One of the mini-controversies this week has been increasing evidence that Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul repeats things word for word taken from Wikipedia. Now it emerges that he also uses copy-and-paste-from-others in published form, too — you know, the kind of plagiarism that would get a college student expelled from many colleges. But, then, in our national politics there really are fewer consquences anymore. Buzzfeed:
An entire section of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s 2013 book Government Bullies was copied wholesale from a 2003 case study by the Heritage Foundation, BuzzFeed has learned. The copied section, 1,318 words, is by far the most significant instance reported so far of Paul borrowing language from other published material.
The new cut-and-paste job follows reports by BuzzFeed, Politico, and MSNBC that Paul had plagiarized speeches either from Wikipedia or news reports. The book was published in August 2013 by Center Street, a division of Hachette Book Group.
In the case of MSNBC, Paul used in part of his defense the good, ‘ol partisan red meat button by saying MSNBC liberal talker Rachael Maddow hated him and had it in for him since she had reported the Wikipedia plagiarisms (note it is plural.) He said charges of plagiarism came from “haters” — which apparently now includes MSNBC, Politico, Buzzfeed, and other news outlets that won’t give him a pass.
I wonder how it would work if a college student who did the same thing was called out on it and told he would be expelled. Would calling his professor and the university “haters” wipe it all away? Or would people hearing the college student conclude he was trying to avoid the consequences of a choice to cut and paste rather than use the accepted form: rethink, reword and rewrite?
In this case, Paul included a link to the Heritage case study in the book’s footnotes, though he made no effort to indicate that not just the source, but the words themselves, had been taken from Heritage.
A Paul aide defended the senator, saying he makes clear in the book’s “notes and sources” that he didn’t individually research each case.
“In the book Government Bullies all the information… was sourced by end notes. In the two cases described, the end notes clearly define the sourcing for the book. In no case has the Senator used information without attribution,” said Doug Stafford, an advisor to Sen. Paul who co-wrote the book. “There were 150 endnotes and cites including The Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute. This is a witch hunt and grasping at straws.”
The copied text relates to the 2003 case of David McNab, a Honduran businessman who, along with three American businesspeople, was convicted of multiple felony counts related to the illegal harvest and importation of Caribbean spiny lobster tails in violation of the 1900 Lacey Act. The Lacey Act prohibits the trafficking of illegal wildlife.
That doesn’t quite cut it.
The linking is fine but simply copying and pasting a whole section without quotes and passing it off as your own is a no-no. The Senator’s office should note that that unless there is a technical glitch (someone forgetting to hit the blockquote button) The Moderate Voice and other weblogs make it clear (like in this post) that whole chunks are written by someone else. Blogs and websites may also paraphrase material and rewrite it and that’s accepted form for bloggers, columnists, etc but you attribute rather than cut and paste whole passages — or you process it in your mind, and rewrite it giving your own take.
Anyone who has read books with footnotes know that in general a footnote reflects the source and is used when someone writes a piece of information from the footnoted section.
But as a rule people don’t footnote and just copy and paste a complete section from someone else and pass it off as their own wording.
So once again in our politics we have a nice cover story that may just allow someone a pass.
However, everyone including those who do the defending know full well what has occurred and what it really means.
Just let a college student try that on his thesis and see what happens.
But, then again, college students are held to a far higher standard than partisans and ideologists hold people on their own sports teams.
Or a higher standard than anyone would think of holding someone in Congress.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.