Sunday, March 02, 2008

We Interrupt this Series. . .

I was going to do another post on the problem of suffering (in fact, I have part of it written and ant-like stowed away), but another matter has grabbed my attention.

For all those of us who have pondered from time to time what can come of blogging, here's a wondrous use of blogs. While speaking with our daughter today (yes, we get to have regular phone conversations with her with she is in the UK. . .technology is wonderful), she mentioned that her fiancé is enjoying the blog of the woman who outed the White House plagiarist. The news broke in the NY Times on March 1, 2008 when the blog site Nancynall.com uncovered the story about Tim Goeglein, of late an advisor in the Bush Administration in the White House. The blogger's name is Nancy Nall, and she had been reading Mr. Goeglien's guest columns in her home town newspaper, and. . .oh, it gets complicated. Read the Times story here.

I absolutely loved this story. Here's Nancy's blog entry uncovering the plagiarism. I read through her account with something close to envy. You see, every semester I try and try to impress upon my students the need for absolute academic integrity. I use several examples of famous people who have been accused of plagiarizing--e.g. accusations made against J. K. Rowling (settled in her favor), against Doris Kearns Goodwin (who indicated that the plagiarism had been inadvertent due to a careless assistant), and against Stephen Ambrose (proven). I even used an essay for a while written by Anna Quindlen about Wayne Newton plagiarizing her, until the students said--who's Wayne Newton, so I abandoned that example. The latter instance caused me to write a blog about the generational discovery that people famous to me are not famous to my students, thereby losing any hope of impressing on them the ubiquity of plagiarism.

I had another recent personal experience where someone whom I know plagiarized in his professional capacity. When it was discovered, the plagiarizer lost his job (just as did Tim Goeglein). But, in a larger conversation talking with people who were affected by the person plagiarizing, one young woman said--what's the big deal; people borrow stuff from other people ALL THE TIME. My response--it is a big deal. At the very least, it is intellectually dishonest; at the worst it is stealing.

And now, we have Nancy Nall and her marvelous research uncovering the plagiarism of Tim Goeglein. The best part of this whole story for me is that the news was first published in a blog, and THEN picked up by the New York Times. Oh, there is some small measure of justice in the world.

So, for all those of you who wonder at the rewards of blogging, remember Nancy Nall. And take your hat off to her, and give her an "atta girl." Nancy, you rule!

6 comments:

Ruth said...

Very interesting story. Bloggers have become a political force to be reckoned with. Nancy Nall is not the first blogger to find an embarrassing error or lie involving a public figure or institution. Information is at our fingertips and our audience is immediate. I find bloggers are often more honest than standard media outlets. Lies can spread quickly via the web, but so can truth.

Climenheise said...

You should do a piece on the interface between copyright absurdities (such as charging royalties for singing "Happy birthday" to someone in a restaurant) and the common feeling that plagiarism is no big deal. As a teacher, I'm with you. I had to discipline a student last semester who lifted major chunks of an essay from another article on the internet. But you of all people know how freely Shakespeare "plagiarized". What is the right balance here? Lying and stealing are wrong, but is all use of another's material lying or stealing? The case of Tim Goeglien is (I think) a clear example of wrong, but how have copyright fundamentalists helped create such disregard for truth?

Mary said...

Good story! It's been many years since I heard teachers speak of plagiarism. Is there a way for teachers to zoom in on suspected cases? There is so much out there via the intenet for cutting and pasting. It's stealing.

I've seen my own blog stolen - transcribed in German.

Rick Pearcey said...

Fact-based blogging is a good thing. The word "accountability" comes to mind.

Cathy said...

Ah, the wonders of the internet. Today there's SO much to plagiarize (just a click and a 'copy) at ones fingertips. BUT. There are so many eyes watching :0)

Climenheise said...

Just a thought for Mary. When I caught a student last semester, it was by typing a sentence from the essay into a Google search, which turned up the original essay. As Cathy said, "so many eyes watching"!