Gibbons—vicious cheater or bumbling oaf?

A student cries in my office. Boo-hoo. A string of excuses follows.

“I ran out of time.”

“I guess I got careless.”

“I didn’t know it was ‘plagiarism’ to cut 15 paragraphs of someone else’s ideas from a Web site or e-mail—I can’t remember where I found it!—and paste it into my work without attribution.”

Some just shrug: “Whoops, got caught. No biggie, right? Apologies all around.”

The latter individuals express surprise on finding that teachers (and employers) consider plagiarism a big deal.

Journalists who steal the words of others without attribution lose their jobs. Students who plagiarize can be kicked out of the University of Nevada, Reno.

As a UNR lecturer, I’ve nabbed a few plagiarizing college freshmen. Given their newness to the collegiate atmosphere, I’m relatively lenient. Get busted cheating, and you get an F in my course.

Perhaps the USAF Air Command and Staff College, from which graduated everyone’s favorite bumbling Republican, Rep. Jim Gibbons, doesn’t take a hard line on plagiarism. Gibbons, as you recall, recently lifted 15 paragraphs of thoughtful right-wing commentary from an Alabama state auditor’s speech supporting the invasion of Iraq by U.S. troops.

I checked the Air Command and Staff College Web site.

“Integrity is a cornerstone of the military profession,” begins the ACSC’s statement about academic integrity. Between definitions of “cheating” and “test compromise,” “plagiarism” is explained.

“The act of appropriating the literary composition of another, or parts or passages of another’s writings, other ideas or language of the same, and passing them off as your own product. Proper credit must be given for direct use or paraphrasing of direct quotes.”

To his credit, Gibbons stole the best parts of Beth Chapman’s speech, first delivered to about 1,200 people at a Stand Up for America rally in February, 2003. Chapman received multiple standing ovations for her attack on Hollywood liberals.

“Today, I say we support the President of the United States and the U.S. Military and tell the liberal, tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing, hippy, tie-dyed liberals to go make their movies and whine someplace else.”

That’s the best line of the speech—the one you’ve heard quoted everywhere in the past week, along with the “human shields” bit, which I’d argue has been taken out of context. Of course, Gibbons doesn’t really want to kill off, say, gentle anti-war protesters who gather weekly in Reno to pray for peace. Or me. Or a growing number of his constituents. Do you, Jim?

After that, the speech’s logic deteriorates further as Chapman whoops it up for the invasion of a country that posed no threat to the United States. To support this leap, she cites the insight of an adolescent.

“After the tragic events of Sept. 11, my then-11-year-old son said terrorism is a war [of] them against us and if you’re not one of us, you’re one of them.”

From the mouth of babes—the frightening juvenile dualism that’s tearing this country apart.

No analogy reaches too far for Chapman. If you support abortion, you should support war. If animal rights concerns you, you’re a hypocrite to not support bombing the living excrement out of Iraq; thus you must hate America and freedom and the courage of the men who’ve fought and died for both. Huh.

Finally, Chapman notes that “God-fearing people have remained silent too long,” and I can only wonder what planet she’s been living on.

So Rep. Gibbons, great speech, intriguing career move. We imagine how ridiculous you must feel at having been exposed as a cheat or ignoramus, so we’re extending some grace. You won’t be expelled. Won’t lose your job.

But you do get an F in the course.