February 13, 2006

Letter to a Senator Condemned for “Plagiarism”

Posted by Eric Jaffa
Tuesday November 08th 2005, 10:55 am
Filed under: Media Watch, Courts

When writing for publication, a person should be original — or give credit for others’ work.

When writing a politician, however, no originality is needed. The point is to communicate a political position.

I regularly write Congress using form letters at advocacy websites.

« Accusations of plagiarism in Ohio »

Last week George W. Bush nominated Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Alito has a record of denying workers and other people claiming injury a chance to present their case to a jury.

Blogger Nathan Newman wrote about the problems with Alito’s record on workers.

A staffer for Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) sent a letter to Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) similar to that blog post by Nathan Newman.

Reporter Steven Koff wrote an article in today’s Cleveland Plains Dealer condemning the Sherrod Brown letter as “plagiarized.”

The newspaper article is oblivious to the difference between writing for publication and writing a politician. It is equally ignorant of the fact that sending a letter to a politician is different from making a political speech.

Nathan Newman, who wrote the original blog post, calls the newspaper article “ridiculous.”

Newman asks:

…what about the real victims, the workers denied minimum wage, family leave, or a day in court to challenge racial and gender discrimination because of Alito’s decisions?

Who the hell cares if a Brown staffer copied a factual listing of legal cases into a letter? This was hardly a literary blog post using deathless prose for the ages. It was the facts that made this post interesting, not it’s [sic] literary value.

« Plagiarism, defined loosely »

This isn’t the first dubious accusation of plagiarism.

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin was accused of plagiarism for publishing passages in book — and giving credit to the original author.

« Update »

The end of the newspaper article refers to Sherrod Brown’s “letter to DeWine, which he released to reporters Friday.”

Maybe it was for publication. The reporter should have put that earlier in the article.

The reporter, Stephen Koff, doesn’t quote a response from Nathan Newman, the man allegedly harmed by the plagiarism (apparently because of deadline constraints). The only expert quoted is a conservative blogger, Daniel Drezner.

« Politicians and plagiarism »

Politicians don’t write most of their speeches. Politicians also don’t write most their letters.

While reporter Stephen Koff writes that “Students can be flunked for copying others’ words without attribution, and journalists can be fired,” Sherrod Brown is neither a student nor a journalist. The newspaper article quotes Daniel Drezner as condemning Brown by comparing this act to Joe Biden taking part of a 1987 stump speech from a British politician. I agree in so far that I didn’t think Biden’s actions were a big deal, either.

Unless we’re going to demand that politicians write their own letters and speeches, exactly what is the issue?

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2 Comments so far

“The more laws & order are made prominent, the more thieves & robbers there will be.” - Lao Tzu

Today I had my first “plagiarizer” of the semester. With the accessibility of the internet, plagiarism in papers has become for students to do and, at the same time, easier and easier for instructors to detect.

Trackback by ESL Lesson Plan 11.08.05 @ 5:22 pm

I am preparing an article on political speech-making in the US. It’s my guess that almost no politician writes any significant speech of his own (and I point out that in common PDE, “he” is semantically “he or she”). I want to find figures and facts. If anyone can point me to a source of information, I’d appreciate it. Thanks - James M. Girsch

Comment by James Girsch 12.14.05 @ 9:16 am

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