Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Has anyone been following this story about the small alt-weekly in Texas that was plagiarizing from Slate?

Slate's music critic, Jody Rosen, was tipped off that there were a lot of similarities between a story he wrote about Jimmy Buffett and one that appeared in the Montgomery County Bulletin. After doing some basic investigation, Rosen learned that plagiarism was rampant from the writer Mark Williams. He contacted the publisher of The Bulletin, Mike Ladyman, and was brushed off. Then on Wednesday, Rosen published an article on how he was ripped off.

The shit-storm that brewed from that, according to Gawker*, is causing Ladyman to fire Williams and shut down publication. In a nice bit of hubris, Ladyman told the Houston Press that "It's no longer a publication. I'm quitting. After this Slate article and this is the future of journalism in New York City. I don't want any part of it." He added, about Rosen, "He truly acts like the rock-and-roll or the music critic. And if you don’t talk to him right away and for as long as he wants to, he feels slighted." Another thing that makes writers feel slighted: stealing their hard work without attribution.

If that was not self-serving enough, here's the full text of Williams' response:

Mr. Rosen: I suppose it is time that we made contact, since I seem to be your favorite new obsession. For such a heralded and busy journalist, it is obvious that you have an abundance of free time in your daily schedule. You have done an exemplary job of exposing the seedy underbelly of duplicitous small town weekly newspapers and the evil doers that run them. You have indeed brought us to our knees.

I sincerely apologize for my crimes against you and any perceived damage done to your person or your career accomplishments. It was never my intention to cause you harm. The article in question was included in other press materials I had received via e-mail. I used parts of the article as background and did so thinking it was cleared for such use; but, as you have so subtly pointed out, I was mistaken.

Of course, you are certainly owed an apology, but one has to ponder for a moment just why that is; after all, you have most definitely garnered the attention of the bloggers that you evidently crave in abundance with this manufactured scandal. So my advice, if I may offer a small slice, is to enjoy the spotlight while it is yours — have yourself a ball! You are the victor, so do enjoy the spoils.

It must have taken years of seasoned investigative know-how to push me off my lofty perch. It takes a dogged, intrepid journalist to expose the alleged wrongdoings of a 44-year-old college dropout who drifted from one lousy media job to another for 20 years; it takes courage to debase someone with a mouthful of cut-rate dentures who, up until 2007, lived in his parents’ home for seven years due to near-fatal bouts of clinical depression; it takes a journalist of a certain caliber to torpedo a pathetic hack who has barely squeezed out a living for nearly a decade at seven cents a word.

Savor your moment in the sun, Mr. Rosen. You win, we cry uncle. However, one salient point must be clarified at this time. According to your cleverly titled article on this situation, you stated that you contacted our daily newspaper of record for help in this matter; the very fact that you would refer to our daily newspaper of record as “reputable” is a source of amusement to our evil little weekly rag. In the last year alone, the newspaper in question has published front page articles accusing certain public officials of malfeasance, only to retract those allegations a day or two later. Ironically enough, that same newspaper has, on at least two occasions, shamelessly pilfered from our publication. Bet they didn’t mention that when you called them, huh?

It is easy to make fun of our little rag, Mr. Rosen — to call attention to the gaffes and human foibles of a couple of faceless rubes a half a nation away; but, despite your grievances with our publication, I feel that we have done some good in our corner of the world. Through our output of articles over the years, we kept a hateful rogue element of the local Republican Party from taking control of our county library system and ripping the Constitution to shreds; we have reported unblinkingly on the troubled plight of illegal aliens living in our area; we have stood face-to-face with members of the Ku Klux Klan to question their ideological inconsistencies; and we touched the heart of a killer who turned himself in after reading an article in our publication on his victim, who, for years, struggled with alcoholism and the estrangement it caused with his family. In short, we have called attention to a great number of injustices in our crappy little town, both great and small.

So there it is, Mr. Rosen — congratulations on breaking an already fragile soul. In the end, I’m not sure what the point of all of this truly is, other than some sort of small dully colored feather in your journalistic cap. We bow to you, Mr. Rosen — to your talent, to your humanity, to all that is you.

Best regards to Jimmy Buffett,

Mark Williams
The Bulletin
Conroe, TX USA

I'm still confused by Williams' explanation that the was borrowing from press releases. I get a lot of press kits in the mail all the time with CDs that also include newspaper clippings of the stories about the band whose CD I'm holding but I always treated that as "USA Today loved The Killers, therefore you should too" not "here's what USA Today said about The Killers, feel free to use what you want out of it". He also said he presumed the press materials were used for background but he directly lifted from them.

Rather than getting any more self-righteous here (make no mistake, Rosen is the victim, not Ladyman or Williams), I'll just add that last night I went to the photo exhibit at Tigertail igDana mentioned here yesterday to see the work of three innovative and talented photographers I've gotten to know (and sometimes work with) over the years. One of Jenny Jimenez's beautiful photographs of Sleater-Kinney was called "All Hands on the Bad One", which is also the title of SK's fourth album. When I drove home I put that album on (I hadn't listened to it for quite a while) and while basking in the glow of excellent art and the rock of my favorite band this was immediately brought to mind when the first song on that record came on. It is called "The Ballad of a The Ladyman".

* Confidential to MW and ML, notice how I'm attributing my sources?