Plagiarism and Rand Paul

I’m late to the party on this, but I’d like to make a few points about Senator Paul’s responses to his plagiarism scandal.  After Rachel Maddow noticed that Paul’s summaries of the movies “Gattaca” and “Stand and Deliver” sure sounded a lot like Wikipedia’s, Paul gave a number of explanations:

1.  “I didn’t claim that I created the movie ‘Gattaca.'”  This is just a classic politician move where you answer the question you want to answer (“Did you plagiarize Gattaca?”) instead of the question asked (“Did you plagiarize Wikipedia?”).

2.  “Plagiarism is the wrongful appropriation and purloining and publication of another author’s language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions, and the representation of them as one’s own original work.”  Paul made this statement in a speech in Lexington on November 5.  I expected Paul to go on and explain why he is not guilty of plagiarism under that definition, but apparently he think’s it’s so obvious he doesn’t need to say it.  In any event, I think his definition of the word “plagiarism” is right on the money; I also think he is quite obviously guilty of plagiarism under that definition.  He wrongfully appropriated wikipedia’s language and expressions about the two films and represented them as his own original work.

3.  “I will admit sometimes we haven’t footnoted things properly.”  Paul made this statement on ABC’s “This Week” on November 3.  I think what he was trying to do is minimize the entire scandal by characterizing it as a silly little dispute over footnotes.  But footnotes are important:  If you identify the source of your words and thoughts, then you’re not a plagiarist, and footnotes are one way to do that.

4.  Finally, on Tuesday, November 5, we got the mea culpa we’d been waiting for.  Sort of.  Paul told CNN, “Ultimately, I’m the boss, and things go out under my name, so it is my fault.  I never had intentionally presented anyone’s ideas as my own.”  I think we can all agree that the “it is my fault” part is good.  The rest of the sentence–“things go out under my name”–seems to suggest that Paul himself did not actually write the speeches (and books?) in which the plagiarism occurred.  Translation:  I’m so, so sorry . . . for that thing I didn’t do.

As for the last sentence, he may be telling the truth, for all we know.  But it doesn’t really matter.  Senator Paul, like my students, is responsible for everything he presents to others as his own.  My students do not have staffs to blame when things go wrong.  They are responsible for making sure the papers they submit to me are free from plagiarism, whether intentional or unintentional.