April 08, 2003

Filthy Little Thieves

It's my turn to weigh in on the Agonist Plagiarism Scandal. I'll just say... I wasn't surprised when I heard about it, nor about Mr. Kelley's lame excuse of being "too busy" to cite his sources. That excuse was bullshit on so many levels -- not the least of which the man has a Bachelor's Degree in History and is studying for his MA, and if there is one thing that is still one of the pillars of Academe it is that you WILL at all times cite your sources.

But the arrogant, I'm-above-the-rules attitude inherent in first, his lifting of articles without attribution from Stratfor's for-pay site, and then in his feeble excuses and unsatisfactory, "I'm sure I'm sorry" apologies, has always been this person's most notable characteristic.

When I first started reading that Mr. Kelley's blog had become a famous, Big Media-cited warblog on par with the Comand Post and some others, I was a little surprised. In fact, the first thing I thought was: "Gee, I wonder if Sean-Paul Kelley has taken down his 'Fuck you you bloodthirsty warbloggers' post?" I almost posted that thought to my blog, but I didn't for a number of reasons. I now regret my decision to let sleeping dogs lie. As you can see if you click on the link above, Mr. Kelley has not removed the post in question, which is a broad, sweeping attack on all so-called warbloggers, whom he accused of not displaying the proper sensibilities, of thinking war is "like a video game," and so on. (The only person he cited by name was Andrew Sullivan, who AFAIK has not mentioned his love of warlike video games, or any video games at all, on his site. Then again, I haven't searched it, so maybe I missed the drooling post on how dropping bombs on Afghan children was almost as much fun as playing Quake.)

But anyway -- the post is still there, but the comments are gone. Mysteriously so -- he claims in his apology post that they are "broken," and invites people to post to a bulletin board for which he provides, again, no link. Uh huh. In any case you'll have to take my word for it (and the words of commenters in my post on the matter) that there was a lively discussion going on concerning this in his comments. The only trace of this discussion now exists on my site here. I still have some emails on my other computer from our rather acrimonious email exchange, but I don't have all of them -- some of them were eaten by some email problems I had.

Anyway, that the writer of the Agonist is pretentious and has an ego the size of Jupiter doesn't surprise me at all. That he was latched onto by Big Media as a star warblogger also doesn't surprise me -- he is photogenic and obviously knows how to promote himself. In less telegenic times an episode like this would have made him a social and academic pariah -- he might have had his degrees rescinded; he surely would have been shunned by the academic community and had his career, whatever it is, effectively ruined. But in these modern, "enlightened" times I am sure that his ship will sail on. I wouldn't be surprised to see a three-figure book deal or tv offer in his future. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised to see his name on a campaign poster someday. He has all the makings of a perfect politician.

I have one last thing to say, though. Ken Layne has a lengthy (and better than mine) essay on journalistic integrity, blogs, and the necessity of citing sources. See, I also had a nasty, suspicious thought that this whole episode had an ulterior motive. Some people are touting blogs as the "new media," or the "rival media" to Big Media. There's been some jabs taken at blogs by some professional pundits on bloggers' "lack of editors" and so on. Also, there has been a perception that Big Media is leftist, while "warbloggers" at least are right wing. I am not going to say whether or not that is true. What is true is that when one blogger gets caught out in an act of blatant plagiarism, whether or not we like it it affects us all. The internet itself has suffered under a not-entirely-unjustified (no, not at all) reputation of being nothing but lies and pretense, seeing how it has been used as a medium for pedophiles to get underaged girls and such. And now we have this prominent, interviewed-on-CNN blogger who has been caught out in a laughably blatant act of plagiarism.

I have a nasty suspicious mind, and my thought was: what if this wasn't a series of "stupid mistakes"? What if it was deliberate? Mr. Kelly has not concealed his biases against "warbloggers" in the past. Something tells me he wouldn't think it at all wrong to stoop to subterfuge to discredit them.

Update: Dean Esmay has an entry on this, and it includes a tidbit of info that I did not notice:

In the earlier versions of his site was a statement that all items on the site were uncopyrighted, because:

"Intellectual property is theft."

In other words, copyright is itself immoral. Creative works should automatically be everyone's property. This was up on his site for some time, in place of where you normally see a copyright or Creative Commons notification.

I have no comment.

Last update, I swear: my vote for best comment on this goes to Laurence at Amish Tech Support: "I don't care if you're writing on the floor with your own feces. You cite your sources, or you're a thief. End of story." Bow. Down.

