Harvard’s Plagiarism Scandal, the Deconstruction Begins

If you want to know the facts about the Harvard plagiarism scandal, don’t go to the Times’ lame and protective coverage. The Harvard Crimson has thrashed the Times and all others on the Kaavya Viswanathan story.

Today the Times failed to include a key statement in the case the Crimson reported, Random House’s pointed charge to Little, Brown that its author Megan McCafferty, was robbed:

“We are continuing to investigate this matter, but, given the alarming similarities in the language, structure and characters already found in these works, we are certain that some literal copying actually occurred here,” read the letter, which is dated April 22 and was signed by Random House lawyer Min Jung Lee.

More important, The Crimson also offers a reader the only real evidence in these cases, a comparative selection of passages . Real journalism in these cases must provide this information, and let the reader decide. The list here proves to me that plagiarism occured. The only question now is whether you believe it was “unintentional,” as Viswanathan claims.

I’ve been hearing that defense all my life and it has always annoyed me. I think if you believe her, you could also believe that monkeys sitting at typewriters wrote Shakespeare. My friend Dan Swanson takes her side, saying that if someone is going to consciously plagiarize, they would go for something obscure. McCafferty wasn’t obscure. Also, he says, the human capacity to memorize is tremendous. “Everyone in the Muslim world knows someone who has memorized the Quran. Children do it.”

Points taken. I’m not buying though. I think that’s coddling a criminal; I have no compassion for plagiarists. I think they sweat and lay a book next to the typewriter, and copy. They don’t go into trances.

(While on the subject of psychology, let me acknowledge two subtexts of this scandal. A, racism. It bugs people that an Indian-American superachiever has robbed the work of someone called Megan McCafferty. B, envy. Viswanathan got $500,000 from Little, Brown for her book deal. Am I guilty of either A or B? Not me; I am a good person who never succumbs to racial stereotyping or material jealousy.)