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Debate, postulate don’t regurgitate

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By Jonna Spelbring Priester

My hat goes off to Joe Yates. He definitely poked a certain constituency in the eye with his letter on July 25 and again last week.

The letters we’ve received since Yates’ initial letter have been, overwhelmingly, in support of Geoff Davis and against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Each letter has had, to some degree, a “fact” that has been resoundingly debunked by the major fact checking services.

One letter even attempted to claim that factcheck.org was, itself, in the pocket of the Obama administration. Any regular visitor to the site will know the absurdity of such a claim. But then, that line was plagiarized.

And that’s another thing the letters have had in common. All but two letters we’ve received in opposition to Joe Yates’ original missive have had plagiarism to one degree or another. One letter had just a paragraph that had been plagiarized, while more than half of two other letters had been plagiarized.

Some writers plagiarized blog entries or elected officials, while another plagiarized, of all things, a chain letter/e-mail whose claims had been debunked by the major fact checking services (that one also contained the plagiarized line about factcheck.org). Another said he simply copied passages from an email (passages which I found to come directly from a conservative blogger’s site).

I welcome hearty debate from all sides of an issue in our letters section.

But what I don’t welcome, and what I cannot publish, are items that have been plagiarized. In case you forgot your school lessons, plagiarism is stealing and passing off the ideas and words of another as one’s own, or using another person’s work without crediting the source.

It is, in essence, an act of fraud.

We have no problem publishing letters of varying viewpoints. In fact, I view it as essential to a healthy democracy to listen to and read those varying views.

But plagiarizing the words of another person — particularly without a little background research — does not promote a vigorous debate, nor does it contribute to a healthy democracy. If anything, it shows a lack of critical thinking.

And critical thinking is a skill I find sorely lacking in our culture today, particularly on political hot-button issues.

Some letter writers often respond to this notion by saying, “but that person said it better than I can.”

What letter writers may not realize is that even though they’re writing an opinion piece, the letter still needs to be factual, and the words of others must be sourced. We cannot print things that we know to be untrue, nor can we legally print items that we know to be plagiarized.

These things are not expressed in our letters guidelines, and I don’t believe they need to be. It ought to be common sense: Plagiarism is wrong, be it in an academic research paper or in a letter to the editor.

In other words, don’t do it — we won’t print your letter if you do.