Sunday, June 27, 2004

A Carefully Constructed Sloppily "Borrowed" Lie

(Note: I have put up the texts of the Democrat article, the LaPaire email, and the marked-up Democrat article showing correspondences between them here.)

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Please note: This post was revised about 9 hours after it was first posted. I removed a link, and the sentence around it, that was creating a false impression in readers. It is otherwise unaltered. I am very sorry for the confusion.
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Readers might remember the post referenced above; it was posted last week. I've reposted it just below this, so you don't have to fool with bloggered permalinks. It was a deconstruction of an article in the latest issue of the Shelby County Democratic Party's newspaper, The Democrat.

The article was written by the newspaper's editor, Roger Easson, a professor of language and literature at Christian Bros. University. I called him to ask about some of the details in his story; you can read the story and my impressions of him in the next post. The point, though, is that the article carries his byline and mentions no other source or co-author used in the writing. Some of the information comes from government websites, but no other sources are credited.

So, imagine my surprise when -- almost a week later and purely by chance -- I go to this webpage and find an email posted there that was written back in March and has been circulating around the Internet ever since. So what? Well, that email warns people about a coming draft and it contained language that is extraordinarily similar to the Easson Democrat article.

The first thing I did was to put a long passage of the email (which was identical to an Easson article's passage) into Google. Here is what that search turned up. I also searched for the email author, Sophie LaPaire, and came up with this. For fun, you can read her letter to the FDA and see her links to some strange organisation.

The Rocky Mountain News' columnist, Mike Rosen, apparently talked with her shortly after she sent out the eamil and learned some more. Then there's this webpage from former Libertarian Party presidential candidate Aaron Russo's campaign blog, where he picks up her call! It is all over the Internet.

There is, therefore, ample evidence that this email predates anything Easson wrote.

In fact, when I sat down with both and compared, I found seven passages of concern. Three are exactly the same and the other four are mild rewrites, in some cases of only a few words! There was even one passage by Easson that contains a verb error that is a left-over from the words around it being rewritten. By passage, I do not mean a sentence or so. The parts he borrowed from the original email total half the total length of the article! The rest comprises his experience signing up for the local SS board and a long paragraph characterising the Bush administration.

Put in short: he appears to have plagiarised an Internet email he found. This from a Professor at the prestigious Christian Brothers University! I was flabbergasted.

My next step was to call Dr. Easson back. I reminded him of who I was and started to ask him about the article. When I mentioned the similarities, his first remark was, "Interesting." He said that he'd "never seen" the LaPaire email and had "no idea what that's about."

When I told him that Googling her email produced 30,000 results, he said, "30,000?" in surprise. As I laid out my evidence, he suddenly began to ask me to stop and wanted to know who I was and what my "agenda" (his word) was. I told him about "Half-Bakered" and identified myself as a conservative Libertarian. He kept repeating he had no knowledge of "any email," then he asked me to email him what I had. He then asked the name of my blog, finally, and I let him know of the post, so he could look at it. In our first conversation, he evinced no interest at all in who I was, who I wrote for, or what I was doing. Now, he suddenly did.

I told him about the post and its title. He said, incredulously, "Are you calling me a liar?" The conversation started to devolve; he was growing agitated and kept asking for me to email him. I agreed and after we hung up I did just that, asking him for a response.

The very next day, I received the following:
please tell me why I should continue to dialogue with you?

After reading your blog, it is pretty clear there is no really positive direction any dialogue can go. You have me squarely in your sights, your amunition loaded. Your agenda is pretty clear and it is nothing I care to be associated with. Anything I say to you will be taken out of context and used to further your campaign against me.

That being the case, I would think your screed has terminated any useful discourse between us.
You will notice he doesn't deny anything. He instead changes the topic to me, accuses me of going after him, and on that basis declines to "dialogue" with me. He is right. I did my homework and had my facts laid out. I had him "squarely in your sights, your amunition loaded." Mostly that was because I was talking with a university professor! If I made mistakes, I'd be in a world of wrong. I wanted to be careful.

Because I can be both credulous and stubborn, I emailed him back. I frankly challenged him and noted that he hadn't answered my original question. This came back shortly:
I know nothing about this sophie person. I have never read her e-mail. I found this information on a variety of websites which I found credible. They may have used this e-mail as source material, I cannot tell. At any rate, your intentions are clear.

Please do not contact me again.
Imagine you are one of his students and you give him this answer to why your paper resembles someone else's so much? Do you think you could say what he just said and get away with it?

Is it possible, as he asserts, that he went to "a variety" of sites and saw this more than once, but never saw it attributed? It also begs the question why he didn't credit the websites. He claimed the article came "straight from my head." That would seem to be contradicted by the evidence. Whole sentences and most of a couple of paragraphs almost word for word?

A harsh critic would call this blatant plagiarism; a more forgiving one might chide him for not crediting sources and for liberally borrowing. I'll present the evidence; draw your own conclusions.

It surprises me to no end, still, that a university professor from a well-regarded private college associated with a religious order, writing in his official capacity as editor for the offical newspaper of the Shelby County Democratic Party, would be found to be substantially using the work of another writer (or writers) without attribution. Has he done this before? In other publications? What does he expect from his students?

But then, what's a small dishonesty in the service of a larger cause? When you are as decidedly partisan as Dr. Easson, working to oust an illegitimate, "radical" and "desperat[e]," Bush Administration, I guess little things don't matter.

Think about that. Any time you read what Dr. Easson "writes" for the Democrat, think about that.

(Note: I have put up the texts of the Democrat article, the LaPaire email, and the marked-up Democrat article showing correspondences between them here.)

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