In his most recent Washington Post column, George Will—noted conservative columnist, baseball enthusiast, climate change skeptic, college campus scold, and enterer into a Faustian pact with the Devil to keep his perfect flaxen locks—asks a fairly simple question: If you could be as rich as John D. Rockefeller, but had to live in 1916, would you?
If that particular choice of date seems arbitrary or odd, perhaps you didn’t read this blog post, in which George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux asked the same question last year, when 1916 was a nice, round 100 years past.
Will does credit Boudreaux early on in his column. But as my Gizmodo Media Group colleague Tom Scocca points out, Will goes well beyond quoting Boudreaux—he repeatedly adopts Boudreaux’s language, without quotation marks, though sometimes slightly reworded. One term for that practice is “plagiarism.”
For example, compare this passage from Boudreaux’s blog post:
If you were a 1916 American billionaire you could, of course, afford prime real-estate. You could afford a home on 5th Avenue or one overlooking the Pacific Ocean or one on your own tropical island somewhere (or all three). But when you travelled from your Manhattan digs to your west-coast palace, it would take a few days, and if you made that trip during the summer months, you’d likely not have air-conditioning in your private railroad car.
To this passage from Will’s column:
Boudreaux says that if you had Rockefeller’s riches back then, you could have had a palatial home on Fifth Avenue, another overlooking the Pacific, and a private island if you wished. Of course, going to and from the coasts in your private but un-air-conditioned railroad car would be time-consuming and less than pleasant. And communicating with someone on the other coast would be a sluggish chore.
Here’s Boudreaux later on in the blog post:
Even when in residence at your Manhattan home, if you had a hankering for some Thai red curry or Vindaloo chicken or Vietnamese Pho or a falafel, you were out of luck: even in the unlikely event that you even knew of such exquisite dishes, your chef likely had no idea how to prepare them, and New York’s restaurant scene had yet to feature such exotic fare.
And Will’s version:
If in 1916 you wanted Thai curry, chicken vindaloo or Vietnamese pho, you could go to the phone hanging on your wall and ask the operator (direct dialing began in the 1920s) to connect you to restaurants serving those dishes. The fact that there were no such restaurants would not bother you because in 1916 you had never heard of those dishes, so you would not know what you were missing.
Birth control was primitive: it was less reliable and far more disruptive of pleasure than are any of the many inexpensive and widely available birth-control methods of today.
Birth control in 1916 will be primitive, unreliable and not conducive to pleasure.
There was no American-inspired, British-generated rock’n’roll played on electric guitars. And no reggae. Jazz was still a toddler, with only few recordings of it.
You could afford to buy the finest Swiss watches and clocks, but even they couldn’t keep time as accurately as does a cheap Timex today (not to mention the accuracy of the time kept by your smartphone).
You could enjoy a smattering of early jazz, but rock-and-roll is decades distant, and Netflix and Google even more so. Your pastimes would be limited, but you could measure the passage of time on the finest Swiss watch. It, however, would be less accurate than today’s Timex or smartphone.
You get the idea. Even if Will’s column skirts the line of outright plagiarism, it’s at the very least an incredibly lazy way to “write” a column.
Reached for comment, Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt told Fusion: “George begins his column by giving generous credit to Mr. Boudreaux and his ‘indispensable’—as George writes—blog, and any fair-minded reading understands that the credit applies through the entire column.”
One might think that a simple mention of the author whose words you are effectively copy-pasting into your (very well-compensated) column is the opinion journalism version of uploading an unlicensed song to YouTube with the disclaimer “no copyright intended,” but it is apparently good enough for the Washington Post.
Still, Will has every reason be grateful to live in such an age of marvels. In 1916, a hack columnist would have had to painstakingly rewrite another author’s words one-by-one, instead of simply pasting them into a Word document.