“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Friday, September 29, 2006

use your own freakin' words

Back in July of 1996, the then-Amarillo Daily News printed a letter to the editor from one Sue Brazil that began

According to a blistering new book by FBI Special Agent Gary Aldrich, who served in the Clinton White house for three years, the president of the United States has continued his extramarital liaisons while in the White House.
The words sounded too familiar to me, the specific words, not just the already-tired, Clinton-hating tone. It wasn't long before I realized why: the same words came verbatim, down to the last adverb, from a Mona Charen column printed in the Daily News a couple of weeks earlier. "Moaning Mona" Charen the right-wing columnist, not Charon the driver of the ferry into Hell, though I can certainly understand your confusion on the matter.

Although I watched carefully, I never saw a retraction or apology in the Daily News for this incident.

In the years since, the Amarillo Globe-News has, from time-to-time, published Republican astroturf-- letters generated in some think-tank somewhere that are cut-and-pasted and submitted under a number of different names to a number of different papers. Prodigal Son and I have delighted in pointing these letters out to the Globe-News editorial staff. And although we have watched carefully, we've never seen a retraction or apology for publishing this misleading information in the Daily News.

Another of those endless back-and-forth debates that take place exclusively in your Amarillo Globe-News continued Monday. Jim Perkins, a local Democrat, answered a "ridiculous" letter from John Chandler pointing out that an earlier letter from Jayne Farris had been copied from Roger Waun's website. Perkins stated that this accusation wasn't proven, but in fact it is accurate.

More disturbing was Perkins' main point. He said
Whether the Sept. 8 letter from Jayne Farris was a word-for-word copy of something on the Internet . . . is unimportant . . . what is important is that the information in her letter is true.
Jim Perkins is a decent fellow and a good local Democrat. But-- as a writer who has published columns, short stories and poetry, and who regularly writes in this space-- I must respectfully disagree with his characterization of this plagiarism as unimportant.

Perkins states that "permission to reprint" might have been given. His point seems to be that no one was harmed, so what's the damage? And as a good liberal, I certainly agree that we should work to reduce persecution and prosecution of victimless crimes.

But this "crime" is by no means victimless. The author and purported author may have had some sort of arrangement, but this arrangement would steal newspaper space from writers wjho make the effort to use their own words. It also misleads the newspaper subscribers, who have the right to expect content with a clearly-labeled origin. (That the Globe-News staff itself regularly violates this expectation is, for the moment, beside the point.) It is misleading and dishonest to imply that something written by a candidate or a candidate's staff was actually written by a disinterested citizen. And when such is exposed it discredits, in the public's mind, the argument being expressed. I believe that the liberal philosophy is the correct one and would result in the most good for the most people. When we give our opponents ammunition to delay our eventual political victory, it hurts everyone. Hardly a victimless crime.