Monday, January 25, 2016

comparing and contrasting the plagiarism controversies that have surrounded Doug Wilson and Mark Driscoll

This post presupposes you're up to speed on not just the sum of controversy that surrounded Mark Driscoll during his late 2013 plagiarism controversy but also plagiarism controversy that has surrounded Doug Wilson.

One of the things some people have pointed out was that Mark Driscoll was not accused of having done anything immoral or illegal.  Well, that might only be true in the most technical sense that nobody opted to take legal action on the issue of copyright infringement concerns.  That's not something anybody would tend to be in a rush to do.  Take a recent article in Slate on the matter of Fair Use, which discusses how much a full blown copyright litigation case can tend to run into.
Considering that in 2011, the cost to litigate a full-blown copyright case ranged from $384,000 to $2 million, pursuing a fair use case is often cost prohibitive for smaller actors. Time is another cost factor: The rulings in both Lenz and Authors Guild rulings were 10 years in the making. If disproportionality becomes accumulated in case law over time, the boundaries of fair use might drift or recede from a socially optimal point.

Yep, somewhere between 300k and 2 mil for costs and cases can sometimes take up to a decade to be arrived at.  Even if, say, it could be proven beyond all doubt that an author plagiarized intentionally or unintentionally of what benefit would it be to enter full-blown litigation of the sort that happened over "Blurred Lines"?  You'd have to anticipate a return of something like at least 4 or 5 million bucks for the legal battle to be worth starting to begin with, or would you?   So when Driscoll's advocates say that nobody accused him of wrong-doing that's a pretty generous claim, seeing as Janet Mefferd did confront Driscoll on air with a case that he had plagiarized material.  She then produced evidence for that case, which included quoting passages from the Trial study guide for the 1 & 2 Peter series; subsequent to that case, the book was retracted, citation errors got conceded, and the book withdrawn.  Not before the research help was blamed in a somewhat passive aggressive way.

So if you feel like it, revisit the chart Warren Throckmorton assembled summarizing Mark Driscoll's citation errors in his published work at a glance.

Throckmorton also documented that in a reprint of Real Marriage citation errors got fixed.  Thomas Nelson and On Mission may have felt it was worth it to fix the mistakes that got missed when people got galley proofs prior to the first print run rather than do what Canon Press did with A Justice Primer, which was to retract it altogether.

For those who haven't kept tabs on this there are a few more foreign language editions of Real Marriage out there now.  One of the rights reserved by the publisher, if  memory serves, was foreign language and adaptations of the product.  The plagiarism controversy may have been a net benefit for Thomas Nelson in the sense, at least, that if there were any infringement issues those could be gotten out of the way before a push for foreign language editions.  While the publisher is clearly not actively promoting the book any longer it hardly needs an obvious media push.  Direct sales, catalog sales, and overseas markets can still happen.  See 1.4.8 over here.

Even if Real Marriage was rigged a place at the top of the NYT best seller list it was still a talked-about book.  Never mind that there are plenty of marriage books out there or that the primary selling point about the thing was the framing narrative of the Driscoll marriage, the product is still the product.  So somebody paid for the corrections and permissions to use cited (or not-quite-cited first time around) works in the reprint of Real Marriage.

Who?  Well, to go by the wording of the publishing agreement the author, which would have been the corporation known as On Mission LLC which constituted Driscolls.

It would seem from Doug Wilson's history of controversies to do with plagiarism that having your books turn out to have some plagiarism in it doesn't mean the end of your ministerial career after months of controversy the way it might seem for Mark Driscoll's run at Mars Hill.  What was different?  Wilson and Booth actuallyadmitted to making big mistakes by publishing a book that had plagiarized content, for starters.  That might not seem like a big deal but let's recall whether or not Mark Driscoll said much beyond "maybe I made a mistake" about any of his published books. 

One study guide got retracted, along with retractions of statements made by MHPR about that study guide, too.  Then when it seemed the plagiarism issue was going to setle down the Result Source issue erupted.  It doesn't seem that Canon Press has contracted with anyone like Result Source. 

It might be instructive to ask what has been different about the Driscoll case and the Wilson case.  You might not like the things either guy has published over the last fifteen years but as plagiarism controversy goes the Wilson/Booth team was more direct in conceding "mistakes were made".  They also retracted a book.  Team Driscoll had at least one book (possibly more) reprinted without fanfare and without any kind of public statement addressing why reprints with correctiosn were even beign made. 

Wilson is not a stranger to controversy about his leadership style, either, now that I think of it.  So what possible difference might there be between Doug Wilson's controversial publishing career and that of Mark Driscoll beyond the books?  Well ...

Let's consider that as this site has gone up and people have shared stories of their time at Mars Hill there were people who were concerned about:

Mars Hill expanding faster than it could sustainably be handled by a budget; Driscoll transforming sermon times into opportunities to publicly lash out at criticism.

Heavy-handed leadership that too often had a "shut up and do what you're told vibe.

A particularly memorable passage. " ... days when he would come to "talk" to the staff were always the worst. Anytime you heard from Mark about something on staff he was pissed. His rants were ridiculous and so discouraging. one time he was coming to our team to talk—totally out of the blue, was not part of the day's schedule—I had to pray with another girl because she was so fearful of him and what he'd be coming to say."

It's not certain that Doug Wilson's staff have or might express a comparable sense of dread that the boss man is coming.  Maybe, but there's only so much that could be discussed in a single blog post.  The suggestion here is that while authors could attempt to draw "lessons" about what there was in the history of Mars Hill that could somehow be lessons for us, there was a lot that was distinct and not replicable.  Some contributors to the site linked to above have mentioned it's hard to know how to describe things to outsiders as the whole thing was so messy.

