The Washington Post just announced that Ben Domenech has resigned from his WaPo blog. This is not a surprise.
Whether I agree with his opinions or not, I would expect someone who landed such a plum assignment at the tender age of 24 to show a spark of cleverness, some freshness, some, um, talent. But Mr. Domenech’s work at WaPo was drearily unexceptional and, to this middle-age lady, about as interesting as a sixth-grader’s Social Studies report on wheat farming in Saskatchewan.
His strongest post was this one, in which he takes offense because WaPo editors didn’t “get” current rightie film iconography. This is writing typical of a college newspaper, but I think WaPo could do better. Even choosing among rightie bloggers, WaPo could do better.
Speaking of college newspapers, I’ve looked at the examples (at Salon, Eschaton, and elsewhere) and the boy did plagiarize other peoples’ work for his college newspaper, The Flat Hat. To plagiarize is “To use and pass off (the ideas or writings of another) as one’s own,” according to the online American Heritage dictionary. And he did that; it is beyond question. There is a post up at RedState.com titled “We Must Defend” that defends Mr. Domenech, thus: “…permissions obtained and judgments made offline were not reflected online by an out dated and out of business campus newspaper.” But even if he had obtained permission to quote other peoples’ work, he still plagiarized that work by trying to pass it off as his own. And, strictly speaking, it would be a violation of any one-time serial rights agreement I’ve ever seen to republish the permissioned work without the proper permissions statements attached to it. And The Flat Hat (linked above) is not out of business. So the “defense” is absurd on its face.
(And what’s really outrageous for anyone who cares about film, he plagiarized bleeping Stephanie Zacharek of Salon. Zacharek’s “Batman Begins” review actually says the Joel Schumacher Batman films were better. There’s no excuse for that.)
I’m assuming Mr. Domenech got the Post position through connections, as it wasn’t through talent. DHinMI writes,
Ben Domenech did not get his position at the Washington Post based on merit. He got his position because of connections. He was home-schooled in part because his family–unlike most American families–could maintain a comfortable living with only one parent working outside the home. He got in to William and Mary, but he did not come close to graduating. (And given his penchant for plagiarism, one would have to wonder if intellectual thievery prompted a forced departure from William and Mary.) Nevertheless, despite no degree or significant life accomplishments, he got some patronage jobs in the Bush administration, no doubt because his father is an upper level GOP apparatchik. He has gotten bylines over at that bastion of heartless blue bloods, the National Review Online. He was a founder of Redstate.com. (And can you believe those clowns have shut down comments from new members, banned anyone who criticizes Domenech, and are actively defending this thief?) And he parlayed all those connections in to getting the Washington Post gig while still in his mid-20’s.
Would anyone recognize a similar career trajectory of some schmoe from a working class community outside the DC/NYC/Boston/LA/Bay Area metro areas, who went to a state university, got great grades, but whose blue collar parents didn’t have the connections of a Ben Domenech? Especially within the context of the current GOP, somebody with that background (and whose family wasn’t tightly connected with politically powerful religious leaders) might as well be a feral child.
This feral child has seen hacks promoted and talent held back all her life. It nearly always ends badly. Although I’m sure somebody in the VRWC establishment will come through with another cushy job for Mr. Domenech, he’ll be remembered in the news/publishing biz as the guy who bombed out at WaPo. And it’s a shame, because in another ten or twenty years Mr. Domenech might be capable of being interesting, even if he’s still a rightie.
Update: See Jay Rosen at PressThink:
I wasnâ€™tâ€”in principleâ€”against the Post.com hiring a Republican activist as an opinion writer. It didnâ€™t bother me that Domenech lacks mainstream newsroom credentials, and doesnâ€™t call himself a journalist. I found it more interesting than scandalous that he was home schooled. And to me it was an inspired thought to give a 24 year-old a blog at washingtonpost.com.
Today I might be defending Jim Brady and company for their decisionâ€” ifâ€¦. If Ben Domenech were a writer with some grace, a conservative original, a voice, something new on the scene, a different breed of young Republican, with perspective enough on the culture war to realize that while he canâ€™t avoid being in it, he can avoid being of it. I might even be sympathizing with Ben if he had been that kind of hire.
He wasnâ€™t. That he wasnâ€™t was suggested by his first post, Pachyderms in the Mist: Red America and the MSM, a strange and backward-facing thing the apparent purpose of which was once more to ridicule what Peggy Noonan called â€œthe famous MSM.â€ And it is famous, as a construct that allows anyone to say anything about the news media without fear of contradiction. This was Ben:
Any red-blooded American conservative, even those who hold a dim view of Patrick Swayzeâ€™s acting â€œtalent,â€ knows a Red Dawn reference. For all the talk of left wing cultural political correctness, the right has such things, too (DO shop at Wal-Mart, DONâ€˜T buy gas from Citgo). But in the progressive halls of the mainstream media, such things prompt little or no recognition. For the MSM, Dan Rather is just another TV anchor, France is just another country and Red Dawn is just another cheesy throwaway Sunday afternoon movie.
I suppose this was supposed to mean that reporters, editors and producers in the nationâ€™s newsrooms donâ€™t know why Dan Rather is such a prized conservative scalp, or that the right hates the French. Besides being untrue, this was also an extremely ungracious statement, since the washingtonpost, was hiring Ben Domenech to bring the news about social conservatives to more Americans.
But in fact there is no MSM. No one answers for it. It has no address. And no real existence independent of the dreary statements (like Benâ€™s) in which it is bashed. Therefore it is not a term of accountability, which is one reason itâ€™s so popular. No oneâ€™s accountable for what they say using it. If youâ€™re a blogger, and you write things like, â€œThe MSM swallowed it hook, line and sinker,â€ you should know that you have written gibberish. But you probably donâ€™t, for to keep this knowledge from you is the leaden genius of MSM.