Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Am I off base or are you getting the feeling we're talking tip of the iceberg here with Stephen Ambrose? With Forbes.com's unearthing of another apparent instance of misdemeanor plagiarism from twenty-five years ago this is really starting to get ugly.

As regular readers know, schadenfreude is a pretty primary emotion for Talking Points. Happiness, sadness, love, hate, schadenfreude ... that pretty much sums it up.

Still, I'm not enjoying this a bit.

The only positive I can see at the moment is that Mickey Kaus has found a way to leverage this into some more Marina Ein bashing. I mean first General Wiranto (accused of crimes against humanity in East Timor) , then Gary Condit (accused of crimes against self-respect in Washington, DC), what's next? Stephen Ambrose?

Come to think of it, there would be a certain symmetry because Marina Ein claims that words that are hers aren't hers, and Stephen Ambrose claims that words that aren't his are his.

So maybe it would work?

Can we get a credentials check over here? Is Larry Lindsey really an economist? It's sort of hard to figure after his appearance yesterday on Fox News Sunday.

On the show yesterday, Lindsey told viewers that unemployment checks have no stimulatory effect on the economy, no boosting of demand.

Let's go to the tape ...

HUME: I want to ask you about something else Senator Daschle said in this somewhat remarkable speech he made the other day about the economy. He was speaking of the stimulus package proposed by the Democrats.

Quote, "We included unemployment and health benefits for laidoff workers in our plan because, as any objective economist will tell you, it's one of the most effective ways to boost demand and pump money into the economy quickly."

Setting aside "objective," can you think of any economist who would make that argument?

LINDSEY: Well, I think the president, as you know, is very much for health benefits and for unemployment, but not necessarily for the reason the senator said. He's there because these people need help, and that's why we...

HUME: Can you talk about the economic theory, if there is one -- do you know of any economic theory under which health care benefits and unemployment benefits are used to stimulate the economy?

LINDSEY: Our view is that paychecks are what the objective should be here and not simply bigger unemployment checks.

HUME: And the reason for that is what?

LINDSEY: Well, paychecks are what grow the economy. People who are unemployed need help and we're all for that. But unemployment checks don't grow the economy; paychecks do.

Now, Talking Points is no economist, but he had always understood that unemployment checks not only create demand and stimulate the economy (which only stands to reason since you're putting money directly into the hands of people who immediately have to spend it) but that this is the point. Unemployment insurance is intended to be counter-cyclical.

Exactly when the economy is contracting and people are getting laid off you have a roughly proportional, if lesser, amount of money being injected back into the economy. It's a bit like macro-economic shock absorbers. This isn't 'some economic theory', it's Macro-Economics 101.

In any case, I'll stop there, since I'm no economist and I'll run into some error soon enough if I keep going. But maybe Larry Lindsey ain't either. Do we need to take a closer look at the serial number on that Harvard Ph.D.?

PS. Special thanks to TPM reader MP for the catch?

Mickey Kaus is exactly right when he calls out conservatives for giving a general pass to Stephen Ambrose's lifting paragraphs from another author when they would crucify someone like Cornel West for doing the same thing. And I do mean, crucify.

First, a momentary sidelight on the Cornell West controversy. One of the ironies of the situation is that so much attention is being placed on rather touchy criticism of his self-indulgent rap album as a sign that he's somehow not a serious scholar or an academic loafer or something. This isn't true. The real problem is that West is an absolutely first-rate writer and thinker (take a look at his 1989 book The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism, for instance) but he's spent recent years coasting (as many superstar academics do) with quickly scribbled popular works like Race Matters.

Now back to plagiarism.

Let me try to cover a number of different points here. First, the issue in question centers on a just released article by Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard. In the article, Barnes makes a pretty much undeniable case that a number of passages in Ambrose's new book The Wild Blue The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s over Germany came from another book Wings of Morning The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down over Germany in World War II by Thomas Childers.

Now before proceeding further, it's probably fair to admit that I come to this whole thing already not very friendly to Ambrose - for a number of reasons we can get to later.

That said, this sort of seeming plagiarism case is a complicated matter. I've always thought we need to collectively reassess our rules and punishments regarding plagiarism. First, as cutting-edge literary theorists are happy to make annoyingly clear, much of our current idea of what constitutes plagiarism is rather new and arguably based on an unworkable idea of how much any sort of written work is really 'original'.

