Responding to the widespread criticism of the launch of washingtonpost.com's Red America weblog by Republican operative Ben Domenech, Howard Kurtz defended the Washington Post's actions by mischaracterizing the criticism of Domenech and minimizing the widespread accusations of plagiarism levied against Domenech. Those same accusations led to Domenech's resignation from washingtonpost.com on March 24.
Responding to the widespread criticism of the launch of washingtonpost.com's Red America weblog by Ben Domenech, a former George W. Bush aide, Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz defended the Post's actions by mischaracterizing the criticism of Domenech and minimizing the widespread -- and increasingly substantiated -- accusations of plagiarism levied against Domenech. Those same accusations led to Domenech's resignation from washingtonpost.com on March 24.
In his March 22 Media Notes Extra column, "Bush, The Salesman," Kurtz noted that the hiring of Domenech “has created an 'uproar,' ” quoting a March 21 Editor & Publisher article, and went on to write: “I don't get it. One conservative blogger? It's not like The Post doesn't have a left-leaning blogger, or liberal columnists. Is the New York Times a GOP mouthpiece because it employs David Brooks and John Tierney? If people don't like what Domenech has to say, don't click on him. It's not like you can say 'cancel my subscription!' since the Web site is free.” The “left-leaning blogger” Kurtz was presumably referring to is Dan Froomkin, author of washingtonpost.com's White House Briefing column.
Kurtz, however, was mischaracterizing the case against Domenech. Media Matters for America, for one, did not take issue with Domenech's apparent conservatism. Rather, Media Matters noted that Domenech is first and foremost a partisan activist -- a Republican operative, who has worked for the Bush administration and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), is currently an editor at a conservative publishing house, and describes himself as “the youngest political appointee of President George W. Bush.” In contrast with experienced journalists, such as Froomkin and the Post's political reporter Chris Cillizza, who also blogs on washingtonpost.com, Domenech's credentials as a journalist -- those known even before he was exposed as an alleged plagiarist -- are thin. While Domenech does claim previous employment as a “political journalist,” the Post itself noted that Domenech “abandoned journalism” after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, at the age of 19 or 20.
In his March 24 Media Notes Extra column, Kurtz also minimized allegations of Domenech's plagiarism -- the very allegations that forced Domenech's resignation half a day after Kurtz wrote his column. In purporting to address those allegations -- which included Domenech signing his name to a column in his college newspaper that appears to have been lifted entirely from conservative humorist P.J. O'Rourke's book Modern Manners: An Etiquette Book for Rude People (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990) -- Kurtz mentioned only two minor examples from Domenech's college days:
Late yesterday, the liberal Web sites Daily Kos and Atrios posted examples of what appeared to be instances of plagiarism from Domenech's writing at the William & Mary student paper. Three sentences of a 1999 Domenech review of a Martin Scorsese film were identical to a review in Salon magazine, and several sentences in Domenech's piece on a James Bond movie closely resembled one in the Internet Movie Database.
Kurtz was presumably referring to this March 23 posting (4:18 p.m. PDT) on Daily Kos, and this March 23 posting (5:29 p.m. ET) on Eschaton. Kurtz simply ignored the O'Rourke allegation, even though the Daily Kos post Kurtz referred to contained side-by-side comparisons of Domenech's column and specific passages in O'Rourke's book. The weblog Your Logo Here was the first to post a comparison of both texts on March 23 (3:05 pm, presumably PDT).
Additionally, Kurtz made no mention of the fact that allegations of Domenech's plagiarism are not limited to his college paper. A commenter on Daily Kos noted that Domenech, a one-time contributing editor to National Review Online, apparently lifted material from a Cox News Service article for an NRO movie review.
Daily Kos posted a compendium of the various plagiarism charges leveled against Domenech on March 23 (11:37 p.m. PDT).
By suggesting that the allegations of plagiarism by Domenech were limited to movie reviews for his college newspaper, Kurtz avoided questioning Domenech about the other allegations, including Domenech's apparent wholesale theft of O'Rourke's material. Apparently questioning Domenech only about the movie reviews, Kurtz then simply repeated Domenech's defense of himself: “Domenech said he needed to research the examples but that he never used material without attribution and had complained about a college editor improperly adding language to some of his articles.” Kurtz gave no indication that he tried to contact the editor Domenech tried to implicate.