Monday, February 18, 2008

House Communications Director: It's not plagiarism

A big thank you to House Director of Communications Barry Bennett, who sent an e-mail earlier this afternoon explaining how representatives receive their capitol reports, which are then issued by many of them to local newspapers and other media outlets.
The e-mail, of course, was in reference to a post on the Feb. 17 Turner Report, in which I commented on strikingly similar columns written by Rep. Steve Hunter, R-Joplin, and Rep. Ed Emery, R-Lamar:

As a fan of your blog, I wanted to address the questions raised regarding
possible duplication of written reports that members of the Missouri General
Assembly distribute to their districts. I can speak to the process in the House
as to what is provided to the members for their use. Our office provides the
members with written Capitol Reports each week that they may use as a finished
product or that may be edited to suit their needs. Because of this process, it
would be difficult to label the use of these materials as plagiarism as the
reports are the work product of House staff for the use of House members.
with many businesses or public entities, public relations/communications staff
members are there to provide materials that help deliver the message to the
general public. As a staff member for the House of Representatives, I can attest
to the large workload that face Members of the House face each week while in
session. The House Communications staff is very proud of the services we provide
to the Members as they serve their districts.
Thanks Randy.

I appreciate the work Barry Bennett and his staff do, however, his message does not address the real problem here. When readers of the Neosho Daily News, Carthage Press, Lamar Democrat, or any of the other newspapers that use these reports see a legislator's name attached to the report, they have every right to expect that the report was written by that legislator (or at the least by someone from the legislator's staff who is speaking for the legislator). After all, it is his or her name that is featured on the byline. If nothing else, the legislators should tell readers who is supplying the information, and if the information is rewritten in any way readers should be able to tell whose words they are reading. Is it the legislator speaking or the House Communications staff.

This becomes an even greater consideration during an election year when some of those who are facing challenges in their districts avail themselves of the House Communications office to essentially write press releases for them, which are published without a second glance by area newspapers, the same newspapers which most of the time do not provide an equal amount of free space to the legislators' opponents.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Randy. At the least, it's confusing because these columns often say I, me, my, etc.

The issue of a plagiarism is a societal problem, not just limited to politicians. We often hear of journalists who "borrow" a quote or phrase from someone else's story and don't attribute it. Our society (politicians included) is just getting lazier and lazier. No one wants to do the legwork any more. It's so much easier just to take what someone else has written and pass it off as your own.

Politicans, in my opinion, should be setting a good example and not saying "Well, it's OK because everyone else is doing it, too."

Anonymous said...

Plagiarizing: "to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own : use (another's production) without crediting the source"

Since the reports are specifically written for the representatives use they are not "stealing" and it is not plagiarism. Of course I can understand a failed newspaper reporter thinking it is even when it's not.