“Don’t copy my paper.” He didn’t say that, but he should. I was reading Jeffrey Toobin’s New Yorker profile of political spinmeister Roger Stone and thinking, hmmmmm. Where have I read this before? And then I remembered. Matt Labash wrote a very long profile of the very same Roger Stone for The Weekly Standard last November and a follow up in January of this year. I dug up the profile to check my memory and remembered why I remembered it. The profile was mentioned everywhere, including David Brooks’s year-end essay awards, mediabistro, and Romenesko. The similarities are striking, the most egregious of which is a device Labash uses throughout his piece. He repeatedly breaks up anecdotes with “Stone’s Rules” — things like “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack,” as well as “White shirt + tan face = confidence.”
Toobin does the exact same thing throughout his profile, even including the same mathematical equation and, like Labash, basing his conclusion on yet another rule. The cover art on The Weekly Standard is a photo of Roger Stone with his shirt off, showing his Nixon back tattoo. Whaddayaknow? In The New Yorker’s print edition (not online), they run a photo of Stone with his shirt off, flashing his back tattoo.
There’s more, but I leave a side-by-side comparison to more industrious souls. Both pieces are long. But any casual reading of the two suggests that Toobin owed Labash at least a hat tip. We’re all magpies, picking scraps from here and there to build our nests, but when you use someone else’s rhetorical devices, some recognition is due. It’s always possible Toobin didn’t read the Labash piece, but that seems unlikely. And if he didn’t, why not? Without using the P-word, we can reasonably infer Toobin’s Rule: “If it hasn’t appeared in the New Yorker, it hasn’t appeared.”
But it has. And it has appeared in better form.