“I stand by my allegations of insufficient sourcing, absolutely and unequivocally. His plagiarism is a very serious ethical and moral breach. Academics and journalists alike have lost their jobs over less than what Mark Driscoll has done.” — Radio host Janet Mefferd, who started the Driscoll plagiarism controversy, in a later email to Ruth Graham of Slate
Mark Driscoll responded to Janet Mefferd’s so-called un-Christlike confrontation of his plagiarism during a radio show with some un-Christian behavior of his own.
Wait. Is there a Christlike way to confront plagiarism? Maybe to rip the cords from the curtains and start thrashing evangelical publishing businesses? I’ll mull that.
Anyway, Mefferd asked Driscoll a hard question about the source of some material in his book. The interview got tense. At the end, Driscoll seemed to have hung up.
Two days later, according to Slate (and verifiable here), Driscoll wrote about “Slander/Libel” in a longer post about several sins “we” commit. As Ruth Graham wrote in Slate, “Though he didn’t mention Mefferd by name, it is hard not to see her in the section on ‘Slander/Libel’.”
Case-builders collect information like stones to throw at somebody—just waiting for the right opportunity to impugn and attack someone’s character and integrity. If you’re a case-builder, you’ve decided that someone is your enemy and then justify sinful slander as righteous aggression.
But now the blog post using the word “libel” seems like Driscoll’s self-justified “righteous aggression.” Calling Mefferd “accusatory” and “unkind” during the interview — in response to a reasonable question — seems like his own self-justified “righteous aggression.”
What makes the “Slander/Libel” section even stranger is the inclusion of those very words within the blog post. Driscoll quotes the book of Leviticus (always handy for hitting people), and the verse he cites uses the word “slanderer.”
By placing “slander” beside “libel,” however, Driscoll connotes matters of news media and law. He frames these terms as “malicious and often false information used to inflict harm.”
Two problems with any suggestion that Mefferd approached slander or libel:
1. Mefferd provided evidence showing that she had grounds for her questions. Statements followed from Peter Jones and that suggested they believed their copyrights had been infringed, and copyright infringement is illegal.
During the interview, Mefferd asked Driscoll about his book A Call to Resurgence and his thinly acknowledged use of Peter Jones’s “intellectual property” in the book.
Even paraphrasing Driscoll requires attribution, the site says.
In other words, Mefferd was not false. Mefferd was accurate. A law had been broken. Driscoll’s name was on the book.
2. While Driscoll was blogging about how “we” libel and slander and lie and deceive, he ignored (or maybe redirected public focus from) the deception of presenting himself as the author of something he didn’t write. Oddly enough, “Deception” was one of the headings in the same post with the “Slander/Libel” heading.
Instead of showing pastoral concern for the offended parties and all the readers who have been misled, Driscoll went into defense mode, asking us to think about “One Big, Important Question” before we share information.
As a veteran of 11 years in the newspaper business, most with the late Knight Ridder (now McClatchy) chain, I can assure you nothing Mefferd did on her show constitutes anything close to libel or slander.
The better question is what Driscoll’s and Mars Hill Church’s responses have constituted.
Mefferd’s strange moves
1. She confronts Mark Driscoll during a radio interview.
2. She provides evidence for why she confronted Driscoll.
3. She apologizes for trying to hold accountable a powerful, influential celebrity who exercises authority over the lives of a sizable flock (of apparently nearsighted sheep).
4. She makes evidence disappear from her website — something that is astounding in the field of journalism.
5. She clams up about the situation for a while.
6. She holds an email correspondence with Graham of Slate and seems to reinforce the position she seemed to have during her interview with Driscoll: “I stand by my allegations of insufficient sourcing, absolutely and unequivocally. His plagiarism is a very serious ethical and moral breach.”
The justification for apologizing was, as Graham paraphrases, “Mefferd wrote to me that she removed the materials from her site because they had already been widely disseminated, and she wanted to be responsive to those who had criticized her tone and approach.”
Having listened to the interview, I don’t think anything was wrong with her tone and approach. This was not a Mike Wallace gotcha moment.
The only thing I don’t understand about Driscoll’s response is his increasing aggravation at the questions and his attempt to change the subject back to the sales pitch we usually hear from authors in media interviews.