latest books of Michelle Malkin and Hugh Hewitt) is a serial plagiarist, and Red State is issuing factually false defenses to justify his behavior.

Domenech has been skyrocketed up the movement ladder quickly because his father is a well-connected Bush loyalist and he has obviously learned the art of limitless and ethics-free political warfare. In many ways, he's a poster child for the Bush movement. And the fact that hired him to be one of their in-house bloggers in response to right-wing pressure, while his allies defend even his most indefensible conduct, is quite a case study of so many significant things.

UPDATE IV: Michelle Malkin steps up with a commendably forthright post condemning the serial plagiarism of her book editor and opining:

I certainly understand the impulse on the Right to rally around Domenech. But I can't ignore the plain evidence. And the charges can't be dismissed as "lies" or jealousy attributed to Ben's age.

The bottom line is: I know it when I see it. And, painfully, Domenech's detractors, are right. He should own up to it and step down.

She closes, however, on a sour note:

Then, the Left should cease its sick gloating and leave him and his family alone.

The pro-Bush blogosphere has built a name for itself by viciously swarming around vulnerable people and trying to end their careers. Ask Dan Rather. Or Eason Jordan, whose career death Malkin celebrated here:

The MSM calls it a lynch mob. I call it a truth squad.

The likes of Powerline, Instapundit, Capitan Ed ("I think we all can take some justified satisfaction with our small part in changing the world tonight."), and Hugh Hewitt all engaged in an orgy of self-congratulations over their tireless, and ultimately successful, efforts to destroy Jordan's career. And we can now undoubtedly look forward to some more pious intoning from that same corner about the horror of lynch mobs and feeding frenzies and the like.

My Ecosystem Details