Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tempest in a borrowed teapot, but it's the borrowing...

This needed a late-day update, skip to the bottom if you're in a rush.

So. It appears that Prime Minister Harper lifted some text from a John Howard speech back in 200. An easy mistake to make if you're not familiar with the potentially unpleasant consequences of such an act. Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines it as:

1. The act or practice of plagiarizing.
2. That which plagiarized.

Seems direct to me, but Prime Minister Harper isn't a voracious reader (being busy and all), so maybe the American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition definition will help him:

Literary theft. Plagiarism occurs when a writer duplicates another writer's language or ideas and then calls the work his or her own. Copyright laws protect writers' words as their legal property. To avoid the charge of plagiarism, writers take care to credit those from whom they borrow and quote.

The Liberals are delighted. The Conservative Spokesman Yaroslav Baran says "This is exactly why the Liberals are in the trouble they're in, as a party and as a campaign...They want to focus on a speech from five years, two elections, three Parliaments ago, from a party that no longer exists." And the National Post points out that Bob Rae's claiming the plagiarized speech was "...also duplicated in guest editorials that Mr. Harper submitted to the Toronto Star, National Post and Ottawa Citizen which were published under his byline on March 21, 2003, and in a guest editorial published on March 29, 2003, in the Wall Street Journal under the byline of Mr. Harper and then-foreign affairs critic Stockwell Day.”

Harper hasn't said anything yet. Wise man.

Reduce, reuse, recycle hasn't been a Conservative mantra, but apparently they're at least a third of the way there. This isn't an election changing issue. But it is low-level unpleasant. Harper has to admit to doing it and shrug it off, or admit to doing it and apologize. It's the equivalent of being caught cribbing lyrics from your favourite album for a long-ago poetry class. And if you try the old "I was paying homage to a universal truth" routine, it'll go badly. T'aint the crime, it's the coverup.

Another reason to look at Stephen Harper and ask: is this as good as it gets?

Update, around 5:15pm - “In 2003, I worked in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition. I was tasked with – and wrote – a speech for the then Leader of the Opposition. Pressed for time, I was overzealous in copying segments of another world leader’s speech. Neither my superiors in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition nor the Leader of the Opposition was aware that I had done so."

So says Owen Lippert, a former foreign policy adviser and (quite recently) former campaign worker on Team Harper. 'Oops' says a lot. And the matter, I guess, is closed.


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