A Deeper Look at Sheriff Clarke's 'Plagiarism'

posted by Dan O'Donnell -

Almost as soon as CNN's Andrew Kaczynski reported that Milwaukee County Sheriff (and possible future Trump Homeland Security appointee) David Clarke "plagiarized" portions of his Master's thesis four years ago, liberals have been demanding...well, what exactly they're demanding is not exactly clear.  That his degree from the Naval Postgraduate School should be rescinded?  That his impending federal appointment should be rescinded?  That he should be immediately removed as sheriff?

One might humbly suggest that Clarke be named Vice President of the United States, since former VP Joe Biden's 1987 plagiarism scandal didn't seem to matter at all to CNN or any other news outlet when then-candidate Barack Obama named Biden as his running mate in 2009.  In fact, for eight straight years afterward it was almost as though Biden never had a plagiarism scandal at all.

But Sheriff Clarke's plagiarism is far worse than Biden's, right? It would have to be since so many are so outraged by it.  As Kaczynski noted:

Clarke, a visible surrogate for Trump during the campaign known for his incendiary rhetoric, earned a master's degree in security studies at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. In his thesis, "Making U.S. security and privacy rights compatible," Clarke failed to properly attribute his sources at least 47 times.

In all instances reviewed by CNN's KFile, Clarke lifts language from sources and credits them with a footnote, but does not indicate with quotation marks that he is taking the words verbatim.

Wait, wait, wait.  In every instance of alleged plagiarism, Clarke...cited the exact source and passage from which he was plagiarizing?

Either this isn't serious intentional plagiarism or David Clarke is the single most incompetent plagiarist in history.

To be sure, the Naval Postgraduate School is quite clear on attribution:

Whenever you make use of another person’s distinctive ideas, information, or words, you must give credit. If a passage is quoted verbatim, it must be set off with quotation marks (or, if it is a longer passage, presented as indented text), and followed by a properly formulated citation. The length of the phrase does not matter. If someone else’s words are sufficiently significant to be worth quoting, then accurate quotation followed by a correct citation is essential, even if only a few words are involved.

In his thesis, Clarke clearly did not.  Yet is this plagiarism in the strictest definition of the word?  The Naval Postgraduate School indicates that "the word [plagiarism] itself derives from the Latin word for “theft,” and refers to the presentation of another person’s work as if it were your own."

This sort of theft doesn't seem possible when the alleged plagiarist uses footnotes to point to exactly where he found the source material, does it?

Moreover, since the Naval Postgraduate School defines "plagiarism in its most basic form" as "the use of someone else’s words, without quotation marks or citation," it's pretty difficult to demonstrate that Clarke presented "another person's work as if it were [his] own" since he used citation.

He did not, however, use quotation marks, and while it appears through his extensive use of citations that he did not intend to pass off his source material as his own work, Clarke may be credibly accused of either sloppiness, laziness, or potentially simple ignorance of proper citation.

In other words, Clarke--who has been out of school for 18 years (he received a B.A. from Concordia in 1999; decades after he graduated from high school)--may not have known that quotation marks as well as a footnote citation were required.

While academics and media members may scoff at this, it is certainly plausible.  After all, academics and media members write all the time and have citation guidelines drilled into their heads.  Does a law enforcement officer necessarily know them?  

Naturally, that same law enforcement officer will offer the reminder that ignorance of the law is not an excuse, but under the Naval Postgraduate School's guidelines for plagiarism, it seems as though intent to pass another's work off as one's own is a necessary element of the intellectual crime.

Simply put, there doesn't seem to be any intent to deceive in Clarke's thesis.  If there were, why would he leave a direct link to the evidence of his wrongdoing at the end of every plagiarized sentence or passage? Either he thought that a footnote in itself was enough of a citation or he is really, really bad at passing others' thoughts off as his own.

And what would be the punishment for Clarke's infraction?  Immediate expulsion or, as liberals are today arguing, the revocation of Clarke's degree?

Under the Naval Postgraduate School's guidelines, neither would seem to be very likely.

Since "the appropriate actions to resolve violations of the Honor Code...depend on the circumstances surrounding the incident," the Naval Postgraduate School would have to take into account the severity of the infraction, and it would be incumbent upon administrators to give Clarke the chance to explain his actions--why exactly he used footnotes but not quotation marks.

Given that the footnotes themselves seem to prove that there was no intent to pass off the sections in question as entirely his own work, it seems very unlikely that the school would take any more serious disciplinary steps than to have Clarke resubmit the thesis with quotation marks.

Does that seem like a punishment that should result in the loss of a federal appointment?  Or does it seem more like something that can be resolved by a few edits in Microsoft Word?

And besides, even if it can't be, Clarke could always run for Vice President.  He is, after all, a Democrat: Maybe the media would just ignore this for eight years!



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