Posted by Andrea Harris at April 8, 2003 01:52 PM

Wait...a freakin' BA in History and claims too busy to cite? Back in my days of majoring in History (where all the books were upstairs, with no elevators, and you had to go upstairs to go down to the outside with indoor snow blowing in your face!), and almost still today, I had the ole Kate L. Turabian style ready to dash out without thought. That's like a physicist claiming he was too busy to carry the one.

Posted by: Juan Gato at April 8, 2003 at 02:13 PM

I think you're giving him too much credit. The only thing deliberate here was his determination to rack up the hits and then to be really evasive about his plagarism (changing his story a few times, too) when confronted about it.

I don't think it really hurts the blogosphere's credibility as a whole, either, besides just giving us a heads up to remember to credit our sources (if we use any). And look at the academic world's history of shady attribution: Bellesiles, Kearns Goodwin, Lott, Ambrose. Looks like a few bloggers are in good company.

Posted by: Asparagirl at April 8, 2003 at 02:18 PM

Of course it doesn't hurt the blogosphere's credibility. It was a blogger who caught him.

Posted by: Kevin McGehee at April 8, 2003 at 02:31 PM

Well, does it hurt the credibility of mainstream journalists who didn't think to wonder how he got all this unsourced, unattributed info? I think it hurts the credibility of big media and the blogosphere a tad. This, I hasten to add, I think is a good thing.

I think it teaches a basic lesson to think critically in regards to any story or source of information. This applies whether its a mainstream source, a counterculture source, a blogosphere source, or anything else. You may give more weight to some arguments because, over time, those behind them have been proven to be credible and informed. But a lot of sources of information are flawed, and awareness of the potential flaws is necessary.

As a history degree holder, I don't believe anyone could graduate from a competent university without understanding the importance of crediting sources, and I find the notion that he accidently neglected to give proper credit because of time constraints ludicrous. That's like saying Milli Vanilli accidentally forgot to mention they didn't actually sing.

Posted by: Craig at April 8, 2003 at 02:56 PM

I'd forgotten the details of his original post, so I went back to it. I'm going to cherish fore er Sean-Paul's statement that the Bushies have been lying crazily to excuse the war: by the time we're done digging up the Iraqi septic tank, we're going to be amazed at how little the Bushies told us. There was that "I'm for the war, but my reasons are better than yours" attitude that tends to make me sleepy . . . musn't drift off. It's sad, though, if unsurprising.

Posted by: Jack at April 8, 2003 at 04:58 PM

Just a little while ago I reread his "you other war supporters are evil" post and my response to it to refresh my memory. I never have liked him. There's has never been anything that Sean-Paul has done which I have liked. He has done much which has caused me to dislike him (such as his slam on anyone other than himself who supported war). However, when I read of all the hubub about his super-duper war news site I had two thoughts. One was how the hell he managed to get such news since he didn't seem at all special to me. (I don't want to oversell that point, this was a very vague and very subtle feeling.) The other started as spite but after reflection turned into a grudging acceptance that, despite his outrageous personal insults and insuferable snobery, perhaps he was not pure evil and deserved a chance to prove himself. Well, I guess he's done that, though not in a good way.

Posted by: Robin Goodfellow at April 8, 2003 at 07:31 PM

I was wondering when you'd get around to disemboweling Johnny-Paul. I, too, thought of that post of his when the sudden fame hit, then wrote him off immediately as a hypocritical carpetbagging scumbag going to dinner on his previous targets of opportunity. What's equally stomach-turning is his non-stop shilling for funds to do his big whoopdy-do Silk Road project, and the poor bloggers who bought into it and pimped for him unknowingly. Wonder if he'll bother to offer to make refunds to those who bought into his line of crap.

Posted by: Scott at April 8, 2003 at 10:16 PM

Scott -- the post stewed for a while. In fact, I meant to write it a couple of days or so ago, but I wanted to gather my thoughts.

As for the "Silk Road" project, whatever that was -- I think that anyone who funded him can kiss their money good-bye. I have no doubt in my mind that he will go ahead on whatever this project is supposed to be, and I am sure he will find supporters and helpers. That's the way of the world.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at April 8, 2003 at 10:54 PM

For me, the strangest and scariest part of the whole affaire agoniste has been the reaction of SPK's readers to those who brought his deeds to light; check out the comments to this
and this item (the post itself, not the comments).

That's two separate attempts to shut down (by using up available disk space) blogs that dared question the master.

Aside from the deliberate attempts to crash the server, what really shocked me was the utter childishness of the comments (representative sample: "You're a jerk and your site sucks").

I'd expect that sort of adoring fanatic behavior from followers of thick-moustached tyrants, but from readers of a freaking blog???

