Sen. Murray, Will the Real Plagiarist Please Stand Up?

Some people just have a really, really hard time losing – and knowing that for the next two years, at least, they’ll be losing. Feeling like cornered beasts, they irrationally lash out and mount desperate campaigns in a misguided attempt to regain power.


Yes, I’m talking about the Democrats. In (one of) today’s sad episodes, Sen. Patty Murray engineered a WaPo hit piece on Betsy DeVos accusing her of plagiarism in her answers to questionnaires.

Only, it wasn’t plagiarism. As Joe Cunningham pointed out earlier today:

The statements are “similar” to other public statements, and they were not stolen at length, nor did she take credit for the answers. She was filling out a questionnaire from Democrats who were trying to inundate her with paperwork in order to delay her vote.

Hans Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute – and a former Education Department lawyer – commented:

It is very strange to criticize an official or nominee for using standard administrative language or phrases, without rephrasing them (which could inadvertently change their meaning).

As a former Education Department lawyer, I can attest that similar use of administrative phrases without attribution is typical among Education Department employees themselves, such as in employee presentations.

Moreover, nothing on the Department of Education web site is copyrighted. There is no legal reason why someone can’t quote it, at any desired length, without attribution.

Nor is there a duty to cite to the applicable subsection of the U.S. Code every time you do so.  That could make an already long document even longer. The last thing you want is a document permeated with legalese, when you are discussing a rather obvious legal duty or commonplace administrative practice.


Exactly. Some politicians like to permeate documents with legalese because it obfuscates their intent (or maybe they’re paid by the word?), but thankfully Betsy DeVos hasn’t been in Washington long enough to have fallen prey to that tendency.

The bigger story is that, according to the WaPo/Murray standard, the plagiarist in this scenario is Murray herself. Her questions were lifted from both an advocacy group’s fact sheet and a news release from Obama’s Education Department.

Question 29 from Murray’s questionnaire to DeVos:


Fact sheet from the National Coalition on Personnel Shortages in Special Education and Related Services, almost word for word (bullet points from original were edited out for clarity):


Murray’s question 79:


A press release from the Obama Education Department from December 16, 2016:


I don’t buy the definition of “plagiarism” Murray and her collaborators are pushing here – but hey, if that’s the definition you’re going to push, you should be prepared to be held to the same standard.


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