The politics of plagiarism
The Elko Daily Free Press, which produced the first report on U.S. Rep. James Gibbons’ dinner speech in this city, which turned out to be plagiarized, has not made any online additions to that first report to reflect or denote the plagiarism.
Newspapers frequently go back and add italicized corrections to archived stories on their Web pages when they discover they’ve made mistakes, but there is less standard protocol for instances when the subject of a news story wants to revise the record.
The story on the Free Press Web page is undated, but it was written after Gibbons’ speech to a Feb. 25 Republican Lincoln Day dinner in Elko. The story said Gibbons “passionately proclaimed his heartfelt support for troops waging the war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan and voiced blistering contempt for certain celebrities for giving aid and comfort to the enemy.”
It was later revealed by the Free Press that most of the incendiary remarks, in which Gibbons called for using critics of the Iraq war as human shields, were actually written by an Alabama woman and apparently lifted by Gibbons from an unsigned e-mail.
Gibbons apologized to the woman, Alabama’s state auditor, Beth Chapman, and she accepted his apology. Chapman originally delivered the speech herself in 2003 and then published it in a book.
The online publication Raw Deal went to Gibbons’ Web page to examine his previous speeches for plagiarism and discovered that all speeches have been removed from the page (www.house.gov/gibbons/ speeches.asp). However, Raw Deal was able to find caches and screen shots of previously posted speeches and posted them for its readers.
Some of them show Gibbons has a combative relationship with the English language—"The United Nations Must Pass a Resoltuion to Deal With Saddam Hussein” is the heading on a 2002 speech. A 2000 speech on an investigation of the Internal Revenue Service said the agency “does not know how much money its collecting” and used the phrase “if the IRS can not keep track its property.”
Meanwhile, online message boards and blogs were having a good deal of fun at Gibbons’ expense, including these ones from Raw Deal’s readers: “I’ll bet the speeches are gone because he routinely plagiarizes. Now it will be harder to check what he has delivered. All should know that this clown is the ‘favored’ candidate for next Nevada governor.”
“He went out to speak to a group in Elko, Nev., and read them something that had been sent to him over the wire, without checking it? This guy is a Congressman?”
At one blog (yin.typepad.com), Gibbons’ comments about human shields were compared to inflammatory remarks by liberal University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill: “Ward Churchill condones the 9/11 attack. … Jim Gibbons wishes the U.S. military could have killed liberals in Iraq.”
The closest thing to a defense of Gibbons so far is a short message at Whizbangblog: “I’ve met Jim Gibbons. He’s a solid guy.”
Word of Gibbons’ troubles also made their way inside the Beltway, thanks to Washington Post columnist Al Kamen, who quoted the speech, then commented sardonically, “This was great fire-breathing stuff, surely one of Gibbons’s greatest, most thoughtful addresses.” He then described Gibbons’ plagiarism.
Finally on Monday, the final class assignments of students in the GEL 130 Geology class at the University of California at Davis were due. Several weeks ago, the instructor gave students a written description of the assignment. It told them to respond to a letter sent out by U.S. Rep. James Gibbons of Nevada to "mining stakeholders" seeking proposals for how to change the Mining Law of 1872. At the end of the assignment sheet, the instructor noted, "Plagiarism is a violation of the University Code of Ethics."