Go back a few centuries, and certainly to the ancient world, and much of what we now consider plagiarism was commonplace and entirely accepted. More relevant for our purposes is the fact that when you really probe a work of literature you can often find similarities to other works - and to a great degree this is because authors, when they sit down to write, are influenced by other things they've read or heard more often than they know.

It really is possible to read a passage of text, like it, have it get stuck in your head, and 'write' it yourself - or some near version of it - a few months later, entirely innocently. When someone gets nailed for something like this, every writer has to have some sense of 'there but for the grace of God go I', etc. And if they don't, they should.

Given that such things can occur because of inattention rather than bad faith, I've long thought we need to institute a revision of the popular law of plagiarism, one that would recognize what we might call misdemeanor and felony plagiarism. One of the problems with our current system is that it's so all or nothing. Either it's not plagiarism - which Ambrose's defenders are now saying. Or it is - and that means you're basically discredited for good.

There needs to be some middle ground - misdemeanor plagiarism - that wouldn't be the journalistic equivalent of child molestation which plagiarism is generally considered. This would make it possible to call an author out for sloppiness - not noticing that he or she had lifted a few phrases, or doing so where some credit really ought to have been given - without fundamentally challenging their character or legitimacy as a writer.

As long we don't have such a distinction, I think we're always at the risk - as Mickey Kaus is I think implying - that the charges and sentences tend to be inevitably arbitrary, with unpopular authors getting crucified and sometimes destroyed for things that sympathetic or popular folks end up skating through with. Or even if it's not a popularity thing. Maybe it's just random.

So where does Stephen Ambrose fall? Good question. From reading Fred Barnes' article, there is just no question that certain passages in Ambrose's book came from Childers' book. And these are not phrases or sentences. They're whole paragraphs - at least a couple of which seem nearly word for word.

Using the criteria I set out before, it does strain the imagination to think that you can read a paragraph at one sitting and then reproduce it unintentionally a few months later. Or even a few days later. Possible, I suppose. But real hard to figure.

On first blush, I think - and I'm gonna reserve final judgment - that this is very serious misdemeanor plagiarism. Something for which Ambrose deserves to be a bit embarrassed and at least admit that he must have copied some stuff unintentionally. But not the sort of thing that makes him damaged goods.

Let me say also that I think this sort of thing, and much worse, turns out to be distressingly commonplace.

Here's an example. When I was in college doing a long semester research paper, I read a book on topic X by an American historian with a fairly sizeable popular following. He frequently writes in the New York Times Book Review and places like that. So not someone that obscure.

After I read this guy's book on topic X, I came across an unpublished Ph.D. dissertation from the 1950s on the same subject. It turns out that famous historian A had pretty much gutted unfamous would-be historian B's dissertation, with only passing credit. And, just as importantly, the published book contained a number of passages lifted from the unpublished dissertation in what I guess we might call the Ambrosian fashion.

Which is worse, the wholesale lifting of the guy's work, with little credit? Or the specific passages lifted word for word?

Back in the distant past - in the early-mid-1980s in Southern California - when Talking Points was just a mere dot or speck, there was a slang phrase (actually a mix of a phrase and a gesture) called 'FACE!'

To make the gesture you would take your hand, extend out your fingers and thumb in every direction in a spider-like fashion, and hold your hand about two inches in front of your face, with your palm facing your nose.

Then with the back of your hand toward the recipient of the gesture and a look of awe, schadenfreude, and contempt on your face (perhaps with an air of mock pity and pained regret), you'd say "Ahhh .. FACE, dude! You are faced!" etc.

Usually there'd be a few other permutations of 'face' thrown in, with the true adepts raising the whole enterprise to something of an art form.

What this conveyed is hard to explain precisely. It was a touch shy of humiliation. But a good deal more than embarrassment. More of the arrogant being suddenly and unexpectedly brought low. Very low.

So why this little digression into a Geertzian 'thick description' of the folkways of So. Cal. teenagers circa 1984? In a word (or four, I guess) ... Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef.

As is being widely reported today Zaeef was the Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan. And in the early days of the Afghan war he gave daily press conferences, hurled accusations, chatted it up with international reporters, and was generally living the life of a Taliban bon vivant, if I may be permitted such a phrasing.

