Another example of the fine line defining plagiarism

This is being talked about on WPA-L right now, but the thing that makes it most interesting to me is that it might fit into a discussion of plagiarism in English 516 next winter: “In the Words of My Speechwriter…” by David McGrath in the Washington Post. I think that McGrath’s purpose here is to criticize politicians– especially the most recent batch, and most especially the speech that Sarah Palin gave at the Republican convention. Here’s a passage:

All those years ago, Harvard’s lawyer referred to the implicit understanding between teachers and students. Isn’t it even more important that there be a contract of honesty between candidates for high office and voters?

(and skipping ahead a paragraph)

Can voters this year be sure they learned something about the real Sarah Palin from her GOP vice presidential nomination acceptance speech last night, considering news that it was originally written by speechwriter Matthew Scully over a week ago for an unknown male nominee? The commissioned draft was subsequently customized by Palin and a team of McCain staffers in the 48 hours leading up to its presentation.

Now, I think McGrath is interested in a kind of authenticity that I don’t think is necessarily possible, at least not through writing alone. But what is a better question to me is the flip-side of this: do politicians (or much of anyone else) absolutely have to claim each and every word in a text in order to claim some form of “authorship?” I’m reminded of this post I had about a Friday afternoon about plagiarism at U of M and Chris Anson’s example of an often repeated phrase on braking. Is that plagiarism?

I don’t know. But my point/hope is to get people to contemplate that a bit and to recognize that plagiarism is anything but clear. And that would be the point of having something like this in 516.

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