Revising–And Plagiarizing–Colorado History With Frank McNulty

New Speaker of the House Frank McNulty thought he was waxing statesmanlike today, invoking the memory of former three-term Democratic Governor and U.S. Senator Edwin C. Johnson of eastbound I-70 tunnel fame. From McNulty’s speech:

[A]s the Dust Bowl ravaged the Eastern Plains of Colorado, our Governor at the time, Edwin “Big Ed” Johnson, a Democrat, struggled with the challenges we face today. He seized the opportunity to lead. Big Ed was critical of Washington, D.C.’s New Deal plan, which he saw as a one-size fits all approach. Rather than keep this one-sized approach, he focused on working with the federal government and state leaders to create Colorado’s own reorganization and reform program. [Pols emphasis] Governor Johnson pushed for a balanced state budget, instituted tax reforms, and even managed to draft a robust highway construction program…

What a wonderful example of bipartisanship, singling out Democratic Gov. Johnson as a model of the kind of “pioneer spirit” leadership we should all aspire to show in tough times.

But we’re sorry to inform you that there’s a problem. Two problems, actually.

The first problem with McNulty’s speech is a striking similiarity to the official biography of Edwin Johnson in the Colorado State Archives–and we do mean striking, Scott McInnis style:

Even though Johnson was a Democrat he did not support New Deal legislation. “Big Ed” instead created his own statewide reorganization and reform program. [Pols emphasis] Tax reduction, a $20 million highway construction program, balanced budget legislation, and civil service reform earmarked this successful program…

Seriously, folks, have we not had enough political plagiarism in the last year? We’ve gone back and forth a couple of times now to make sure this is really what it seems to be. And, well, yes. It appears that McNulty lifted this copy from the Colorado State Archives–with only token changes, a la “Musings on Water.”

The next problem, perhaps not as universal a problem but not really good, with McNulty’s rosy look back at history would be Johnson’s actual history. Continuing with the official biography of Johnson in the State Archives where the above left off, we see McNulty stopped transcribing just as the narrative turned, well, substantially less rosy!

Edwin Johnson’s isolationist views became apparent in 1936 when he called out the National Guard to prevent the entry into Colorado of Mexican migrant farm laborers. Pressured by federal government and other public officials, he reversed this stance but reinstituted the ban in 1958.

Despite his popularity, Senator Edwin Johnson is known for his political vacillations, which were largely caused by his allegiances being split between the Democratic Party and his Republican constituency. For instance, while “Big Ed” was a proponent of isolationism and consistently voted against America’s military involvement in foreign wars, he became Vice-Chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee and was instrumental in the creation of the G.I. Bill of Rights, Lowry Air Force Base, and the Air Force Academy. Once the United States entered World War II, Johnson was solidly behind the war effort, even supporting the Japanese internment camps; a political stance which placed him in direct conflict with Governor Ralph Carr who was much more sympathetic to the Japanese-American population…

Edwin Johnson’s controversial and often conflicting stances were not limited to Depression politics and military affairs. Johnson was on the committee that censured Senator Joseph McCarthy, yet he introduced legislation requiring the licensing of movie performers based on their morality. This legislation was introduced after Johnson publicly called Ingrid Bergman “an apostle of degradation” and her lover / director Roberto Rossellini “vile and unspeakable…Unconventional free – love conduct must be regarded…as an assault upon the institution of marriage.”

What’s worse about this, folks? That McNulty whitewashed the history of one of Colorado’s more famous political leaders…or that he apparently plagiarized it? It’s true that politicians want people to talk about their speeches afterward, but this might not be what McNulty had in mind.

In fact, any way you slice this, it looks pretty bad…


31 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

    Jesus Christ, these guys don’t have ONE original thought in their everloving brains, do they? Unbelievable.

    • JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

      I bet McInnis wishes he had that picture. Would have made it all go away!

      • ajb says:

        This was a speech. It’s a small part of it. He wasn’t paid. He didn’t claim it as his own work.

