Oliver North uses Maureen Dowd plagiarism defense

The Washington Post

Fox News Insider took down Oliver North's Memorial Day column last month after NYU journalism professor Michael Norman complained that it contained a passage lifted verbatim from his memoir.

Some classic Fox editorial moves followed, Paul Farhi reports:

After a reporter brought the 1990 passage to Fox’s attention last week, the company took the un­or­tho­dox step of scrubbing the quotation and reposting North’s column, which is syndicated by Creators Syndicate. It appended an editor’s note that mentioned, without explanation, that the paragraphs had been removed and that North had included them “through no fault of his own.” The note also credited Norman.

Early this week, the company removed the column from the Web site altogether, also without explanation. It also no longer appears in Fox’s online archive of North’s work.

Fox wouldn't tell Farhi on the record what happened, but "people familiar with the matter" said North was quoting an email from a friend, fellow veteran Sammy L. Davis: "North assumed the words were Davis’s and quoted Davis as such, they said," Farhi writes. Norman, a Vietnam vet, was a New York Times reporter and columnist who now teaches at NYU.

If this account of North's work is true, it's the latest example of the plague of emails from friends, which has bitten a Patch editor, a Fast Company blogger and a Web producer at a Washington television station recently. Poynter's Craig Silverman calls such explanations the Maureen Dowd Plagiarism Defense, after The New York Times columnist who explained that plagiarized material in one of her columns stemmed from a conversation with a friend.

There's a different Memorial Day column by North on Fox News Insider now, one in which he visits the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., and is dismayed to see a protester wearing "dirty T-shirt, ragged jeans – and Gucci loafers." (Talk about uncheckable facts -- "Gucci loafers" were a meme used to describe lobbyists in '80s-era Washington, when North famously served in the Reagan White House.) But the original column, as Farhi points out, isn't hard to find on the Web. I found it, for instance, on FoxNews.com.

Update: Fox appears to have removed North's column. It's also vanished from Townhall.com.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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