Tuesday, May 02, 2006


I've received a few e-mails regarding my analysis of the Opal Mehta controversy. I like hearing from readers; and I appreciate the fact that you took the time not only to read my column, but to compose an e-mail to a stranger. While every e-mail was laudatory, several folks asked what I thought about the evidence against Viswanathan.

I chose to avoid commenting on the specific allegations for several reasons. First, I don't like speaking without having heard both sides; and notwithstanding Viswanathan's hastily prepared statement, I figured it was reasonable to allow her a couple days to form her response. Whatever she planned to say, whether it was confession or denial, it would carry legal and financial consequences for several companies, and thus I assumed her statement would be reviewed by executives and lawyers before she talked to Larry King. That's not an unreasonable allowance.

Second, I haven't read either book. And while the excerpts do seem to speak for themselves, I'm hesitant to excoriate someone based on secondhand research. I like to do my own homework — and in this case, I had absolutely no intention of slogging through two mediocre chick-lit novels in order to opine intelligently on a plagiarism scandal. So aside from my media analysis, I was content to let this one pass me by.

I can't deny it's an interesting story. As of this writing, Viswanathan's publisher has pulled the book from shelves and DreamWorks has halted production of the film. Considerable time and money were invested into both; and after the blame has landed somewhere, a lot of executives are going to want some assurance that this won't happen again. Obviously, any editor who hadn't read (and memorized) McCafferty's book wouldn't have recognized the similarities; but in an era where any discussion of plagiarism inevitably includes the word "Google," eventually someone's going to demand a solution to that problem.

What's ironic is that the solution will probably resemble Google's proposed massive digitized library — a proposal which, when announced, was fiercely condemned by nearly every major publisher.

But there's a third reason that I limited my comments. Sometimes you avoid a fishin' hole not because it ain't stocked, but because you'd rather not associate with the folks who frequent it. I have no problem denouncing plagiarists; I think a thief is worse than an incompetent, and I think convicted plagiarists should be forever banned from professional writing.

However, in deciding whether to climb onto any given bandwagon, you have to look at who else is aboard. I'm not writing for the lowest common denominator, here. I didn't pounce onto Viswanathan for the same reason I didn't castigate Ben Domenech: I looked around the landscape, and I didn't like the company.


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