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When the Excuse Is Worse


Democratic senator John Walsh insists that his plagiarism was accidental and “complete unintentional.” Note that the paper he wrote was 79 percent plagiarized according to something called a “similarity index.” Whatever the merits of that indicator, the New York Timesgraphic makes it pretty clear the whole thing is a straight rip-off of other peoples’ work, language, and ideas.

Here’s the thing. I love it when people offer an excuse that is more damning than the crime. Plagiarism is bad. The plagiarism in this case is particularly egregious. This was a paper for his master’s thesis at the Army War College (someone over there needs to explain how even 14 unplagiarized pages is sufficient). But how would it be better if this guy managed to copy vast swaths of work entirely by accident? I understand that there’s a lot of margin for error in senatorial work. No one gives these guys the nuclear football. But I personally don’t know how to steal 14 pages worth of work without attribution by accident. And it seems to me that if you’re the kind of person who can make that kind of prolonged mistake without realizing it, you probably shouldn’t be in the business of writing our laws.


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