Political Animal


March 08, 2013 5:00 PM Double Plagiarism

By Ed Kilgore

Today’s most depressing story involves former WaPo reporter and columnist, former host of NPR’s Talk of the Nation, and current Fox News commentator and columnist for The Hill, Juan Williams. He got caught lifting whole sections from a Think Progress piece for his column, and when confronted with the plagiarism, blamed his research assistant, who seems to have ghosted a goodly portion of the column.

TAP’s Paul Waldman makes the obvious judgments on Williams’ sins and horribly ineffective defense:

What he actually got caught doing was an act of double plagiarism, even though only one of the acts of plagiarism is considered problematic. After all, plagiarism is taking someone else’s words and passing them off as your own without attribution. Williams does that whenever his assistant writes something for him that then appears verbatim in his column, which from his explanation sounds like something he does regularly. It’s just that this time, his assistant passed off CAP’s words as his own to Williams, and Williams then passed off CAP’s words as his own to his readers, when he thought he was only passing off his assistant’s words as his own, which otherwise nobody would know about.

Waldman goes on to speculate that a lot of “big-time pundits” have significant research help, what with their having to juggle their highly paid jobs with, well, the social and professional obligations of “big-time punditry,” and faults Williams only for failing to give his research assistance some meager public credit when he’s actually helping write the column.

Maybe it’s just jealousy because I have to create about thirty times more content each week than Juan Williams or George Will or other “big-time pundits,” for what is likely a small fraction of their probable compensation, but I’m inclined to be less tolerant than Paul about this incident. With all the resources he has, Williams ought to be able to write his own stuff, and if he has to let a “research assistant” ghost for him now and then, he should be able to do the minimal Google searching to ensure there is no plagiarism. Failing that, he could at least take responsibility for the plagiarism in his own named column without throwing the assistant publicly under the bus.

Political journalism probably has more winner-take-all concentration of rewards, material and non-material, among a tiny elite than any line of work other than professional sports. It’s not a great deal to expect from those at the top—whose work, however good, is typically not leaps and bounds above that of hundreds of other people, professional and amateur—to maintain a minimal level of integrity about who actually generates that work. Admitting you use a ghost only when the ghost gets you in trouble does not pass the test.

UPDATE: As is often the case, Digby says it better.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Christopher Hobe Morrison on March 08, 2013 5:28 PM:

    I wonder if Williams might have been set up by the assistant. Putting something irresistable in front of him, knowing he'd steal it?

  • Michael Robinson on March 08, 2013 5:31 PM:

    "about thirty times more"

    And much higher quality, too. Don't forget that.

  • Steve on March 08, 2013 5:53 PM:


    [Thanks. Edit has been made. --Mod]

  • troglodyte on March 08, 2013 6:12 PM:

    Ed, you do a fine job, writing multiple posts each day in good journalistic English. Not to defend Juan Williams, but its probably true that doing written media and video appearances within the same time frame is very hard to do efficiently. Paul Krugman seems able to multitask well, but he blogs once or twice a day, and Id bet that he lives close enough to his Princeton office to walk there.

  • golack on March 08, 2013 6:58 PM:

    look like NPR was right to dump him...

  • smartalek on March 08, 2013 10:28 PM:

    Couldn't have happened to a more deserving fellow.
    The only downside to this is that some of the wingers are going to assume that both his ascension and his downfall will be race-based: affirmative action on the way up, incompetence on the way down.
    Assuming, that is, that there is any downfall.
    IOKIYAR, after all.
    Does being one of the house "liberals" at Fox count, do you spose?

  • MikeN on March 08, 2013 11:31 PM:

    I think you're being unfair to big-time pundits.

    After all, the MSM-types have to spend a considerable amount of time schmoozing at Beltway cocktail parties to keep up their valuable inside connections,while the Fox News right-wingers have to make obeisances to the wealthy campaign contributors.

    As well, both types have to spend a lot of time on those lucrative public-speaking gigs. It doesn't leave much time for writing, never mind actual research.

  • MuddyLee on March 09, 2013 8:41 AM:

    And let's not forget all the time the Fox News types have to spend in wardrobe and makeup before going on the air - not to mention the time they have to spend kissing the asses of Roger Ailes and the Koch Brothers. (Captcha says "clergy")

  • jpeckjr on March 09, 2013 9:36 AM:

    @MikeN: "It doesn't leave much time for writing, never mind actual research."

    Or thinking. It doesn't leave much time for thinking either. It has been apparent for years that being on Fox doesn't leave much time for thinking.

    P.S. I thought "progressional" was the opposite of "congressional." Use in a sentence: "Well, they're not being very progressional on Capital Hill these days, are they?"

  • Michael Ryle on March 09, 2013 10:01 AM:

    Just goes to show, there is no honor among thieves.

    And I don't know. Digby's post is good but I think yours is better.

    Anyway, thanks to you both, and others, for helping to drop the hammer on this pompous ass.

  • Daniel Buck on March 09, 2013 1:46 PM:

    I suspect the practice of publishing a research assistant's work as one's own is much more common than one might imagine, especially among high-flying pundits and historians. (Think Doris Kearns Goodwin or Winston Churchill. Churchill employed a squadron of writers, and they lifted wholesale from other publications.) We need not get into the literary product of members of Congress, or the texts of half the advocacy op-eds that appear in your newspaper.

    I realize that in a plagiarism case it's an embarrassing defense to say that you didn't write it, and is probably used when it's not true -- toss the anonymous researcher under the bus -- but still. That said, any writer that publishes the work of research assistant publishes at his/her peril. Dan

    PS I wrote this post. All typos, errors of logic, stolen ideas, etc. are mine.

  • Rich Beckman on March 10, 2013 12:33 PM:

    My only exposure to Juan Williams was when he hosted Talk of the Nation. That was more than sufficient to convince me he was to be ignored.

    He was incapable of having even a semi-coherent conversation on a daily basis. Why the world still knows who he is constitutes a great mystery.