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 naïve 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. 

Quantcast