Plagiarism and Politics in 2014

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on Nov 6, 2014 9:00:00 AM

As the 2014 election comes to a close, it has been an election cycle ripe with plagiarism stories. The stories included Democratic Senator John Walsh being forced out of his election after a plagiarism scandal and Republican Senate candidate, Dr. Monica Wehby, being accused of plagiarizing her health care and economic plans from other Republican sources.

Local elections were also impacted as Mary Burke, a Democrat running for governor of Wisconsin, faced allegations of plagiarism over her website and a Republican candidate running for Connecticut governor facing similar accusations over his urban policy proposal.bigstock-The-Capitol--Washington-D-C--67090798

This isn’t necessarily a new development. The 2010 midterm elections were equally plagiarism-laden, with several gubernatorial candidates and at least one congressional candidate facing plagiarism allegations.

However, plagiarism is rapidly becoming a go to weapon in politics, an easy way to catch a candidate in a “gotcha” moment that can become both a scandal and a distraction. For example, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) recently came forward as the source of the allegations against Senator Walsh and said they timed it to do the maximum amount of damage that the news could.

But this is not unique to one side. All campaigns are looking to plagiarism as a potential source of political hay. This includes scanning the speeches, sites, policies and anything else written or spoken by their opponents for plagiarism. As with the case of Senator Walsh, this can even go back to earlier works written while in school.

Part of this is because plagiarism detection technology has made it incredibly easy to spot copied text. However, it’s also because political campaigns, with their heavy reliance on consultants, talking points and other shared works, are ripe with opportunities for attribution mistakes.

But the increased presence of plagiarism in politics also will impact how plagiarism is viewed elsewhere and that impact is not universally beneficial. While serious plagiarism cases can increase awareness to what plagiarism is and its prevalence, constant use of alleged plagiarism as a political attack, especially over minor infractions, can cause individuals to be wary of plagiarism and treat it less seriously in general.

This, in turn, has the potential to make plagiarism more difficult to fight in other environments. For example, in academic environments, an increased presence of plagiarism in politics could, in some, create an image that everyone plagiarizes and that it’s not a major infraction. In others, it could create a sense of paranoia about plagiarism, one that makes it difficult to have serious and productive conversations about it.

So as this campaign season draws to a close, we need to think about not just the role plagiarism is having in politics, but how that role is impacting other areas. Widespread media coverage of plagiarism issues, even if they are just minor political scandals, will have a broader impact on plagiarism and it’s best to be prepared for those shifts.

After all, we’ll soon have students and new employees who will have politics as one of their main exposures to the topic of plagiarism. As such, the stories of politicians embroiled in plagiarism scandals, such as Senator Walsh, will become the lenses through which we have to communicate the boundaries of plagiarism.

So it’s best to understand those lenses for what they are and begin looking through them today.

Topics: Current Events