Ever since the news of Rand Paul’s plagiarism from Wikipedia came out, broken hilariously by Rachael Maddow, Rand and his people have been either baffled or pretending to be. According to Paul and a few other sources, the media is blowing his direct (unattributed) quotation of Wikipedia way out of proportion. Paul’s people have called it a case of “liberal media angst,” and Paul himself has called his critics “haters.” He makes no bones about “borrowing lines from the movie” afterward, which in his mind is apparently the same thing as “reciting the plot summary from Wikipedia” without attribution.
And maybe in the most literal sense, they have a point — it’s not as though Rand Paul (or his speechwriter in this case) is the first person to rip a few lines off, and lifting a movie summary from Wikipedia is hardly a hanging crime. In fact, it’s kind of hard to articulate exactly WHY this story seems to have taken hold as hard as it has.
Except that it isn’t. And one (fully attributed) quote from a certain Matt Damon movie can tell us why. But before that…well, he’s done it again.
Back in September of 2011, Rand Paul told The Street’s Mallory Factor that anyone who dumps benzene into streams should go to jail. That might have reflected badly on the Koch Brothers, who knowingly dump more benzene into more streams (91 metric tons in Corpus Cristi, Texas alone) than anyone in America. But, the Kochs didn’t seem to mind that Dr. Mouthpiece Jr. accidentally called for their imprisonment, because the Heritage Foundation they own is still speaking through Rand like the Kentucky Avatar he is.
On August 6th, 2013, Rand Paul published his latest recitation of Atlas Shrugged, a “blueprint for limited government” called “Government Bullies.” Judge Andrew Napolitano said Rand has “an understanding of the issues that is breathtaking,” and intellectual giant Sarah Palin called it “An exciting and needed call to change for all Americans.”
Unfortunately, that “needed call” and “breathtaking understanding” isn’t exactly Rand Paul’s. And the rest of us are calling it at the very least three full pages of it absolutely
“…copy-and-pasted content from a Heritage Foundation report published in 2003.”
Of course, citing other books and studies isn’t uncommon in this industry — we do it here all the time. But we don’t pretend that those words are anything but what they are: a quote. We put them in text blocks. We don’t pretend that we wrote other peoples’ words. Words like this, which were directly copied from the Heritage foundation case study on pregnant lobster poaching in the Honduras:
“This prosecution also reveals the risks of federalizing criminal law. Observers have long warned against allowing the federal government to encroach on the traditional state function of enacting and enforcing general criminal laws. Here, the federal government, through the Lacey Act, claims to enforce foreign laws against foreign and U.S. citizens. These regulations were not made by the U.S. Congress or by some executive agency, but by a foreign government with unfamiliar procedures. If the government of Honduras had actually believed these regulations to be valid, they were free to bring charges. Instead, the U.S. government prosecuted a case on what turned out to be bad law.”
That was lifted almost directly from this article on the (Koch-funded) Heritage Foundation’s site, Overcriminalized.com. Later passages were lifted directly from another study by the CATO Institute…which you might also know as the former “Charles Koch Foundation.”
So, Rand Paul is saying…so what? So, it was a little slip-up, and he listed a link to the Heritage Foundation in the book. So, he didn’t quite disclose that those exact words were penned by someone else. Big deal, right? Minor lapse of journalistic protocol…so what?
Here’s what: Attributions do more than show respect to sources and provide a means of verification (both of which lend credibility to the book), They also DISCLOSE AFFILIATIONS. They tell the reader where you’re getting your information, allowing a reader to decide for themselves if your sources are valid, and if the depth of your research rates anything higher than sophomoric. When you quote someone for narrative information, what you’re tacitly expressing is that:
- I learned what I know from this person.
- This person has more authority on the subject than I do.
- This source says it better than I could have.
- I trust information from this source, and so should you.
In fact, the only time you would go out of your way NOT to quote a source would be if you didn’t want people to know any of the above. In this particular case, it might have worked against “The Great Thinker of the Conservative Movement” if people had noticed that he:
- Stole someone else’s observations and attempted to attribute them to himself, indicating that he himself had expressed some reason or depth of observation.
- Trusts Wikipedia, a resource written by people he’s never met — a source considered so unreliable that middle-school students aren’t allowed to use it.
- Acknowledges that a random guy who wrote a Wikipedia entry is a better writer and speaker than he is.
- Acknowledges that the random guy who wrote a Wikipedia entry is a deeper and more critical thinker than he is.
- Gets his information from a “Think Tank” founded by a couple of billionaires who staged a coup of our Democracy to build an oil pipeline.
- Is subordinate in depth of thought and philosophy to a group that published a “study” written by a known white supremacist, arguing against immigration because low-IQ Hispanics would degrade the American gene pool.
- Directly repeated words penned by two completely separate organizations (CATO and Heritage), both of which just so happen to be funded by Koch Industries. The same Koch Industries that would make $100 Billion on the Keystone XL pipeline that he attempted to blackmail the United States into building.
- Directly repeated words penned by the same Koch Industries that gave him over $150,000 to blackmail the United States into building said pipeline.
Yeah…now, that little “journalistic slip” is starting to make a bit more sense.
Bill Maher once famously said of Ayn Rand:
“Her work has a strange appeal to people who are kind of smart…but not REALLY. It’s all stuff that seems very deep when you’re 19 years old. About how government is a dirty trick played by the weak on the strong. And I can see how, if you’re a privileged college kid, you read that and think, ‘Yeah, that’s right, I don’t need anything. So shut up, Dad, and pay my tuition.’”
Which brings us to Matt Damon.
One of the most famous monologues of Damon’s career came a few minutes into the movie Good Will Hunting. In this scene, Will Hunting encounters a smarmy, self-impressed, sophomore college guy with a severe case of Michael Bolton hair. Michael Bolton attempts to humiliate Will’s friend (portrayed by Ben Affleck) in front of a couple of girls by dropping a few impressive-sounding buzzwords on history and economics.
At no point does Mr. Bolton mention the fact that every one of his stunning “insights” came from a college textbook — a book that Will Hunting had memorized years ago. Will calls him out for being a pathetic non-thinker, an immature, unoriginal pseudo-intellectual better suited to hijacking other peoples’ ideas and convincingly reciting them by rote than coming up with any of his own.
That’s MY idea of Rand Paul — and I’d bet every one of them apples it’s one of the very few ideas this thought-whore couldn’t be paid to repeat.