Practical Advice to The Agonist: Wear the Scarlet ‘P’

Sean-Paul Kelley, aka The Agonist, has been called to account by Wired News (following Strategic Armchair Command‘s lead) for plagarizing material from Stratfor.
From Wired News:
“Kelley’s insightful window on the details of the war brought him increasing readership (118,000 page views on a recent day) and acclaim, including interviews in the The New York Times and on NBC’s Nightly News, Newsweek online and National Public Radio.
The only problem: Much of his material was plagiarized — lifted word-for-word from a paid news service put out by Austin, Texas, commercial intelligence company Stratfor.
“You got me, I admit it…. I made a mistake,” Kelley said. “It was stupid.” “

To my knowledge, Kelley has not disputed the facts of these charges, and has admitted guilt both to Wired, and in his own posts here, here, and here:
“I want to state explicitly that what I did was inexcusable and for many readers may be unforgivable. I understand that and am willing to accept the consequences of my actions.”
Many of the blogosphere’s finest have already weighed in on the issue: Glenn, Ken Layne, Colby Cosh, Glenn again, and Meryl have all condemned Kelley’s actions. Dan Drezner also joins in, and has a roundup of links.
I have found Sean-Paul to be a decent fellow in the limited interactions I have had with him. He was one of the first to actually advertise on TTLB, and more recently, has steered some of his now-stratospheric traffic my way via a few links over the past weeks. Just this past weekend, I e-mailed him first to point out some of my recent work (I’m not too proud to link-whore), and later to wish he and his new bride well on their recent wedding.
None of this changes my opinion on the core of this matter, however: Sean-Paul screwed up badly, and his poor judgment reflects not only on himself, but on webloggers as a whole. In a small way, we will all pay for his mistake: weblogs have lost some small bit of credibility today in the eyes of the world. It was inevitable that there would, some day, be a bad apple who let the world say “Aha! We knew those weblogs couldn’t be trusted.”
Sean-Paul, through his choices, has allowed himself to become that bad apple.
So what now?
Misdeeds should have consequences. Even now, Sean-Paul continues to reap the benefits of his earlier transgressions. Perhaps the people flocking to his site tonight would be doing so today even had he not lifted Statfor’s work. But more likely, many of them would not. And more appalling is the fact that even now, new readers to Sean-Paul’s site — today, and next week, and the week after that — may never know that he has admitted to such a breach of ethics.
And so I have a suggestion. If Sean-Paul is truly repentant for his actions: if he truly wishes to apologize and begin anew, then he should put a banner message at the top of his site, informing of readers of his past plagiarism, and linking to the relevant Strategic Armchair Command and Wired News articles.
And he should leave it there. Not for a day; not for a month. Maybe for years. Maybe forever.
With such a warning label, every reader who comes to his site will be able to make a full and informed judgment for themselves whether to trust what they read there. And with time, Sean-Paul would be able to continue his own work with the knowledge that his readership was there with full knowledge of both his strengths, and his failings: that the traffic was there were there because he had earned it.
Would this repair the breech of trust he has committed? No. Many — myself included — will always be wary of The Agonist in a way we never were before. I have removed the link to his site which I had placed on my header to the Cross-Blog Iraq Debate posts, which I added to point Yahoo and Google searchers to appropriate weblog resources on the Iraq conflict. (These posts are at the very top of search results for ‘blog iraq’). I do not expect that I will be putting it back.
But even if adding such a warning would not repair all the damage, taking such a step would be a significant and meaningful action that would admit guilt, and accept responsibility, in a way that his apologies to date have not. And that is something.
The Blogosphere itself can’t brand Sean-Paul with this scarlet “P”. He has to do it himself. But if he does, there is still a chance for Sean-Paul to salvage some dignity from this episode. It is my sincere hope that he does.