Accused of plagiarism, Fast Company blogger says he meant to steal from someone else

A cop walks around a corner and catches a man smoking a joint.

“Really sorry, officer,” he says, stubbing it out, “but I swear I was just smoking it for a friend.”

No, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it doesn’t mitigate the crime. But that’s basically the excuse offered by bestselling author Josh Linkner when he was recently busted for plagiarizing the opening paragraphs of a blog post by Chris Dixon.

To his credit, Linkner responded quickly on Twitter and in the comments of Dixon’s post. He apologized for what happened. FastCompany and Linkner also moved quickly to change the offending post. (Unfortunately, they didn’t add an editor’s note acknowledging that the original version included plagiarized material…)

But even more notable is what Linkner said to Dixon in the comment he posted to apologize for what happened:

Hi Chris. Josh Linkner here, the author of this piece @ Fast Company.  I owe you a HUGE apology!!  A friend of mine sent me that excerpt and I had no idea it was yours or anyone else’s so I didn’t attribute it when I wrote my post. As an author, VC, and entrepreneur I hold myself to the highest standards and I’m deeply sorry this happened.  Will correct and cite you ASAP. Again, honest mistake and I’m sorry it happened.

I was smoking it for a friend! Or: I meant to plagiarize from my friend!

This is what I call the Maureen Dowd Plagiarism Defense, and it only serves to cast more doubt on the person who uses it to explain their actions.

In 2009, Dowd used close to 50 words from a John Marshall post on Talking Points Memo. She didn’t offer any attribution. The words were presented as her own, and that led to accusations of plagiarism, and to a correction being issued.

The Dowd Defense emerged when she reached out to a variety of websites to explain how it happened. This is what she told Huffington Post and others:

i was talking to a friend of mine Friday about what I was writing who suggested I make this point, expressing it in a cogent — and I assumed spontaneous — way and I wanted to weave the idea into my column.

but, clearly, my friend must have read josh marshall without mentioning that to me.

See, officer, she actually meant to steal from her friend.

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • Piper Madison

    Perhaps you’d do well to research descriptivist and prescriptivist theories in linguistics.
    Languages change and it isn’t bad.  Changing does not equal degradation.

  • Matthew Keys

    With all due respect, you sound less like a “citizen” and more like a curmudgeon. That said, I await the day when respected news organizations like the New York Times, the AP and the one that I work for drop capitalization and punctuation from their articles (’cause, hey, all the cool kids are doing it).

  • Ryan Singel

    Nope, just another citizen tired of pedantic prescriptivists who think that dictionaries are rule books, and not history books.

    Language evolves. You should too.

  • Matthew Keys

    “Language changes. Get over it.” Ah yes, the Jersey Shore Generation motto.

  • Ryan Singel

    Language changes. Get over it. Took me a long time to give up unique as meaning one of a kind, but now it’s mostly okay.

  • Matthew Keys

    Can we please stop saying “talking to?” It’s “speaking with.” You “speak with” a friend when you’re holding a conversation. You’re “talking to” a child when they’ve done something bad (when you don’t want a response from them, you just want them to listen).

    God that irritates me. It has nothing to do with the above post (other than the phrase “talking to” appears in the blogger’s HuffPo response), but whenever someone uses the phrase “talking to” when they mean “speaking with,” it makes me sad.

    Journalism sad.