Montana Senator John Walsh used plagiarism to get promoted

walsh plagiarism

The Democrats knew retaining Max Baucus’s Senate seat was going to be a challenge. In an attempt to hold onto that seat, Max Baucus was convinced to retire from the Senate and was shipped off to China as Ambassador. A new Senator was appointed by the Democrat governor to fill out Baucus’s term and to set him up to defend the seat using the power of incumbency.


On paper it looked like a good plan. The replacement was the serving lieutenant governor John Walsh. Walsh was superficially an attractive choice. He was a career National Guardsman, rising in rank from private to lieutenant colonel. He commanded 1st Battalion, 163d Infantry Regiment (Montana Army National Guard) when it deployed to Iraq in 2004-2005. In 2007 he was selected to attend the prestigious US Army War College at Carlisle Barrack, PA, when he returned to Montana he was selected to be the state Adjutant General — commander of the state Army and Air National Guard — and given state rank of brigadier general. In 2012, he ran for lieutenant governor and was elected.

After his appointment as Senator, he received  glowing profile in National Journal titled Five Things To Know About the Newest US Senator. Clearly the media and Democrats, to the extent they are different, thought Walsh was headed for big things.

But all was not well.

Usually the state Adjutant General carries the federally recognized rank of major general. Walsh never received federal recognition for his promotion above lieutenant colonel because an investigation substantiated that he’d pressured members of the Montana Guard to join the National Guard Association, a lobbying group that represents the needs, wants, and desires of the National Guard in Washington. The reason he’d pressured them to join was because he was seeking a higher profile in the National Guard brotherhood and needed a higher percentage of his troops to join the organization in order to advance. It was self-aggrandizement, pure and simple. The letter of reprimand from Army vice chief of staff Peter Chiarelli said “Your failure to adhere to the Army Values causes me to question your ability to lead.” Had Walsh been a Regular Army officer and not a politically connected National Guardsman his career would have been over.


Now the New Yorker has reported that is seems that Senator John Walsh earned his master’s degree at the US Army War College the old fashioned way. He plagiarized his thesis.

On the campaign trail this year, Mr. Walsh, 53, has made his military service a main selling point. Still wearing his hair close-cropped, he notes he was targeted for killing by Iraqi militants and says his time in uniform informs his views on a range of issues.

But one of the highest-profile credentials of Mr. Walsh’s 33-year military career appears to have been improperly attained. An examination of the final paper required for Mr. Walsh’s master’s degree from the United States Army War College indicates the senator appropriated at least a quarter of his thesis on American Middle East policy from other authors’ works, with no attribution.

And it wasn’t just a little, tiny bit of plagiarism. It was massive plagiarism carried out in the best tradition of “go big or go home.”

About a third of his paper consists of material either identical to or extremely similar to passages in other sources, such as the Carnegie or Harvard papers, and is presented without attribution. Another third is attributed to sources through footnotes, but uses other authors’ exact — or almost exact — language without quotation marks.

The senator included 96 footnotes in his paper, but many of them only illustrate this troubling pattern. In repeated instances, Mr. Walsh uses the language of others with no quotation marks, but footnotes the source from which the material came. In other cases, the passages appear in his paper with a word or two changed, but are otherwise identical to the authors’ language.


And it isn’t like the Army War College’s policy on plagiarism is ambiguous or hidden:

Such copying of a footnoted source without quotation marks is specifically prohibited in the War College’s handbook.

“Copying a segment of another’s work word for word, then conveniently ‘forgetting’ to include quotation marks, but ‘remembering’ to cite the source,” is described as the second example of academic fraud in the handbook.

The first is: “Directly quoting another author’s work without giving proper credit to the author.”

“Plagiarism,” the handbook notes, “is a serious form of cheating that carries serious consequences.”

When confronted about the theft, Walsh predictably wrapped himself in the Cloak of Patriotic Service that Democrat politicians seem to be issued when they run for office:

In an interview outside his Capitol Hill office on Tuesday, after he was presented with multiple examples of identical passages from his paper and the Carnegie and Harvard essays, Mr. Walsh said he did not believe he had done anything wrong.

“I didn’t do anything intentional here,” he said, adding that he did not recall using the Carnegie and Harvard sources.

Asked directly if he had plagiarized, he responded: “I don’t believe I did, no.”

On Wednesday, a campaign aide for Mr. Walsh did not contest the plagiarism but suggested that it be viewed in the context of the senator’s long career. She said Mr. Walsh was going through a difficult period at the time he wrote the paper, noting that one of the members of his unit from Iraq had committed suicide in 2007, weeks before it was due.

The aide said Mr. Walsh, who served in Iraq from November 2004 to November 2005, “dealt with the experience of post-deployment,” but acknowledged he had not sought treatment.


The same spokesperson, or a different one, gave a conflicting story to Politico. In this version Walsh was using medication for PTSD.

Walsh campaign spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua wrote in an email, “This was unintentional and it was a mistake.”
A Walsh campaign official told POLITICO, “At the time, Senator Walsh was prescribed medication used to treat PTSD. This does not excuse the mistake, but provides important context for the circumstances which the Senator was working in.”

One of the phrases you often hear in the Army is “integrity is non-negotiable.” It is a lesson you beat into your soldiers the same way that as a parent you drill it into your kids. If you can’t be taken at your word in peacetime, if you can’t stand up and take responsibility for your mistakes, you are going to get people killed in combat. Even though most officers are not West Pointers, the US Military Academy honor code, “a cadet does not lie, cheat, or steal nor tolerate those who do,” is the de facto code of conduct. This is not to claim perfection exists. It doesn’t. But the social norm within the institution is that your word is your bond.

What makes Walsh’s saga so despicable is the way he has cheapened and traded upon the honor of every military officer. His plagiarism let him receive a master’s degree to which he was not entitled and for which many of his colleagues worked very hard. By essentially stealing this accomplishment, he was able to catapult himself into the position of state AG and the general officer’s rank that comes with that. A promotion that was stolen from someone who had not cheated. And when caught he blamed his service in Iraq… as, I wish to point out, a battalion commander, not a young specialist or sergeant walking point or kicking in doors… for leaving him with PTSD, which, as we all know, just makes you cheat left, right, and center.


A man of integrity would at this point quit the senate race and quietly fade away. There is little chance that will happen. Guys like Walsh tend to have massive and fragile egos and he will attempt to worm his way out of this by claiming PTSD and all manner of things.  Because once he ceases to be important he ceases to be.


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