Posted by: David Fleck at April 9, 2003 at 01:24 AM

His admirers are also quite okay with his thievery, and think that his website is a good source of news "free of bias." Some people really are just born followers.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at April 9, 2003 at 01:36 AM

Well the fact that people get hacked who criticise the plagarising piece of shit is pretty pathetic. Wonder who is next? Wonder if those cowardly oiks got the guts to take us all down?

If any one cares, here is my take on this whole nasty affair.

Posted by: Andrew Ian Castel-Dodge at April 9, 2003 at 02:00 AM

No one better try to take down my site. There won't be anything left of Superhacker except a greasespot on his keyboard.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at April 9, 2003 at 02:53 AM

I tried commenting on his screed but the comment disappeared. Do all comments go to the newsboard now?

If it does, I guess I should get ready for a bit of spamming.


Posted by: Inscrutable American at April 9, 2003 at 03:00 AM

I believe that the comments on his site are "broken" -- which is the explanation given, anyway. I think that you have to go to the message board, wherever that is, to post anything. I have no idea how, because I have not bothered going there.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at April 9, 2003 at 03:17 AM

I don't want to go through the process of registering etc for the newsboard.

My contribution, I guess, will be to rely on the Command Post and Winds of Change.

I hope this thing doesn't blow up into a delinking festival.

Just my $0.02.

Posted by: Inscrutable American at April 9, 2003 at 03:42 AM

Delinking festivals are fun! They have clowns, rides, caramel popcorn -- or so I have heard.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at April 9, 2003 at 03:51 AM


The last delinking festival I remember is the LGF James Crappazola (close enough and I dont remember his actual name). It had a lot of pie throwing, water dunking and hot air.

Next time I go, I'll look for the popcorn. It's not a festival without the popcorn.

PS: do you notice that this looks like a conversation? Not too many other people are up at 4 AM EDT, I guess ;).

Posted by: Inscrutable American at April 9, 2003 at 04:11 AM

The Egonist has adopted the great principle first discovered by Zaphod Beeblebrox: If property is theft, then theft must be property.

Posted by: Paul Zrimsek at April 9, 2003 at 01:28 PM

Andrea, I wonder what Big Media's reaction to his plagiarism would have been if Mr. Kelley were as conservative as, say, me. Would he still have been featured post-discovery as a major blogger?

Posted by: Charles Austin at April 9, 2003 at 04:19 PM

What surprises, and dismays, me is that the blogging community hasn't been seen to unanimously pummel this guy for unethical behavior. Debate about whether or not blogging is or can be journalism has been floating around for months among the bloggin cognoscenti. Much of that conversation is colored by an arrogant and unpleasant disdain for journalists. In truth, the conversation is irrelevant.

Here's the point: If you write and publish in a public medium, credit your sources. Failing to do so discredits you and your chosen medium. Kelly's exposure damages all of blogging.

If bloggers want to be taken seriously -- as something more than a bunch of people linking to stories written by other people or rambling on about what their cat did yesterday -- then some of them need to clean up their acts.

Posted by: enloop at April 9, 2003 at 05:35 PM

Let's not forget that he actually had the nerve to blast a Russian warblogg by saying: "To the ... guys who are backdating stuff from my site: Do your own research! Knock it off!"

Posted by: Rosemary Esmay at April 9, 2003 at 06:32 PM

There was a de-linking festival for us to...when I joined :( Sasha got several emails from irate readers claiming that I lowered the tone of her blog. Hot Buttered Death went so far as to publically de-link us and called me a "hater & a reactionary".

Yeah bloggers should united in condemning S-P.

Posted by: Andrew Ian Castel-Dodge at April 9, 2003 at 06:59 PM

Geez, if I had read your piece first, I wouldn't have bothered writing mine. You HAMMERED him.

By the way, your links to his site led me to read his manure for the first time. I have to say, on a purely personal level, WHAT A SCHMUCK. What kind of self-deluding bag of crap has the ego to call himself "thoughtful, global, timely," as though praising some moldy genius immmortalized by Penguin Books?

He writes on a ninth-grade level, and I'm embarrassed to say that his serious screeds are more sophomoric than my most deliberately-juvenile humor pieces. If I had to guess, I'd say "left of center" describes not only his politics, but his position on the Bell Curve.

Ordinary, ordinary, ordinary. The only thing extraordinary about him is the contrast between his grand self-image and the pitiable reality.

I would have been much harder on this fool if I had been familiar with his work.

Posted by: Steve H. at April 11, 2003 at 12:27 AM

Yes, his writing does make me think a little more kindly of the awful stuff I wrote when I was fourteen. At least I mostly limited myself to complaining about the crap on teevee. (And it was the seventies, so it was real crap, not the fake stuff we have to deal with today.)

Posted by: Andrea Harris at April 11, 2003 at 12:43 AM