Glenwood engineer says McInnis is lying
July 15, 2010
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Glenwood Springs engineer blamed by gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis for plagiarizing passages in water essays for which the Republican congressman was paid $300,000 told a Denver TV station Wednesday that McInnis was lying and that the campaign tried to force him to sign a statement taking blame for the issue.
Rolly Fischer, 82, told KMGH-Ch. 7 that he thought he was sending McInnis raw research in preparation for the 2008 Senate campaign. “I had this sophomoric assumption that he wanted them for his own inventory,” Fischer said.
He said he was paid a few hundred dollars for each article.
McInnis spokesman Sean Duffy said Fischer’s comments to the TV station “don’t match the conversations I personally had with Rolly on Monday and they don’t match the conversation Scott had with Rolly on Tuesday.”
Duffy said Fischer “expressed his sincere apology” to the campaign in a conference call with staffers, and they asked if he would mind putting something in writing. “He said, ‘Sure, send me something,’ ” Duffy said. “And that’s what we did.”
He said Fischer had said he thought the lifted passages were “in the public domain.”
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Fischer told the TV station he was appalled when he received a “Dear Scott” letter ready for his signature accepting full responsibility and his deepest apologies. He said he would never sign such a letter.
Fischer told the station McInnis had gotten himself into “kind of a box” but that he should “hang in there” and continue his campaign.
Earlier this week, The Denver Post reported that the “Musings on Water” articles McInnis submitted to the Hasan Family Foundation as “original works” included passages that were similar to or copied directly from a 1984 essay by now-Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs.
McInnis acknowledged that the work should have been credited to Hobbs, blaming Fischer for the mistake.
Fischer told the TV station that he thought the materials he provided McInnis were “a private communication between Scott and me.”
“I did not know he that he intended to submit that as his personal work.”
Fischer said he was a friend of Hobbs’ and if he had any idea that the material was for publication, he would have gone to see the judge to ask permission to use it and to attribute it accordingly.
Meanwhile, an author of a Washington Post op-ed whose words were later used without attribution in both an op-ed and a floor speech by then-Congressman McInnis said Wednesday that he gave lawmaker permission to present his work as if it were McInnis’ own, and two experts split on whether that constitutes plagiarism.
Former Heritage Foundation scholar Daryl Plunk said he gave McInnis a draft text that became the op-ed column “with sole permission to use it as they wished, with no expectations nor a request for attribution.” Plunk supports McInnis, one of two Republicans running for governor in Colorado this year.
About a month after he and Richard V. Allen published an op-ed on North Korea policy in The Washington Post, Plunk said he provided some of the language and ideas from that piece to McInnis and his staff. It was then published under the congressman’s name in the Rocky Mountain News’ op-ed section.
Bob Steele, an ethics expert at DePauw University and the Poynter Institute, said regardless of whether Plunk granted permission, McInnis’ effort to present previously published work as his own without attribution qualifies as plagiarism.
“Since the wording and the thoughts were published under someone else’s byline, you have the plagiarism problem,” he said.
But a second expert said if what Plunk did was ghostwrite a column for McInnis, then it would be considered acceptable in the world of politics.
“Politicians using ghostwriters is a well-accepted and established practice, and my opinion is it doesn’t count as plagiarism,” said Teddi Fishman of Clemson University.
The McInnis campaign pointed to Plunk’s statement as vindication following a Tuesday Denver Post story reporting a possible second example of plagiarism involving the use of three passages in a 1994 op-ed and a 1995 floor speech that were similar to work previously published in The Washington Post.
“A guy can’t plagiarize himself,” Duffy said of Plunk’s statements that he copied his own published work, then gave McInnis permission to use it under the congressman’s name.
“I don’t care if it’s trade associations or members of Congress or heads of charities, there are an extraordinary number of opinion articles written every day in this country that have content or even the entire manuscript provided by others,” Duffy said.
While they disagree on whether McInnis’ use of Plunk’s previously published statements amounted to plagiarism, both Steele and Fishman agreed that significant ethical concerns are involved, even if it’s now a common way of doing business in Washington.
“It’s really important in a democracy that people understand where information is coming from,” Fishman said. “It does signal something bad, but I hesitate to condemn (McInnis) for this particular instance when that is standard practice. I’d like to see the whole practice changed.”
Communications directors for both Democrats and Republicans in Congress confirmed that they’re often approached by groups with letters and op-ed pieces they would like published under a lawmaker’s name. “That’s common practice,” said a senior Republican aide. “Whether they do is largely dependent on how the office is run.”
To insiders, it’s a symbiotic relationship: The advocacy groups benefit by having their ideas and views endorsed and spread. Lawmakers get to sound like they’re experts on complicated subjects.
To ethics experts, the public is left with a faulty impression.
“It may be true that politicians at all levels use input from others in crafting guest columns, floor speeches, speeches on the campaign stump,” Steele said. “What McInnis did was ethically wrong because he failed to attribute the wording and thoughts to Allen and Plunk.”
The campaign issued an e-mail Wednesday night declaring Plunk’s version of events had vindicated McInnis for presenting the North Korea column in the News as his own work.
Duffy, who Tuesday asked The Post to withhold publication of the story for a day, complained that The Post had rushed to publication Wednesday with a story that was not yet thoroughly researched because the paper had been unable to locate Plunk or Allen Tuesday night.
The Post’s editor, Gregory L. Moore, said Plunk’s statements did nothing to change the way the paper would have approached the story.
“It is an old ploy to blame the media for bad news,” Moore said in a written statement. “Allegedly having permission to copy someone else’s words or thoughts doesn’t necessarily mean that’s OK, but that is for others to decide.
“In any case we would have included that in our story this morning had we been told that. None of that, however, would have changed our decision to publish the story or its general focus. As we continue our reporting, the McInnis campaign will continue to be solicited for comment pre-publication. I hope they take advantage of that.”
Staff writer Joey Bunch contributed to this report.