A heated online brouhaha over Washingtonpost.com's hiring of a controversial young blogger is not only a testament to the fast and furious nature of the blogosphere, but an illustration of the to be expected as the mainstream media forges its way into Web 2.0.
Washingtonpost.com, an editorially independent division of the old-guard newspaper, hired 24-year-old Ben Domenech, a former Bush administration aide, to write the "Red America" blog, launched Tuesday. The Redstate.com blogger, who had recently referred to Coretta Scott King as a "communist," quickly became the target of allegations he plagiarized material under his byline in various prior publications, according to Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz and a sea of other bloggers who cited all sorts of examples.
So today, in lieu of Red America, readers of the Post's site were greeted with a note from Washingtonpost.com Executive Editor Jim Brady, who said an investigation into the plagiarism was ongoing, but in the interim Domenech has resigned, effective immediately.
"We appreciate the speed and thoroughness with which our readers and media outlets surfaced these allegations," Brady wrote. "Despite the turn this has taken, we believe this event, among other things, testifies to the positive and powerful role that the Internet can play in the practice of journalism."
Domenech quickly defended himself on his own blog, noting that most of the alleged instances of plagiarism come "from a single semester's worth of pieces that were printed under my name at my college paper, The Flat Hat, when I was 17."
The Domenech ordeal follows another similar blog-related controversy for The Post. Bloggers were up in arms in January when Brady turned comments off its Post.blog because of "objectionable content."
Blog community response:
"This week revealed yet again that the best response to 'bad speech' is more speech, and we don't need the Sheriff (in the form of the Federal Election Commission) to clean things up. We're doing just fine on our own."
"This Domenech debacle will doubtless be used internally to reaffirm the high standards the paper demands from its staff. And as embarrassing as it was, it comes with a silver lining in it for the MSM: Domenech's brief tenure at the Post proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that some of the worst partisan activist critics of the journalistic enterprise literally couldn't last a week if given the opportunity to do the job themselves."
"We at Media Matters are pleased that Ben Domenech will no longer be employed by the Post, but serious questions remain about why he was originally hired. The Post still needs to explain why a partisan operative who admits he is not a journalist and who has a history of racially charged rhetoric, homophobic bigotry, and serial plagiarism was given a platform on Washingtonpost.com in the first place. We look forward to a full explanation of these and related issues by the Post."
"The plagiarism of Mr. Domenech cannot be chalked up to youthful indiscretion nor to some kind of unconscious parroting of something he read before putting words to paper. The examples unearthed so far--and bloggers are finding more examples almost by the hour--are so clearly copied verbatim from other sources as to constitute an unusually good case for plagiarism against Mr. Domenech."
"The left has their blood today...We are disappointed in the turn of events, yes. We are also disappointed in some of our allies in their rush to judgment. But, alas, we live and die by the speed of the Internet. As I said yesterday, the conservative movement is larger than me, you, Ben, Redstate, or any individual or group."