Friday, December 30, 2011

No, Dummy, Nobody Accused You of Plagiarism.

By Bill

I can't believe I have to do this.

As you probably saw, about two weeks ago, TCM ran a post called "Plagiarists Who (might) Write Among Us." It was one of the more widely-read and best-received posts we've had on this little blog. The gist was this:

- Writers in the BBWAA who have a Hall of Fame vote who vote "no" on Jeff Bagwell based on a suspicion that he used "PE"Ds (thanks to Jason for the brilliant quote-mark usage) are, to the best of our knowledge and the most any of them will admit, doing so -- and thereby doing damage to Bagwell's character, legacy and future earning potential -- based on zero credible evidence. Nothing but a hunch.

- If they can air (and act on) baseless suspicions to the detriment of the subject, it seems only fair that TCM baselessly suspect that those same writers are plagiarists. There's zero evidence at all that they are plagiarists, of course: that's the entire point.

Pretty clever idea for a satirical piece, right? If you're going to suspect Bagwell of "PE"D use based on no evidence, I suspect you of plagiarism based on no evidence. It was, as I said, very well received. Comments (both here and at HBT) were overwhelmingly positive, though one or two in both places seemed to misread the intent (I suspect they barely read it at all, really) and thought it actually had something to do with plagiarism. But only a couple, which is good, because it's just obviously satire (n. The use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues). Satire on a touchy subject for writers, obviously, but satire nonetheless.

And pretty good satire, at that; it's not The Onion or anything, but it serves its intended purpose without running the risk of making anybody think it's meant to be taken seriously. A couple people will glance at it and jump to conclusions, of course -- they even do that with The Onion, sometimes -- but if you actually read the words and are a thinking human being, there's no way you can miss the actual intent.

Ahem.


Mr. Brookover, of course, is one of the "suspected plagiarists" named in the piece. And apparently he's not the only one who hasn't gotten it (but he's the only one to date who's confronted us publicly about it). So, rather than force TCM to explain his own joke, I'll be the lawyer and spell it out.

Here's the entirety of what TCM has to say that's actually about plagiarism: "if it was fair for writers to penalize Bagwell because of their own suspicions that they were apparently too busy to investigate during Bagwell’s playing career, it was equally fair to suspect them of being plagiarists. After all, sports reporters tend to write an awful lot, and so many of them seem to be writing about the same topics and coming to the exact same conclusions. Are we really so na├»ve as to think that they are doing this naturally?
...
Until they are able to definitively prove otherwise, the following writers are hereby suspected plagiarists."


There's one more reference at the bottom -- in the two-asterisked footnote -- where he says "plagiarist" "is not a label The Common Man throws around lightly." He then clarifies that the only thing that will make him use it is "a voter who decides to suspect Bagwell based on zero evidence, and who uses that suspicion as an excuse to wait on Bagwell." No mention is made of actual, you know, plagiarism..

The very point of this exercise -- as even Mr. Brookover plainly understood -- is that we strongly disagree with the notion that Bagwell is "guilty" until proven "innocent," despite the total lack of evidence against him. Once you've worked that part out, how can you possibly think TCM is seriously doing the same thing back to them that we're trying to point out is so wrong?

Indeed, to borrow my favorite quote from the movie Clue, "[plagiar]ism was a red herring." Nothing about this piece actually had anything to do with plagiarism. It's a device for calling attention to the group of writers who are using gut feelings and misconceptions about steroids and human physiology to keep Bagwell in purgatory, and to point out how fundamentally foolish and unfair that practice is. The fact that Mr. Brookover thought the definition of "plagiarism" (which, I promise, we do both know) was in any way relevant to the issue itself illustrates that, somehow, he completely missed the point.

Further: pretend for a moment that this was not satire, but that TCM was airing his actual suspicions that each of those writers had committed plagiarism. He uses some form of the word "suspect" many, many times, and doesn't use any words that are possible replacements for that word (like, say, "accuse"). The writers' mugshots he used bear the words "PLAGIARIST! (suspected)." That's an important word, "suspected," as any of these writers will tell you if you start to grill them about Bagwell. They're not accusing Bagwell of having done steroids, they're just saying that, given that he had muscles and hit home runs and played first base in the nineties, they suspect that he may have done. Mr. Brookover himself uses both "suspect" and "suspected" in the excerpt TCM uses, and even puts "suspect" in quotes once, apparently attempting emphasis. 

Given that vital distinction and the stress repeatedly placed on that word, "suspect," it's actually pretty hilarious that Mr. Brookover repeatedly characterizes TCM's repackaging of his own tactics as "accusations." 

So. It's satire, and no reasonable person who reads it all the way through could possibly miss the fact that it's satire. No one is actually accused of plagiarism, which you can tell by the fact that no specific (or even general, for that matter) conduct is mentioned that could even remotely plausibly be construed as plagiarism. Even if it were not satire, there are no accusations, only vague, unsupported suspicions -- if you're mentioned as a "suspected plagiarist" in that post, you've all explicitly confirmed, in your discussions of Bagwell, that you consider vague, unsupported suspicions about a person's ethical behavior to be perfectly fair game.

So lighten up, learn to read better, and try not to jump to conclusions. And while I have your attention, do the right thing and put Bagwell in the Hall already. 

