Last Sunday, on the same opinion page where John Hewson excoriated Peter Costello, Kerry-Anne Walsh wrote a piece defending Julie Bishop, and accusing her detractors of double standards.
Bishop wasn’t a bad performer. Yes, she made a few stumbles but the one that was most often thrown at her – plagiarism of a Wall Street Journal article – was a cut-and-paste mistake by a staffer.
That incident was in September. The Australian reported at the time that:
Coalition sources have confirmed a staffer admitted using the material without referencing it, “a mistake they won’t make again”.
So, what’s a ‘referencing mistake’? Presumably it’s something as trivial as a ‘cut and paste mistake’. In fact, omitting a footnote and failing to delete sentences originally cut and pasted from someone else’s document are not the same thing. Moreover, while each of them independently might be forgiven as a careless oversight, when they occur simultaneously it’s unlikely to be innocent.
The Wall Street Journal episode was followed by the discovery in October that parts of Bishop’s chapter in Peter Van Onselen’s book were copied verbatim from some decade-old speech.
Mark Metherell in the Herald was happy to go along with thr careless error interpretation:
Ms Bishop’s staff played down that gaffe which resulted from an oversight by staff in another office failing to attribute the excerpts in the rush to prepare what was Ms Bishop’s first speech to Parliament as shadow treasurer…
Ms Bishop was aware Mr Hansen had used bits of a speech by the New Zealand business leader Roger Kerr and had asked Mr Hansen in April to supply footnotes attributing these…
There were “up to half a dozen sentences” were lifted from Mr Kerr’s article. “I forgot to footnote it,” Mr Hansen said. “It was 100 per cent my responsibility.”
On the contrary, if footnotes had been inserted attributing the ideas, someone would have noticed that the text itself had been reproduced verbatim.
As if the only thing wrong was the missing footnote. What happened to the idea of putting quotations in quotation marks?
I forgot to insert the reference’ is exactly what undergraduate students say when you catch them out plagiarising. In ten percent of cases (mostly overseas students) they truly haven’t grasped the point about quotation marks: cutting and pasting is so firmly established a practice in the country or high school they came from that they actually don’t realise it matters whether they use their own words or someone else’s.
But for the other ninety percent, it’s just desperate obfuscation. By seeking to restrict the terms of reference to the missing footnote or citation, which seem harmless enough, and apologising extravagantly for his careless oversight (‘Very sorry for any inconvenience’, he says, piously), the plagiarist hopes to distract his accuser from the issue of why the quote wasn’t demarcated and referred to as a quote in the text itself.
The case of the Van Onselen book, which also involved Brendan Nelson, had the effect of refocusing debate on the questions whether politicians should use ghost writers, and whether they should be accountable for their staffers’ mistakes. Those questions then became ‘the real issues’ and were ably analysed by Mark Bahnisch and Andrew Norton at the time. But in the process the staffers’ actual actions and their own culpability became blurred and forgotten.
That could explain why, with Bishop’s resignation causing the plagiarism matter to resurface once more, we see the likes of Kerry-Ann Walsh apparently air brushing it.
Or is it because she doesn’t actually care about cheating? If so, she’s vindicating Don’s 81 percent.
‘Cut and paste mistake’? Fiddledydee.