Yesterday, the Billings Gazette reported that PSC Chair Brad Johnson plagiarized a letter from a sleazy front group for the coal industry, passing off a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as his own work, going so far as to send it on PSC letterhead in his official capacity.
By the standards the Montana newspapers established for political candidates in 2014, Johnson should resign—and Montana newspapers should be filled with thundering editorials condemning his behavior until he is forced out of office.
Back in 2014, editorial writers across the state were so offended by a case of plagiarism by a veteran and Senator that they just couldn’t stop writing about it. Referring to a case of academic plagiarism by then-Senator John Walsh, the Billings Gazette noted that his “response to plagiarism has destroyed our faith in him.”
The Great Falls Tribune was even more incensed, noting that Walsh’s actions were “reprehensible and inexcusable. Plagiarism is a nasty act.”
And the Missoulian demanded the Walsh leave the Senate race: “The bottom line is, Montanans simply cannot – and won’t – trust a senator who portrayed the words and ideas of others as his own for his own personal gain.”
All strong words. And they worked. A few days later, Walsh dropped out of the race for the Senate.
And if the newspapers believe Walsh should resign because he plagiarized an academic paper, it will be hard to understand how they won’t call for Johnson’s resignation because not only did he, as the Tribune condemned in 2014, “fail to place quotation marks” around someone else’s work, he sullied his office by passing off the work of a sleazy front group that has already been caught sending fraudulent letters to influence federal policy.
If Walsh’s plagiarism—plagiarism far less egregious than that of Johnson, by the way—demanded condemnation that drove him off the ballot in 2014, the fine people who write editorials in Montana newspapers owe the same level of self-righteous condemnation in this case.
That Johnson expressed no contrition, telling the Billings Gazette that he doesn’t “care where the verbiage came from” is all the more reason for editorial boards to bring the thunder down on him. How, as the Missoulian asked in 2014 can Montanans trust someone ” who portrayed the words and ideas of others as his own for his own personal gain”?
It’s time for Montana newspapers to stop grading Johnson on a curve and hold him to the same standards they hold other Montana political leaders to. Johnson betrayed the trust of Montanans shilling for corporate climate deniers. And the opinion writers of the state need to hold him accountable.