A curious case of plagiarism

Tin Goeglein has resigned his position at the White House after a blogger caught him plagiarizing the work of others in his occasional newspaper column that ran in a local Fort Wayne, Indiana newspaper. Goeglein acted as a liaison to the social and religious conservatives in the Republican Party and assisted in the formulation of policy to act in those interests, the New York Times reports, but he has done that so quietly that most people have probably never heard his name, until now (via Memeorandum):

A longtime aide to President Bush who wrote occasional guest columns for his hometown newspaper resigned on Friday evening after admitting that he had repeatedly plagiarized from other writers.

The White House called his actions unacceptable.

The aide, Tim Goeglein, had worked for Mr. Bush since 2001, as a liaison to social and religious conservatives, an important component of the president’s political base. Mr. Goeglein was influential in decisions on a range of questions important to that constituency, including stem cell research, abortion and faith-based initiatives. …

Mr. Goeglein, 44, is little known outside Washington. He is a familiar figure to conservatives and evangelical Christians, who knew him as a spokesman for Gary L. Bauer, the conservative who ran for president in 2000.

When Mr. Bauer dropped out of the race, Mr. Goeglein signed on with Mr. Bush, eventually becoming a top aide to Karl Rove, the chief political strategist. He was the eyes and ears of the White House in the world of religious conservatives and an emissary to that world for Mr. Rove and the president.

Blogger Nancy Nall discovered one instance of plagiarism, and others were later found as well. He apparently had eclectic tastes in source material; he copied from the Dartmouth Review, the New York Sun, and the Washington Post. In all, the News-Sentinel found that he had plagiarized material in 19 of his 38 columns, an impressive record of theft.

Let’s be blunt: plagiarism is theft. It’s stealing someone else’s words and thoughts and taking credit for them as your own. It’s a sign of intellectual poverty, and in most cases, completely unnecessary. People can use outside material to make an original point, as long as they cite their references. In fact, given the wide range of references from which Goeglein stole, it might have made him a more impressive columnist if he had just been honest.

Most people who plagiarize do so under time constraints — they have deadlines to meet and start looking for short cuts. However, Goeglein didn’t have deadlines. His column was occasional, not scheduled, as 38 appearances in eight years indicates. So why steal at all? Why risk career and reputation by plagiarizing for a local newspaper column?

We will never know the answer to that question. However, his departure was entirely necessary. Unlike the Armstrong Williams case, though, this doesn’t reflect on the administration. This is one man’s curious and unnecessary compulsion to undo himself — for what appears to be no reason at all.