But there's a thread that emerges in some of the narratives, the dawning and sickening senseation of realizing that, just maybe, the place they thought was their church home had somehow been transformed into a giant propaganda apparatus whose ultimate goal was marketing Driscoll's wares rather than being a local church that served people.  Mark Driscoll did not get "taken down" by anys ecular or liberal press, it seems the more people feel comfortable sharing what they saw and heard the more it can seem that Mark Driscoll was brought down by controversies of a sort that Doug Wilson has weathered because Wilson, however controversial he's been, has not alienated his own base the way Mark Driscoll seemed to do. 

No publishers or authors saw reason enough to litigate on anything that could have been plagiarism in any Driscoll books.  That doesn't necessarily "prove" there was never any plagiarism.  If anything the reprinted editions with extra footnotes and thank you's suggests the problems were real enough to need fixing.  If Christian publishers actually went to court over everybody's infringements there couldn't be a mainstream Christian publishing complex, could there? 

Faced with a plagiarism controversy that stretched so far back as to include questions about his first published book, Mark Driscoll and company opted to fix the books.  Correct the mistakes.  There were a lot of things to correct. 

But it's worth considering that the controversies that embroiled Driscoll involved issues that touched other authors.  Les and Leslie Parrott turned out to have benefited from Result Source, as documented by Warren Throckmorton.  They still seem to have their respective jobs.  David Jeremiah's books have benefited, in some cases, from RSI.  He didn't feel obliged to quit his job, either.  What was unusual about the scandals connected to mark Driscoll was not really what they were or what they involved but that they converged on Mark Driscoll as an individual and that they ONLY had a negative impact on him when the same point of controversy, when highlighting some one else, did not lead to a career-ending season of crisis.

Of course Mars Hill had been hemorrhaging attenders for a while even by the time Driscoll resigned. 
We had a little post in September 2013 discussing how leadership within MH encouraged people to ask people to visit during a season of documentable decline.

If anyone would say people started to leave "only" after Mark Driscoll resigned that's a demonstrably false assertion. 

Contrary to what William Vanderbloemen proposed when Driscoll resigned, his resignation didn't "change everything".  It didn't seem to change anything at all.  The Christian publishing industry went on.  Mars Hill collapsed but it was in a downward spiral already.  On the whole, the more that came to light the more it began to seem that that downward spiral into death for Mars Hill was the result of the leadership culture and the way it chose to conduct itself. When Tripp was quoted as describing Mars Hill as one of the most abusive ministry cultures he'd ever seen that suggests that there was something beyond controversies about plagiarism or using REsult Source that led to the decline.  Driscoll's books got fixed but somebody had to pay for that.  Is it possible that an industry at large let Driscoll reap what he had sown and let him literally pay a price for his sloppiness?  It at least seems possible.  Driscoll had managed to make a majority of content published by and through Mars Hill his own IP anyway, so it's not much work for his team to recycle and repurpose it now.

Ten years ago Mark Driscoll published Confessions of a Reformission Rev. In that book he closed with a bold vision of what Mars Hill would become.  Of course today there is no Mars Hill.

Well, no, strike that.

It's still listed as activity by the Washington State Secretary of State website even to this hour.  So the corporation exists but not as anything like a church.  The listing doesn't even have an up to date listing of who the officers are.

So it looks like these guys are still in charge of a corporation that is still active for the moment even though it formally expired at the end of December 2015.  The corporation, it seems, lingers on but the church, as a church, seems to have been unable to survive without its dominant personality.

It seems strange to think that controversies surrounding intellectual property and promotions of books that DIDN'T crush the reputations of other figures turned out to have a damaging effect on Mark Driscoll. Doug Wilson, by contrast, seems poised to weather a few more storms staying right where he is.  Being able and willing to admit to mistakes in public might be a key difference between these two guys.  Wilson may very well not like  to have to do it, but he did it. 

Driscoll has managed to say he's grieved and "cried a lot" and things like that, but that's hardly rising to the level of admitting that a book with his name on it had incompetent levels of plagiarism in it necessitating a public retraction of the work, is it?

Considering how much Mark Driscoll used to commend Doug Wilson's writings as instructions for manliness a few readers here and there might be forgiven for wondering what, if anything at all, Mark Driscoll actually "learned" about manliness from the writings of Doug Wilson after all.

Sometimes it almost seems like an industry found it easier to let a guy hang out to dry for his own hubris than to let things get to a point where mountains of litigation could happen.  The sheer scope of the Driscoll plagiarism controversy compared to the "Blurred Lines" litigation seems like a case where the musical "vibe" evidence was, whatever you made of that, small compared to the sheer magnitude of uncredited material cycled into Driscoll's books since what turned out to be the dawn of his publishing career.  The puzzle is not necessarily what happened to Driscoll's reputation for any one controversy with his name on it, it's more like there's a question of why his reputation suffered so much when other authors and public figures were able to weather contorversies on more or less the same kinds of scandals and get by just fine.  A conspiracy seems impossible, but self-destruction through pride that comes before a fall might be a possibility. 

The unifying thread for a lot of Mark's controversy was Real Marriage.  It looks as though when people share their feelings about what happened a theme emerges, that people felt that the welfare of the church was sacrificed on the altar of promoting a book.  When all the scandals connected to the book came and went it can seem as though that sentiment was based on more than just a feeling, it turned out to be based on some substantial evidence. Shepherds are obliged to care for the sheep, not sacrifice them for the skae of personal prestige.

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