False groundswell -- letter writing and plagiarism
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The initial blast
You can usually smell it -- well-written letters to the editor on national issues that reference nothing that the paper has previously published. Quite frequently these are verbatim texts that are mass-sent out to citizens with instructions to copy them verbatim and sign them as if they were newly penned words with original thoughts. In the age of the internet, a little help from Google can usually expose this.
Such may be the case (or may not) in a letter published in this morning's Gondo from Frances Rice of Sarasota (photo -- Google results). We'll know for sure in the next few days if the letter appears verbatim in other newspapers.
Turns out Frances Rice (no relation to Condoleezza as far as I know) is a major bigwig in Florida Republican politics and in state African-American affairs:
So she isn't just some working schlubb with a high school education, she's a major player who ought to know better than to do what she did in her letter.
So what did she do?
I Googled a couple of sentences in Frances Rice's letter, came up with nothing and then a few hits. But then I Googled the following sentence: "It's hard to imagine a more demeaning and offensive caricature of a prospective secretary of state, let alone someone who was the most senior official on the national security staff."
That quote is all over the web and it is not attributed to Frances Rice. Rather, Rice's letter plagiarizes a column by Colbert King that was published on January 22 in The Washington Post. Every other place where I found the exact same sentence gives an attribution to King's column. Everywhere except the Gondo, where it is published as though it was written by Frances Rice.
Frances Rice lifted almost all of her ideas straight from King, including the reference to and criticism of a Pat Oliphant cartoon that King/Rice find offensive (wonder if either Rice ever even saw the original cartoon that is being referenced?).
Shame on you, Ms. Rice. Such plagiarism of unattributed quotes only reduces your argument to rubble when caught.
You were caught.
Frances Rice responds and accuses Venice Florida! dot com of racism
Its hard to imagine a more transparent and deliberate racial assault on a black woman, least of all a retired military officer who served her country for 20 years. In his posting entitled false groundswell letter, liberal white Democrat John Patton [sic] attacked me, a black woman veteran who happens to be a Republican.
I do not read columnist Colbert Kings column in the Washington Post.
The crux of John Pattons effort to demean me personally and destroy my credibility, is the implication that, as a colored girl, I must necessarily be a plagiarist and could not possibly have penned erudite language. The use of offensive caricatures of black Republicans as ignorant sellouts is common among liberals, and this is not the first time that I have been on the receiving end of their vitriol. Apparently, it is irrelevant to a white liberal racist that I have earned a MBA as well as a JD degree.
Over the past five years, using similar language as in my letter in the Gondolier, I have written about the racist underbelly of the Democrats, posted comments on the Internet and spoken on AM talk radio, particularly about the shameful attacks on Dr. Condoleezza Rice and US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia during the same era that Dr. Rice grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. I lived under the treat of violence by the Ku Klux Klan, the terrorist arm of the Democratic Party. When I first registered to vote in 1962 as a Republican, I was spat upon and threatened with physical harm by the KKK for being an uppity colored girl. Liberal Democrats today use demeaning words and caricatures as their vehicles to attack black Republicans.
I have those cartoons of Dr. Rice that John Patton so arrogantly accused me of never having seen and wrote about them last autumn. They are readily available on the Internet and are reminiscent of the type of cartoons that appeared in newspapers in Atlanta during my formative years in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
Frances Rice Sarasota, FL
Patten loses his cool at the accusation of racism
There's one problem with that. When I first posted this story (before about 15 revisions), I hadn't researched you at all, just King's story. I accused you of plagiarism before I even knew you were an African American. It isn't only African Americans who feel the way you do, that idiot Rush Limbaugh wrote a similar piece, although he had the courtesy to cite King's column. Limbaugh is a white guy, by the way.
Is everyone who disagrees with you a racist? Where do you get off calling me a racist? You don't even know me! When this city was backing sewage up into the town's only black church, I was the first one from the media to document it -- it took months before the papers finally picked up on the story. I was also the first one from outside of the church who went down to city hall to raise an unholy ruckus about it, and the city's response at the time smacked of racism. So don't even go down that road with me, lady!
You could have called me a whole lot of different names, could have played on that liberal wussy theme all you wanted and I probably wouldn't have said more than "I disagree." But when you called me a racist, you seriously pissed me off because I can think of no more serious evil in our world than racism and blind hatred. So go fark yourself on that score!
(There. I said it, I'll probably regret it, but I got it out of my system and I am no longer pissed -- call it a form of primal typing therapy).
I could give a rat's rip whether you are black or white, but I do give a rat's rip about bad writing and bad journalism and you screwed up. You took ideas and exact words from someone else and took credit for them as if they were your own. Whether you took them directly from King or from someone else who had taken them from King is irrelevant -- they weren't your words, but you signed your name.
Let's get this straight: this isn't about liberal versus conservative, this is about the ethics of writing and the ethics of journalism.
Moreover, your education is not irrelevant, it's the point: you of all people should have known better and should have done your homework. What kind of example do you set for other African Americans seeking higher education -- that it's OK to take credit for other people's words?
All you had to do was use Google to backtrack to the source, then just drop King's name into the mix. A few quote marks and voila -- you're a genius. I quote people all the time, have no problem giving attribution -- makes it look as though I'm a better read than I really am, this false literati illusion works well. Or as Steve Martin once noted, "I retained the shape of the vacuum cleaner." See -- works just fine.
Tell you what -- shall we contact the original author, Colbert King of the Washington Post? He's an African American who apparently agrees wholeheartedly with your political views. If he agrees that those are his words that you took credit for, would that make him a turncoat racist as well?
Oliphant's depiction of George W. is none too complimentary as well in that same cartoon. I guess he hates whites, too. As a white guy I should be outraged, but somehow I'm not. Does that make me more or less racist? Cuz I'll burn my ACLU card and join the Klan, but then I hear they don't take kindly to Jew/Catholic mixed breeds. Wait, what the hell am I talking about, I don't have an ACLU card. Some liberal I must be (sheepish grin -- oh poop, I'm anti-sheep, too).
You would have been better off saying yeah, you grabbed the words off of the net and just did a sloppy writing job, sorry about that. Your only other defense would have been if King stole your words, and if that's the case then I owe you the mother of all apologies and King has some serious problems.
(Did I really just tell one of the leading African American Republicans in the state to go fark herself? I'm not even believing this whole mess.)
Washington Post columnist Colbert King chimes in
Could you do me a favor and take a look at http://www.venicegondolier.com/NewsArchive3/021605/op6.htm
To: John Patten <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Mr. Patten: I recognize a phrase or two.
Colbert I. King
John Patten is the editor and publisher of Venice Florida! dot com and had previously worked in broadcasting for over 12 years. He can also be incredibly rude at times.