just the facts, ma'am

By Diogenes (articles - email) | Jan 19, 2006

Our friends at the Cardinal Newman Society have asked academic officials at Notre Dame to investigate the possibility that the well known theology professor (and general nuisance) Richard McBrien committed plagiarism in a recent column which, as Uncle Di already observed, bore a distinct resemblance to an earlier column by the Boston Globe's Eileen McNamara.

With the Boston Herald now looking into the plagiarism charge, Father McBrien provided calm assurance that there was nothing to it. You see:

“Plagiarism is when you steal someone’s ideas,” said the 69-year-old priest, who taught at Boston College in the 1970s and whose column once ran in the Boston Pilot. “I was using the (Globe’s) facts (because) I’m not a reporter; I wasn’t at Menino’s talk.”

OK, let's review. Here's a snippet from the original McNamara column:

They are a tiny band of antiabortion zealots... These folks do not just miss the Latin Mass; they miss Cardinal Bernard Law.... There's Bill Cotter, pining for the good old days when Law would allow Operation Rescue to use Catholic churches as staging areas for illegal blockades of abortion clinics.

Now from Father McBrien's column, which wasn't quite so original:

These ultra-conservative activists, for whom abortion is the only moral and political issue that counts, not only miss the Latin Mass but also the former archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, who allowed Operation Rescue, a militant anti-abortion organization, to use Catholic churches as staging areas of illegal blockades of abortion clinics.

Father McBrien concedes that he drew some "facts" from the Globe column. Which are the "facts" that give rise to the remarkable similarity here?

  • The "fact" that Cardinal Law authorized Operation Rescue to use Boston parish churches as staging areas? That isn't a fact; it's a falsehood. Maybe poor Father McBrien was led into error here because of his regrettable reliance on the Globe.
  • The "fact" that the demonstrators long for the Latin Mass? Possibly that's true; I don't know, and I seriously doubt that Eileen McNamara knows. In any case it's completely irrelevant to the question at hand, which is the suitability of Boston Mayor Tom Menino for archdiocesan honors.

Funny, isn't it, that although his ideas are his own, Father McBrien finds room in his column for the same irrelevant "fact" that Eileen McNamara used.

If the roles were reversed-- if the McBrien column had appeared in print first, and McNamara followed with such strikingly similar observations-- you can be absolutely certain that her editors would immediately call her on the carpet, and her tenure as a Globe columnist would be in grave danger. So now we get to find out whether the University of Notre Dame has as much intellectual integrity as (gulp!) the Boston Globe.

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