Walsh and the Plagiarism Charge

Clearly the Lord decided to toy with Democrats the last week, as a couple of polls came out suggesting that appointed Sen. John Walsh might not quite be the lost cause everyone had assumed him to be. Then the New York Times Jonathan Martin dropped this bomb:

[O]ne of the highest-profile credentials of Mr. Walsh’s 33-year military career appears to have been improperly attained. An examination of the final paper required for Mr. Walsh’s master’s degree from the United States Army War College indicates the senator appropriated at least a quarter of his thesis on American Middle East policy from other authors’ works, with no attribution.

Mr. Walsh completed the paper, what the War College calls a “strategy research project,” to earn his degree in 2007, when he was 46. The sources of the material he presents as his own include academic papers, policy journal essays and books that are almost all available online.

Most strikingly, the six recommendations Mr. Walsh laid out at the conclusion of his 14-page paper, titled “The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy,” are taken nearly word-for-word without attribution from a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace document on the same topic.

I don’t know what’s more disturbing: that you can get a master’s degree from a prestigious institution with a 14-page “thesis,” or that Walsh couldn’t handle that without some unattributed outside help.

This all happened in 2007, by which time it should have become obvious to everybody that this type of plagiarism could easily be detected via that exotic tool called Google. Maybe Walsh can overcome this mess; I suspect his Republican opponent Steve Daines has done far worse things in voting for bad national policies in the House. But I’d say the semi-favorable polls should now be taken with a shaker of salt.

UPDATE: Walsh suggests combat-related PTSD may have been a “factor” in the plagiarism in question. Don’t know how well this defense will go over, but it’s something.

UPDATE II: Since it’s been suggested in the comments thread that I’m providing a “Kid Gloves” treatment of Walsh, I would note I’ve always been very intolerant of plagiarism. If I have any ambivalence about Walsh, it’s probably because this is close to being a breaking news story and it’s possible we’ll soon learn more, and also because in the end choices of candidates often do represent a balancing of sins. But hey, I’m all for dumping Walsh if it’s possible; Montana Democrats should be able to do better than this.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.