Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Chicago Tribune pours gasoline on itself, and lights up

The Chicago Tribune discusses a different high school plagiarism incident in the Chicago area. While perhaps reaching the right conclusion (not plagiarism), the logical contortions made by the Chicago Trib are more interesting, and pathetic, than the underlying incident.

At a pre-Memorial Day school assembly, Oak Park and River Forest High School Supt. Attila Weninger told a story about a Vietnam-era prisoner of war that word-for-word matched a story told on the stump by presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

The Tribune reported:

But Weninger didn't take personal credit for the story—instead he said it had come to him via his "brother who served in the United States Air Force during [the Vietnam] War."

He later told me that he was "off-script" and must have inadvertently credited the story to the wrong person in an effort to keep McCain's name from politicizing the event.

Under this theory, one can copy the words of others by (wrongly) crediting them to a third party. Mis-citing them, as it were. Whether NOT citing or MIS citing, one is not crediting the actual author.

Then the Tribune got into the matter of intent. Taking a leaf from the inadvertent plagiarism defense of Glenn Poshard of Southern Illinois University, without crediting Poshard, the Tribune noted:

We might still consider this plagiarism by proxy—taking family credit for the words of others—except that other circumstances don't suggest Weninger had the intent to deceive (credit for that phrase goes to my colleague Steve Johnson) that's at the heart of the academic felony of plagiarism.

There is of course no "felony of plagiarism." There is copyright infringement, and "intent" is not an element. Access to the copied material is an element. In the world of "copying," the act of word for word copying speaks for itself. Res ipsa loquitor.

The Chicago Tribune ought to be ashamed.

Maybe Poshard could have said he was "off script."

See also


It's not plagiarism that undermines Weninger


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