Roger Marolt: Roger This
July 16, 2010
Scott McInnis is not an idiot. He’s a liar.In yesterday morning’s Denver Post the Colorado gubernatorial candidate answered recent alleged plagiarism accusations. He didn’t deny that nearly identical passages originally published by Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs in the 1960s and more recently words from an op-ed piece in The Washington Post by scholar Daryl Plunk ended up in floor speeches, op-ed pieces and columns published by him. Instead, he blamed the first instance of non-attribution to a staff member’s error (which the staffer has denied) and excused the other instance by proving he had permission from the original author to claim that writer’s work as his own with no strings attached. I don’t think he believes in the validity of either of these cockamamie excuses that he has laid out for us.What leads me to suppose this is that McInnis’ story is told within the context of politics, and politics is not, as commonly believed, about stupidity, but rather disingenuousness. It would be easy to think that McInnis is not very smart; “Huh. What do you know? You mean it’s not OK to copy somebody else’s writing and pretend it’s my own? I’m sorry. Let me take my paper home and redo it.” That’s not it. He’s an attorney, for crying out loud. Go ahead and say what you like about lawyers (or maybe more therapeutically valuable at the expense of using up far more time, what you don’t like), but most of them are pretty intelligent and at the very least have been through a lot of schooling – where they teach you things like not to copy other people’s work. Perhaps a story penned by William Douglass of McClatchey Newspapers that also appeared in The Denver Post yesterday morning (note to Scott McInnis … and his staff … and authors who gave him permission to use their work without attribution: This is how you clearly relay the message to your readers that you are about to reprint content and ideas originally presented in somebody else’s work. They did the work; I get the paycheck for using it. Don’t you think it’s fair that they at least get their name in the paper?) better illustrates the cleverly disguised dishonesty in politics that I am referring to. The story was titled “Dueling Bible verses at hearing.” As it happens, the hearing in question was a congressional hearing regarding our nation’s immigration laws and that alone is enough to warrant a great deal of skepticism about everything that was said. Grandstanding notwithstanding, however, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, quoted from the Bible to raise concerns he had that any discussion of reform should consider the Good Book’s mandate to “care for the least of these among us” (Mathew 25:34-40), to care for the “strangers” who reside in our land (Leviticus 19:34; Hebrews 13:2), and to act justly and mercifully (Micah 6:8). Anybody for the Golden Rule? Who could possibly argue that, whatever shape our nation’s immigration laws take, these basic, decent ideals should not be considered? Well, apparently U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, can. He quoted his own Bible text from Romans 13:1-7 to counter what Land had said, “Let every person be subject to government authorities.”OK, I am not here to debate immigration reform (again) or to interpret the Bible (for the first time publicly). What I want to do is demonstrate that Rep. Smith cannot possibly believe what he is arguing. Making a huge leap of faith by assuming that both of these men believe that the Holy Scripture is the word of God, since they both quoted and properly attributed it in their arguments, I think both men could find the strength and weakness of their arguments by imagining hypothetical situations at the Pearly Gates.First scenarioGod: “Have you recognized the lowly, cared for strangers in need, and been just and merciful in your life?”Smith: “No, Sir. But I paid my taxes and obeyed posted speed limits.”God: “Hmmm…”Second scenarioGod: “Have you let yourself be subject to government authorities?”Land: “Sadly, not always, Sir. I obeyed the law the best I could, but I protested against some of the nonsense they tried to subject me to when I felt it was flat-out wrong. Just the same, I tried to be kind, caring and just throughout my life.”God: “Sorry, Son. The law is the law, as Rep. Smith paraphrased to you.” As ridiculously simple as each imaginary scene is, nobody could possibly believe that scenario number one trumps scenario number two in applying God’s general guidance to us in reforming immigration, or any other law, major or minor, of the land. So, the only conclusion you can draw then is that Rep. Smith (if only by virtue of being somebody) is lying by presenting his selected quotation as being what he considers to be the overriding message of the Bible.It’s much the same in the McInnis imbroglio. Nobody can honestly buy what McInnis is selling here. First of all, it can’t possibly be acceptable to include unattributed quotes by others in your work, even if it was put there unbeknownst to you by a staff member “helping” you write it. Secondly, it can’t possibly be OK to pass off somebody else’s work as your own, even if the real author gives you permission to do so. Finally, it can’t possibly be right to justify it, as ethics expert Teddi Fishman of Clemson University tried to do in The Denver Post yesterday by claiming, “Politicians using ghost writers is a well-accepted and established practice, and … [McInnis’ work] doesn’t count as plagiarism.” If anybody honestly believes that any of these are acceptable excuses for what Scott McInnis has done and they are willing to go on record as saying so, I will gladly retract the conclusion I have reached here. I will then have to believe he is an idiot.
Roger Marolt can’t decide whether Scott McInnis should be forgiven or punished by our nation’s copyright laws. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.