First, a mea culpa. The projects on the bill-paying side of my life have been quite extensive recently and I haven’t kept up with some of the news as much as I usually would. Which is the reason for my strange silence on the new controversy over Globe & Mail columnist Margaret Wente. Regular readers will know that I despise Margaret Wente. The disgust only deepened a couple weeks ago when, after months of tirades against pampered low-tuition arts students, she published a bizarre memorial to her own low-tuition university arts experience in “the 60s” (barely, since she was born in 1950), back when professors sleeping with students was A-okay (and something which dear old Maggie herself apparently finds “intensely erotic“).
Second, a Media Culpa. This anonymous blogger — I actually do know her name, as do many people now, but the blog is signed anonymously and I will respect that convention — has done yeoman’s work for years now, painstakingly compiling evidence that high-profile Globe columnist Margaret Wente is a plagiarist. A serial plagiarist, at that. For some reason, following an epic campaign on Twitter a while ago, this work broke out into the open. (Although anyone with a keyboard and an Internet connection could have been reading it for months…) The Globe’s public editor published a truly horrendous defence of Wente, cavalierly dismissing the allegations as the “unlikely” ramblings of an anonymous blogger. You can read what happened next in the National Post and Maclean’s.
Now, then. Wente has been trotted out to issue her own apology, and it’s pretty much as arrogant and pathetic as I’ve come to expect from Wente. She makes the following argument:
A blogger has accused me of substantively plagiarizing the column, and much else. I’m not a serial plagiarist. What I often am is a target for people who don’t like what I write.
I think she’s confusing her bloggers here. I’m the one (one of the many, anyhow) who target her because we don’t like what she writes. We don’t like it, for instance, when she further tarnishes the already tattered reputation of Canada’s paper of record with bullshit columns arguing that natural resources are infinite, that poor people are actually rich, and that we’re better off being deliberately unreasonably optimistic when discussing the world’s problems. Among many, many other things.
Media Culpa, on the other hand, isn’t concerned with what you wrote, but how you wrote it. You plagiarized. The list of allegations on that website is extensive and, contrary to Ms. Wente’s apology column, isn’t limited to one instance where she stole considerable material from another Canadian columnist, Dan Gardner. By Wente’s own public statements, plagiarism is wrong. Now Wente would have us believe that she plagiarized just this once, and all by accident. I suspect this is the defence made by a large majority of plagiarists, though I really wouldn’t know.
With that out of the way, dear old Maggie veers sharply off track into a perverse attack on Media Culpa, and this is the part where I want to focus my own concerns. Media Culpa, Wente says, is an “obsessive” Ottawa professor. And it’s too bad, she signs off, that we “live in an age where attacks on people’s character and reputation seem to have become the norm.” The whole thing is nauseating. As usual, confronted with a legitimate criticism by the blogging community, the professional response is to yawn and say, “Yeah, so what? We get paid for this, losers.”
Still, on that last point, Wente is right, in a backhanded sort of way. In her case the criticism is well deserved: she got caught plagiarizing. But this “persecuted by the modern age” tripe plays to a more disturbing audience. A while ago, a Sun reporter published a piece attacking the fact that Sixth Estate was anonymous. To have credibility, he claimed, you needed to have your name on your work, and you needed to identify your sources (although in that story, I didn’t actually have any non-public sources to mention, but whatever).
Which is fine, if you’re being paid to give your opinions professionally. I’m not. The rest of us have to deal with the real world, and when the real world gets stirred up by people with persecution complexes, like Wente, the reality isn’t always pretty. Here, for instance, is one of the responses to Wente’s column:
Professor Wainio is a campus radical, best described as a champion of the Campus Thought Police, HRC commissariat, and the Campus Diversity Industry. She is a militant…
There is some sort of university affiliation behind Ms Waino’s name; students on that campus ought to scrutinize her activities carefully and report what they see to their administration.
The fact that Wainio is a professor, possibly a tenured professor, gives her a bit of a shield against wackiness. Almost as good as being a professional journalist, you might say. But still. Seriously?Tweet