        And picking and choosing among somebody’s biography is nothing new. Hell, look at all the fodder Clinton provides.

        • ThillyWabbit says:

          He didn’t claim it as his own work?

          What planet are you on?

        • bullshit!bullshit! says:

          Where did he cite the archives?

          The Speaker of the House isn’t paid?

          A “little” plagiarism is ok?

          With all due respect, I hope you never grade a college paper. This is straight-up plagiarism and it is just as wrong as when McInnis did it.

          • ajb says:

            Don’t you think, for just one millisecond, that there’s a difference between giving a speech and writing a term paper/thesis/book?

            In one, you’re evaluated for the originality and clarity of your thought. In the other you’re stating your position.

            And with all due respect, I have graded college papers. Maybe that’s why I think there’s a difference and this is a case of picking nits.

      • redstateblues says:

        and Scooter was still a plagiarist.

        There are only a couple ways to phrase things. Sometimes, things end up sounding the same because that’s the way the English language works. I actually had the same thought Pols did about a diary I wrote, and then a Denver Daily News story that came out the next day. Check it out.

        Here’s what I wrote:

        This follows a similar letter that Congressman Jared Polis (D-Boulder) wrote to the Attorney General’s office last month.

        Here’s what the Denver Daily News wrote:

        Friday’s letter follows a similar letter that Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, sent to Holder last month.

        Was I plagiarized?

        • bullshit!bullshit! says:

          “his own statewide reorganization and reform program” and “Colorado’s own reorganization and reform program” are way too close as I said below. McNulty’s next sentence is also very close to the original in the archives, just re-arranged.

          I know what the rules are on academic fraud. I live by them. This would have been flagged by as plagiarism and would have subjected a college student to disciplinary action. Period.

          • redstateblues says:

            I’m just having trouble understanding why you think my example isn’t plagiarism but this one is.

            • bullshit!bullshit! says:

              In an academic setting, there’s a good chance you’d get asked to justify your example.

              But a stock sentence like the one you cite above is not the same as what McNulty copied. That’s a statement you would very commonly find in a news article. McNulty’s phrasing is in no way commonplace.

              I just Googled the phrase “reorganization and reform program.” 7 results: 1 for this post, 1 for its mirror on the Washington Post, 1 from the Colorado State Archives, and a couple of unrelated instances from the Asian Development Bank.

              The phrase “follows a similar letter” returns almost 7,000.

              Again, I don’t know what is motivating people to downplay this. Maybe it’s outrage fatigue? They shouldn’t. Even if it’s not as extensive as what McInnis did, or as unethical due to him not being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, McNulty owes every undergraduate college student in the state an explanation.

              • redstateblues says:

                Although I’m a little offended that you’d think that I’m disagreeing on this based on anything else that’s going on. I’d like to think I’m a little more objective than that. My opinion came from my own experience with what I thought was a similar situation.

                What would have been the proper citation for McNulty in the middle of the speech? Should he have said “According to the Colorado State Archives, his reorganization and reform program…”? Does the same academic standard for written word carry over to spoken words? I’m asking you because I honestly don’t know, and you seem to have an expert opinion on it.

                OK, maybe my skeptic-metric is a little raised, but I’m still not seeing McNulty losing his position over this. Or, let me phrase it as a question: if he turned in this speech as a paper, what punishment would you dole out?

                • bullshit!bullshit! says:

                  I think that’s what everyone is stuck on. But it’s still not academically honest to clearly have lifted this material, partly word-for-word, partly a close paraphrase.

                  He’s not going to get run out of office for it. He should have been a little smarter, and actually rewrote the information from the biography, or whatever else he may have researched to know who Edwin Johnson was, in his own words. And even if he did that, which he didn’t, he should have properly cited all such sources in the written copy of the speech. He did not. What he deserves is a good spanking in the press for it, and I hope he gets one.

