Montana Politics

On Senator Walsh: An Academic Misstep, But Still The Best Candidate for Montana

Senator John Walsh
Senator John Walsh

In reporting (complete with interactive graphics!) worthy of a story about how a newspaper’s faulty reporting helped lead a nation to war, the New York Times today came out with a stinging attack on Senator John Walsh, uncovering that he plagiarized a 14 page paper while working on his Master’s degree at the Army War College.


Let’s get one thing out of the way: it was plagiarism. Some, eager to defend Senator Walsh, have suggested that because he cited the material in footnotes, he wasn’t plagiarizing, but that’s a too-generous, and incorrect assessment. If a student in one of my writing classes submitted that paper, we’d probably have a long discussion about the appropriate attribution and sourcing in an academic paper.

The nature of the plagiarism, though, does offer some measure of defense for Walsh. It’s not the work of someone who was trying to do something dishonest; rather it suggests that Walsh, as he told the Bozeman Chronicle today, is “not an academic.” It’s the work of someone who probably didn’t entirely understand the conventions of attribution in an academic paper. Someone attempting to hide an intent to plagiarize surely wouldn’t have footnoted each of the rewritten sentences. After nearly 15 years of teaching writing, it’s easy to spot the difference between an intent to deceive and a lack of knowledge about proper citation and this was not the work of someone whose intention was dishonest.

All that being said, Walsh made a mistake and he should be held accountable for it. But the histrionics coming from the fringe anti-Democratic left and the glee of some Republicans should be tempered by the realization that this is hardly the measure of Senator Walsh as a person and hardly a sign that his campaign will be unsuccessful.

Representative Daines had better be careful about continuing to attack Senator Walsh on ethics. Even with the worst reading of Walsh’s academic record, voters have the sophistication to put this incident in the context of a 30+ year career of military service to the state and nation. A cursory look at Senator Walsh’s complete military file shows the record of a man who served in combat with distinction and who was evaluated as having “honesty and integrity above reproach” for his service and leadership in Iraq.

A person’s ethics are hardly defined by one error in judgment. Walsh has consistently served his state and his values reflect a deep commitment to the interests of the people of this state. I think most Montana voters will see the ethics of a man who put his life at risk in Iraq during a lifetime of military service and give little credence to a matter of appropriate footnotes.

If anything, the timing of the hit piece reveals just how close this race is getting. A poll released today shows the race even closer than on Monday, with Walsh only four points behind Daines. I suspect the Daines people overplayed their hands a bit here. A story about plagiarism might seem like a big deal in the silly campaign season of July, but it’s not likely to be at the forefront of voters’ minds in November. It’s an overreaction that seems in keeping with the nature of the Daines campaign, which has relied almost exclusively on character assassination to win this race.

This is no doubt a setback for the Walsh campaign and for Montanans who want a Senator who will continue to put our interests ahead of that of corporations. But this will be a long campaign still—and if the best the Daines campaign can do to distinguish itself are attacks like this, John Walsh can overcome it and win this race. Daines seems only capable of attacking, because his record and values are not in sync with Montana voters, and he’ll continue to do as much harm to himself (if not more) with every attack on Senator Walsh.

Plagiarism—intentional or not—is bad. Rejecting a principled man who made a mistake in favor a candidates whose sense of ethics is defined by dollar signs would be even worse. I trust that Montana voters will see through the increasing desperation of the Daines campaign and continue to evaluate which candidate best represents them. Senator Walsh is definitely that Senator and that candidate.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.


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  • All the more reason I am voting for Walsh.  That and the votes Daines has taken by voting for corporate welfare all the while cutting important programs to help the poor.  He is the richest member of Congress who doesn’t represent my interests.  His supporting the cuts to VA benefits, cuts to Medicare and Social Security and his lack of compassion for women’s rights.  I won’t be voting for him.

  • SandySchmidtPepos 
    Walsh has stated many times that he also wants to privatize social security.  Why is he considered to be a Dem?  I don’t get it.  He has also made many overtures to the corporate fascist energy industry.  We would be no worse off with daines.

  • SandySchmidtPepos  Walsh needs to resign from the senate NOW.  Bullock can then name Denise Juneau to replace him.  She’s on the right side of all the issues and isn’t a run-of-the-mill cheat like Walsh.  It may not be too late to mount a serious campaign against tea-bagger Daines.

  • Well, of course, Walsh is a better choice than Daines but this is a huge blow to the Walsh campaign.  Daines isn’t going to let this go.  He, and numerous “independent” PACs, will be trotting out 30 second TV spots on “plagiarism” right up to election day.

    What this shows is just how much is at stake in this race.  Opposition research is in high gear if someone is combing through academic papers looking for plagiarism.  And the NY Times took the story hook, line and sinker.

    It’s interesting to look at the comments section of the Times’ story.  Comments range from “it’s no big deal” to “he should resign immediately.” One of the most frequent comments: “is anybody really surprised, after all, he is a politician.”  Which isn’t the case, of course; Walsh seems to be one of the least ‘political’ candidates I’ve seen in a long time, but it sure speaks poorly on how the public views Congress and politics in general.  

    I don’t see Walsh’s actions as a capital crime but it’s a damn shame, especially when you consider he was closing on Daines in the polls.

  • Turner2 SandySchmidtPepos The stament about Walsh wanting privatize social security is totally untrue. Please dispense with this Ugly lie. 

    All you people who want superheroes only to run as Politicians like to throw stones at regular folk Like John who made good. JUst a man, and a with more homesty in his little finger than Steve Daines has in his whole body.

    Steve Daines, has voted to gut every consumer protection you have in the last couple of weeks…. while you worry about some college paper 7 years ago. 

    Yeah the man made a mistake, but he wasn’t trying to kill innocent Americans like Daines has Done voting against ACA. John isn’t trying to sell our land and water rights to the biggest corporations like Daines is Or short our education system.

    Let me tell you is you are not watching what your representives are actually voting on… your not doing your due diligence…. Walsh is infinitesimally better than Daine could ever be.

    Daines is only voting for the 1% 90 percent of the time. 

    He has already gleefully tried to shut down the Government. and has promise with other Tea-Baggers to do it again.

    I will Happily vote for Walsh!

  • In a state that once produced Melcher, Mansfield and Metcalf, we have a choice between a plagiarist and a pinhead.  Very sad.  I would vote for ANYBODY before Daines, who truly is not bright, but I’ve never been a big Walsh fan.

  • Turner2 SandySchmidtPepos 
    I think that’s a great idea.  Why not run a DEM on the Dem ticket?  Novel idea.  I hope it grows legs!!!  And I think she would have a much better chance against dipshit daines.
    p.s.  For the record, the new Pubbie site, Crapper Commando, says that dipshit daines is an astoot business man.  That’s a real laffer.  Anyone who knows anything about Rigntwing Now technologies will tell you that dipshit did nothing to enhance the company.  He’s an ornament, and not a very bright one.  Dipshit was GROOMED for political office by some very vile people!  Hence, the job he got. 
    But really, ask dipshit just what he did there!  He can’t answer.

  • Pete Talbot “which isn’t the case of course”.  Wait, who did Bullock appoint as MT Senator, sounds like a politician to me by definition of course….wake up from whatever dreamland you are inhabiting.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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