18 comments:

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Perfectly stated.

Andrew said...

While we might simply "suspect" Mr. Brookover of being a plagiarist, given his comments it is pretty easy to "confirm" he is a moron.

Todd Boss said...

See, here's the problem with criticising Brookover for being upset. Most people don't read much past the headlines, let alone 15 paragraphs into a "satire" piece to understand the full interpretation of the word. All Brookover sees is that now a google search of "Brookover and plagiarism" turns up a link. Think a professional writer is happy about that?

A different context: lets say that I wrote an article on my blog with the title "Joe Smith is a rapist." But later on I interpreted the word "rapist" in some liberal or archaic fashion of the word, and accused "joe of raping the smooth dirt by stepping on it" or something similarly benign. You would have to think Mr. Smith would be furious that he was being accused of being a rapist.

So, lets tone down the rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

Yeah let's make sure to dumb everything down so morons don't get offended. Also, if you DON'T read through an article accusing you of plagiarism/rape then it's you're own fault for being misinformed.

Pedant. said...

@ Todd Boss:

I could possibly disagree with that comment more. While it's probably true that most people do not read past the headline, it would be contemptible of anyone to draw any conclusions based on only the headline; TCM should not have to behave in anticipation of lazy readers or thinkers. Furthermore, the headine of the piece was: "Update: Plagiarists Who (might) Write Among Us". For one thing, that doesn't identify any single person like "Joe Smith Is A Rapist", and for another a clue to the satirical element of the piece is written into the headling by using the device "(might)". So even if some fool were to just read the headline, there was enough there to alert him or her that perhaps the piece is not about plagiarism.

The Common Man said...

@Todd Boss

That's absolutely wrong. Brookover claims to have read the piece repeatedly, and still didn't get it. Now, you could claim that's a failure on the author's part, but the overwhelming majority of readers clearly understood this piece to be satirical. Which suggests that Brookover's failure to understand is his own problem. The Common Man can't be held responsible for someone else's poor reading skills or habits when what he wrote was perfectly clear according to so many others.

Finally, let's point out again that no one was actually accused of plagiarism. Now your own failure to comprehend and remember what you've read has led you down the same mistaken path that Brookover traveled. No more than Jeff Bagwell was actually accused of cheating or PED use. He was just suspected of it. You'd think he'd be furious too, as a professional athlete.

Tony said...

Todd,

I suspect that a professional writer would be very unhappy about being called a plagiarist. I also suspect that Jeff Bagwell would be very unhappy with being called a steroid user.

Bill said...

I just love the fact that there's someone out there who thinks that if a headline accuses you of rape or suggests you "(might)" be a plagiarist, the appropriate response is (as far as I can figure) to fire off the first response that comes to mind without making any attempt to figure out what's actually going on. (Besides which, as has been pointed out, Brookover claimed he had RedTFA.)

Also, what "rhetoric" would that be? "Dummy" strikes me as pretty damned tame...

Jason said...

I dunno fellas two wrongs don't make a right that's what I always say!

Jason said...

I agree though, many sports writers do take ignorant stances. And how about this airplane food?! Don't get me started...

Jason said...

I just appreciate that there's someone out there taking on the punching ba-err, tough targets like Murray Chass and... uhh Bob Brookover?

The only thing I want to read more than this is four or five well written paragraphs on why "R""B""I" really don't matter despite what you say, Jon Heyman.

Bill said...

I think the funny thing about Jason's three straight unfunny, uninteresting comments is that we DO enjoy a fair amount of low-hanging fruit around here. It's fun and therapeutic.

Here we're doing something that, seriously, no one else is doing, and now these comments come out? Huh.

Jason said...

Well, let's be honest, no one else is doing it because no one else is brave enough. I'm not sure a Pulitzer is totally out of consideration.

Anonymous said...

Jason FTW.

The Common Man said...

Jason's "witty" banter notwithstanding, his only central point is that "two wrongs don't make a right." Which is a nice platitude and cliche. And yet, what wrong has really been done here? Is Bob Brookover's reputation in tatters? Has Danny Knobler been disciplined? Of course not. Because the article was clearly satire.

This was no brave stand we made. The Common Man was just writing a post and trying to change some minds. Maybe he was successful. Maybe he simply was preaching to the choir. Or maybe his voice simply was added to the outcry of anger over the way that Jeff Bagwell has been treated by the McCarthyite BBWAA voters, an outcry that has convinced some voters to change their position, and may yet convince more. Frankly, TCM is content that his point was clearly made and felt.

And, Jason, respectfully, if you don't feel like these articles were particularly worth your time to read, or made a point that you didn't find to be valuable, you have the option to read elsewhere. Or simply to ignore articles like these in the future. Snark is most welcome, as is mocking criticism. But seriously, if your only point is that "two wrongs don't make a right," an eight-year-old's cliche that is not analogous to this situation, don't bother wasting your time or ours.

Jason said...

Oh, that wasn't really my central point. That was satire

The Common Man said...

Oh, well thanks for showing up 10 days later to clear up a couple things. Namely, A) that you don't understand the difference between sarcasm and satire and B) that you actually have no point beyond your sarcasm, and are an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Jason said...

You're welcome.