WaPo: Walsh fumbling post-plagiarism scandal

posted at 5:41 pm on July 25, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

In fairness, how exactly does a sitting Senator handle the exposure of his academic fraud? When allegations of academic plagiarism arose with Joe Biden in run-up to the 1988 Democratic presidential primary, Biden shrugged it off as a youthful indiscretion, which was plausible only by the fact that it happened as an undergrad — and skirted around the fact that Biden plagiarized speeches from Neil Kinnock much later in life, including some of Kinnock’s working-class biography. The scandal put a spike through Biden’s presidential ambitions at the time, but his Senate seat was never in danger.

Biden, however, had been elected a number of times to the Senate in a safely Democratic state, not appointed as a favor to get a boost on his first electoral try for the seat in a Republican state. Sen. John Walsh (D-MT) had to do a little more work to excuse his much more recent plagiarism at the Army War College, but the former general keeps throwing fuel on the fire instead of water. At first he blamed PTSD, which angered veterans who truly suffer from the disease, and then tried doubling down with a “fact sheet” that was easily pulled apart on cursory review. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake conducted a thorough fisking of Walsh’s response, which claims that this is just an issue of citation errors:

Walsh doesn’t have a citation problem; he has a plagiarism problem.

As Martin’s story and the accompanying graphics show, Walsh didn’t just fail to cite things, he basically lifted whole blocks of text from other sources — without using those pesky quotation marks. Even if Walsh had correctly cited the works where these words came from, it’s still plagiarism if you pretend like you wrote those sentences. This is a far worse academic sin than a few missing footnotes.

It also takes a pretty big suspension of disbelief to think that Walsh lifted those passages without ill intent. Proving someone’s intent is always difficult, but believing that this was anything other than an attempt to cheat takes some logical leaps that are pretty hard to make.

The “fact sheet” also claimed that “Walsh survived hundreds of IED explosions while in a Humvee” as support for the PTSD claim. Blake also scoffs at this, which Walsh’s office later clarified as surviving a single attack:

If surviving “hundreds of IED explosions” sounds too good to be true, that’s because it didn’t happen. Walsh’s campaign followed up with a correction (which they call a clarification), noting that he personally didn’t survive all those IED attacks….

That’s a pretty glaring factual error, especially for a “fact sheet.”

Chris Cillizza awarded Walsh the “worst week in Washington,” but it’s probably worse in Montana:

What you might have expected Walsh to do was simply apologize. After all, plagiarism typically amounts these days to a venial sin in politics; Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) survived plagiarism accusations recently, while Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) weathered them in 2011.

But that’s not what Walsh, who is trailing his GOP opponent in polls leading up to November’s midterm election, decided to do. Rather than just apologize and move on, his campaign chose to savage the story as the work of Republican opposition researchers — um, would that make it not true? — and give a number of excuses for why Walsh did what he did.

In an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, Walsh sort of blamed post-traumatic stress disorder from his service in Iraq. “My head was not in a place very conducive to a classroom and an academic environment,” he said. Which, of course, raises the question: Why didn’t he simply ask for a leave rather than plagiarize? And in a Thursday statement, the campaign called the issue an “unintentional mistake.”

John Walsh, for making excuses when you should have been apologizing, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something.

While Walsh ties himself up in knots, Democrats insist that they’re sticking by their nominee in Montana — at least for now, but probably not enthusiastically:

Senate Democrats went into full-fledged damage control Thursday to protect embattled Montana Sen. John Walsh, a day after plagiarism revelations that imperil his election hopes this fall.

Despite a mountain of evidence suggesting that Walsh may have obtained a key academic credential improperly, the party leadership, Montana Democrats and members of the rank and file closed ranks behind the appointed senator — arguing that voters should overlook a relatively minor mistake when weighed against his military service in Iraq and career serving his country. …

Democrats hoped that the uproar would soon die down, and Walsh could soon return to regular campaigning. They likened the scandal to the 2010 Connecticut Senate race, when it was revealed that Richard Blumenthal never served in Vietnam, contradicting his numerous assertions that he did, as well as the 2012 controversy over whether Elizabeth Warren improperly cited having Native American heritage to advance in her academic career. Warren and Blumenthal eventually won those races.

But those two races were in deep-blue states — not in red Montana, where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular and where Walsh was only just appointed to the Senate seat in February to fill the vacancy of Max Baucus, now the U.S. ambassador to China. Republicans expressed new confidence in Daines’ chances following the Wednesday report — and some Democrats privately agreed.

“It’s over,” one senior Democratic Senate source said Thursday.

The problem for Democrats is that it’s not a “relatively minor mistake.” Plagiarism on this scale is deliberate, not accidental, and it goes directly to integrity. It’s not a youthful indiscretion either, but a very recent example of Walsh’s actions, taking place just seven years ago. His rush to blame PTSD and obfuscate the circumstances of his service — which was indeed very honorable — in order to play the victim is even more reprehensible. It’s a clear demonstration that voters can’t trust Walsh as their elected representative, and at some point that integrity question will infect other Democrats who insist on publicly standing by Walsh.

For now, it’s easy to offer up a couple of defenses of Walsh from long distance. How many of these Democrats will go out on the stump for Walsh, especially if the Army War College withdraws his degree next month? I’d guess that Walsh becomes invisible to the DSCC and fellow Democrats at that point, and probably to the voters in Montana, too.


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