Eventually the Pakistanis told him to chill out a bit, and not attack the US quite so fulsomely, at least as long as he was operating on Pakistani soil. Then they shut him down after the Taliban government collapsed and diplomatic ties with departing Afghan government were severed. After this he vainly sought asylum in Pakistan. Finally, last week a few of those wild and crazy guys from the Pakistani intelligence services (ISI) stopped by the homestead and took Zaeef into custody, according to his secretary. And last night, in the process of being deported to Afghanistan, the Pakistanis turned him over to the United States armed forces.

Apropos of my earlier discussion, this is what is called being royally faced.

Apparently, Zaeef will probably end up with other Al Qaeda prisoners at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

One of the elements of being 'faced' is some essential unfairness in the process. (That's part of the embarrassment or humiliation: getting dealt a very unexpected and perhaps even unwarranted reverse.) And I must admit this whole process of what happened to Zaeef seems a little odd and not quite by the books.

Still, it's not something I'm going to lose a lot of sleep over. Like I said, telling someone they're 'faced!' is all about schadenfreude.

I'm going to be on CNN's Reliable Sources tonight (6:30 PM EST). And now Talking Points Memo is apparently my official byline. So says today's Washington Post at least ...

Reliable Sources. The topic is covering the president in wartime; with National Review Online's Jonah Goldberg, The Washington Post's Ceci Connolly and Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo (CNN, 6:30; repeats tomorrow, 9:30 a.m.).
Actually, I guess this is a good thing. Since this is one job I know I'll never get run out of for failing to adhere to a strict ideological orthodoxy or party line.


You know how sometimes you'll have a friend who's recently had major body-cavity surgery. And suddenly they'll just strip off their clothes and start yanking at their stitches until their organs come sliding out of their abdomen?

Well, okay, I've got to admit that I haven't seen this happen in ... well ... God ... it seems like years.

But if you want to see the political equivalent, don't worry. Just be sure to watch the New York Democratic party's upcoming gubernatorial primary campaign matching Andrew Cuomo against Carl McCall.

The new New Republic has an elegant and precise statement of the ironies and difficulties of the current stand-off between India and Pakistan, and our vexed efforts to serve as an honest broker between the two. More broadly, however, the editorial is a clear statement of the panoply of geo-strategic, political and cultural affinities which should make India our ally in the deepest sense. We share realpolitik interests and values as well.

Oddly enough, one of the strongest bonds we have with the Indians is one the TNR editorial doesn't even mention, perhaps because it is so obvious or implicit: the fact that we, literally, speak the same language.

India isn't an English-speaking country of course. But the elite speak English, and it's the lingua franca Indians use to communicate across the multitude of languages that are spoken on the subcontinent.

We hear a great deal about the billion-plus Chinese and how they're a huge potential market, which of course they are. But the Indian population isn't that much smaller. And with them we share language, democratic values, a good bit of our legal system, and much more.

Of late I've been writing a lot about the importance of bolstering and supporting Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. But up till now, and from a broader perspective, I'm thoroughly pro-India in my sentiments. The perplexity and irony of our current circumstance is that precisely at the moment when the depth of our friendship with the Indians is most clear, our need of good behavior from the Pakistanis is most acute. And the country is suddenly being run by a leader who seems willing and - hopefully - able make it into the sort of country with which America could be a true ally.

"In the name of Allah, I do not have anything to plead and I enter no plea," Zacarias Moussaoui told the trial judge in Alexandria, Virginia when asked to enter a plea yesterday. Some apparently think this is an example of why we shouldn't give terrorists a platform for mouthing propaganda, but rather try them in secret military tribunals.

But isn't the answer to this sort of backtalk just 'who cares?'

Are we so pitiful that this bothers us?

There may be a place and a rationale for military tribunals. But this one is pretty weak.

On the other hand, why should Moussaoui - who actually came to America and plotted a specific terrorist act - get a civilian trial, when some poor shlub in Afghanistan who barely made it out of the training camp gets strung up in a military tribunal? One pretty clear answer would be that if you get caught on American soil you get tried in our courts. But that clean division seems already to have been ruled out by the President's original executive order, which makes no such distinction.

Here's a pretty encouraging sign that the Pakistani government may have the willingness, determination and - presumably - the ability to turn crisis into opportunity and move decisively against the malignant militants in its midst.

"We realised that things have to be done," the Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar told the Times of India, while emphasizing his government's willingness to move ahead in its own anti-terrorist crackdown. He even said something on the need to combat terrorism that would do John Ashcroft proud. "In a time of stress," said Sattar, "legal hassles have to be given the go by."