Montana Politics The Media

Plagiarism Matters. Except When It Doesn’t

Late this week, the Billings Gazette reported that some Montana elected officials, including members of the Legislature, county commissioners, and mayors, chose to circulate a 300 word letter under their own names, despite the fact that the letter was actually written by the Cloud Peak Energy coal company.

The justifications for the plagiarism sound awfully familiar to this English teacher. Senator Roger Webb (who also happily passes along ALEC bills as his own) said he couldn’t remember who wrote the letter, Senator Debby Barret was apparently unavailable for comment, and Webb Brown at the Montana Chamber of Commerce claimed his organization put the letter together, even though the letter they submitted contained this line:

“We are concerned that the likely outcome from this rule will be diminished sales of federal energy resources and diminished revenues for state and federal entities that may impact (insert name/group/entity).”

Montana elected officials, then, using official letterhead and, presumably, government resources and time, passed off work that was not their own and collaborated with corporations and corporate political groups to do so. They plagiarized—and they violated the public trust by pretending to represent their constituents while acting as little more than shills for the coal industry.

You may recall a minor footnote in the 2014 Senate campaign, when Montana papers, including the Gazette, wrote endlessly about a 2007 plagiarism case involving Senator Walsh. They inveighed against the Senator, decrying him for his dishonesty, and repeatedly suggested the only honorable thing to do would be for him to resign.

But on this issue the Gazette’s editorial board has remained silent. No criticism, even though these cases of plagiarism are directly related to the official work of these Republican officials, no stirring calls for investigation, despite the unambigous nature of the offense, and no editorials calling for these local officials to explain their behavior.

Two wrongs certainly don’t make a right, but it appears that, for the Gazette, multiple wrongs don’t give them the right to criticize Republican officials for the very sin they spent months attacking Senator Walsh for having committed.


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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  • You just don’t understand! It’s not plagiarism when a Republican does it! Senator Rand Paul has been caught doing far worse multiple times in almost every single campaign speech he gave the last time he was on the election trail. His excuse? He attacked the reporters, then he denied it, then he refused to answer any more questions…and the subject has been dropped and he is now considered one of the front runners for the nomination to be the next POTUS.

    Gee whiz – don’t you get it? If you are a Rethug – anything goes. If you are a Dem, well, all hell breaks loose and you resign in disgrace. SOL.

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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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