                  I’m not accusing you of anything and I’m sorry if I offended you. I guess plagiarism is a pet peeve on mine. I knew someone in college who was expelled for plagiarism, huuuge drama, and I only found out much later that they really had lifted their whole paper. And then there’s Ward Churchill!

                  • Colorado PolsColorado Pols says:

                    We weren’t saying that this is as serious a case of academic fraud as McInnis’, but you’re basically right about what he might have done differently. And we don’t think this will result in actual penalties for anyone, both due to the limited nature and the fact that elections are a long time away.

                    It’s just kind of embarrassing to copy and paste these things together like this, and we think the second point about the historical omission is better explained this way–it was obviously what he was reading…

    • rathmone says:

      a five-word phrase does not a shocking story make.

      • sxp151 says:

        I hate to say it, but I think this one time maybe someone might have been slightly too hard on a Republican.

        Gonna go wash up for a couple of days now.

        • bullshit!bullshit! says:

          This appears to be as clear-cut a case of plagiarism as the quote the Guvs originally cited in McInnis’ essay about “the call Green Mountain places on Denver”

          McInnis changed around a couple of words in that quote too. Maybe there aren’t as many instances because this speech isn’t as long, but I do NOT buy for one minute the idea that “his own statewide reorganization and reform program” and “Colorado’s own reorganization and reform program,” particularly when the next sentence is also extremely similar but rearranged, somehow didn’t come from the same source. Of course they did.

          And that is called plagiarism. The ONLY good part of this for McNulty is that there isn’t another election around the corner.

          • redstateblues says:

            But if you google “Denver Post plagiarism” it’s the 2nd result. Entire paragraphs of Hobbs’ writing were lifted by McInnis.

            • bullshit!bullshit! says:

              I’m not arguing that McInnis’ plagiarism is severe, I am simply saying that this is also a case of plagiarism. We’re simply arguing about extent.

              There is not a college professor in America who would allow McNulty to get away with this. Everyone said over and over during the McInnis case that the same standard should apply to elected officials.

              I’m surprised at the low key reaction, but I suspect that it’s related to fatigue on the issue post-McInnis. To which I can only say, hope the undergrads don’t get wind of it.

  2. Laughing Boy says:

    I think pols ought to get Alan to print 50,000 tshirts printed with “Colorado’s own reorganization and reform program. [Pols emphasis]” on the front, justto really stick it to McNulty.


  3. PERA hopeful says:

    You have got to be kidding me.  This isn’t plagiarism.  The guy used the phrase “reorganization and reform program.”  What was the name of the program?  Was it, perhaps, the Reorganization and Reform Program?  

    If this is plagiarism, put it on a bagel and I’ll eat it.  For crying out loud.  Find a real issue.

  4. Thank you bullshit! (that’s kind of fun to say!) for teh Google search counts – numbers always tell me something. What bothers me is the intellectual laziness. If you want to cite someone’s actions or statements, a little delving into the specifics brings new context and meaning.  Skimming from the archives indicates that you have no curiosity or interest, you’re just looking for something to fit into your already-conceived notion.

    Not that this will be a problem for him.

    • bullshit!bullshit! says:

      Welcome, numbers don’t lie do they?

      My problem is that it’s really easy to start talking about this one incident, and pretty soon you’re talking at length about how the GOP has been the party of intellectual laziness since sometime before the death of William F. Buckley, and definitely since then. I thank God for a patient wife who likes to listen to me ramble on.

  5. ThillyWabbit says:

    The plagiarism (small as it may be) is stupid, but the whitewash is rather dumbfounding.

    I’m sure Strom Thurmond said something wise and quotable once, too, but I wouldn’t quote him to bolster my own position, ever. When he was a Democrat or when he was a Republican.

  6. They were just talking about big ed on NPR on Monday-someone was talking about the history of Colorado Governors.

    McNulty was probably just listening to NPR and he was intrigued.

    Wait, that is a scandal.  I thought only lefties listened to NPR.

Leave a Reply

Comment from your Facebook account

You may comment with your Colorado Pols account above (click here to register), or via Facebook below.