Is It Plagiarism or Homage? (Late word: Publisher Withdraws Book)

April 27th, 2006 9:21 PM

There was that commercial of some time ago that asked “Is it live or is it Memorex?” (Meaning a copy, a recording.)

I guess that’s what we’ve got here in the case of a 19-year-old Harvard student and “novelist,” Kaavya Viswanathan, now accused of plagiarism. Apparently her book “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life,” cloned some 40 passages from another book, actually two books written by Megan McCafferty.

We learn from our big city newspapers that Viswanathan got $500,000 to sign up with Little, Brown, publishers, and that she did all that signing while she was only 17. One part of me feels sorry for this young lady. She got trapped in Jay McInerney’s “Bright Lights, Big City” and at 19, there is still so much living and writing to do.

Then again, plagiarism is, well, plagiarism, or, as aggrieved publisher Steve Ross, of Crown Books put it – that this is “nothing less than an act of literary identity theft.” Crown is McCafferty’s publisher and, as noted, Little Brown is the company that may consider adding some fact-checkers.

Late word from The New York Times: Publisher Little, Brown has withdrawn all copies of Viswanathan’s book. That is good news, but when did this epidemic of deceit begin? Did it start with Jayson Blair at the Times, Stephen Glass at the New Republic? Never mind when, and never mind Liberal or Conservative, and speaking of Conservative, those of us proudly in this camp ask only that the truth be served. We’ll take another point of view as along as it’s presented in fairness, without guile.

CNN’s Eason Jordan finally admitted that his network slanted the news from Iraq to remain in good standing with Saddam. How long did this go on and not only from Iraq but from everywhere? (Israel certainly got slanted, plenty, and still does, and not only at CNN if you'll check the BBC and NPR and most of the MSM.)

We know about Dan Rather and Mary Mapes, how they, too, distorted the news – but how much DON’T we know? It’s good that some of these dirty little secrets are coming out. The scary part, regarding newspapers, TV, books, movies, is how much of this manipulation has already influenced the public mind. How much damage has already been done?

As for Viswanathan, haven’t we been through this before, just months ago with James Frey? Good question. So here’s the answer. Just the other day, Viswanathan was on TV with Katie Couric. I did not catch the show BUT she was on TV with Katie Couric! This means, snap, she is more famous that 99 percent of all the others trying to make a living in the writing trade.

Okay, she is now famous for all the wrong reasons but we all know that this just does not matter anymore. James Frey’s book, “A Million Little Pieces,” was done no harm after it was revealed that Frey did a heap of fabricating. Last time I checked, that fictional memoir was still way up on the best seller charts.

Viswanathan is sure to be getting invitations for another book to reveal her pain and suffering, followed by the movie.

(Sorry to be so cynical.)

Give The New York Times some credit for going big (really big!) on this story. Maybe the Times is making amends for Jayson Blair and even, in the words of Editor Bill Keller, for the Times’ sin of “overlooking” the Holocaust. Or maybe this “Right Wing Conspiracy” is having some sway.

Fact-checking? That’s up to us, and the fight for truth (come Left or come Right) has just begun.