‘Scott Brown’ plagiarizes from ‘Elizabeth Dole’: flap highlights how politicians rarely write anything themselves

Rachel Rose Hartman
The Ticket

A section of the Senate website for Scott Brown, the Republican senator from Massachusetts, was apparently copied word-for-word from a speech given by Elizabeth Dole, the liberal group American Bridge 21st Century reported late Wednesday.

The passage, which appeared under a section called "A Message from Scott," used the same language, nearly verbatim, from a speech given by Dole, a former Republican senator from North Carolina, that was also printed in her book "Elizabeth Dole: Speaking From the Heart."

Brown's text, according to American Bridge 21st Century:

I was raised to believe that there are no limits to individual achievement and no excuses to justify indifference. From an early age, I was taught that success is measured not in material accumulations, but in service to others. I was encouraged to join causes larger than myself, to pursue positive change through a sense of mission, and to stand up for what I believe.

The only difference was that Dole noted her parents ("I am Mary and John Hanford's daughter") at the outset of the passage, which has since been removed from Brown's site.

Brown's camp blamed the similarity on a "technical error" because his staff used Dole's website as a template, according to the Boston Globe.

"Senator Dole's website served as one of the models for Senator Brown's website when he first took office. During construction of the site, the content on this particular page was inadvertently transferred without being rewritten," Brown spokesman John Donnelly told the Globe. "It was a staff level oversight which we regret and is being corrected."

And there is what ought to be the real scandal: "staff level oversight." Almost every politician is a plagiarist, because politicians write almost nothing that appears under their names.

Democrats will likely spin this flap as "Scott Brown: Plagiarist," but it's clear from the staff's explanation that--even though constituents were reading "A Message from Scott" purported to be authored by Brown--a staffer, not the senator wrote the plagiarized material.

Speeches, books, letters, emails, op-eds, even tweets are often attributed to a politician who has little or no involvement in their creation. Politicians don't usually broadcast that members of their staff are putting words in their mouths (though in recent years, for example, more candidates have tried to distinguish the tweets that they personally wrote).

But when a politician is accused of copying another politician (who, more than likely, was already copying the work of his or her staff), the practice is exposed.

Take, for example, Idaho House candidate Vaughn Ward, who fired his campaign manager last year after several missteps, including being accused of plagiarizing a state representative, a U.S. senator and a congressman on his campaign website. Ward was later accused of swiping language from one of President Obama's speeches. Ward lost the primary race.

A staff writer for the Maine gubernatorial candidate Les Otten quit the campaign last year after the staff admitted using plagiarized material in Otten's responses to a candidate questionnaire. Otten took responsibility, saying he approved of the materials before they were sent. Otten lost the primary.

In August, Dan Gillmor wrote in the Guardian that journalists have an obligation to stop pretending politicians are the authors of their ghostwritten material. Gillmore wrote:

Op-ed pieces that run under the bylines of famous politicians, celebrities and business people are almost never written by those people, just as they rarely author their autobiographies. They don't have time. Their staffers and PR people, or paid ghostwriters in the case of books, do the research and writing for them.

This is the second flap to rattle the Brown campaign in recent weeks. He and Elizabeth Warren, his likely Democratic opponent in the fall, have been exchanging jabs over a previously disclosed nude photo shoot Brown did for Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1982 to help pay for law school.

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