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In light of the news that our 43rd president plagiarized portions of his OWN MEMOIR, it's clearly time for a review of what we learned in high school English class about giving credit to others. Not doing so is an act of piracy.

Lessons on Plagiarism from “The Decider”

In light of the news that our 43rd president plagiarized portions of his OWN MEMOIR, it’s clearly time for a review of what we learned in high school English class about giving credit to others. Not doing so is an act of piracy.

When I posted the link to the article that broke the plagiarism story on my Facebook page with a note that it seems likely Mr Bush’s editor will soon be “spending more time with family,” I got a couple of comments to the extent that it’s impossible to plagiarize your own story.

Yes, it’s possible to plagiarize when writing about yourself

Plagiarism occurs when you take and use ideas, passages, etc., from another’s work. Have a look at these two passages from Mr Bush and General Tommy Franks paying particular attention to the phrases in bold — this is one of the instances of piracy:

Bush writes: “Tommy told the national security team that he was working to apply the same concept of a light footprint to Iraq… ‘If we have multiple, highly skilled Special Operations forces identifying targets for precision-guided munitions, we will need fewer conventional grounds forces,’he said. ‘That’s an important lesson learned from Afghanistan.’ I had a lot of concerns. … I asked the team to keep working on the plan. ‘We should remain optimistic that diplomacy and international pressure will succeed in disarming the regime,’ I said at the end of the meeting. ‘But we cannot allow weapons of mass destruction to fall into the hands of terrorists. I will not allow that to happen.’

Franks, in his memoir American Soldier, writes: “‘For example, if we have multiple, highly skilled Special Operations forces identifying targets for precision-guided munitions, we will need fewer conventional ground forces. That’s an important lesson learned from Afghanistan.’ President Bush’s questions continued throughout the briefing…. Before the VTC ended, President Bush addressed us all. ‘We should remain optimistic that diplomacy and international pressure will succeed in disarming the regime.’ … The President paused. ‘Protecting the security of the United States is my responsibility,’ he continued. ‘But we cannot allow weapons of mass destruction to fall into the hands of terrorists.’ He shook his head. ‘I will not allow that to happen.'”

Plagiarism isn’t a partisan issue

This post is meant to be instructive, not political.

Evidently Mr Bush had a crack researcher helping him flesh out his story. No problem with that. If Mr Bush wanted to lift passages from others’ work, he could have simply said “So-and-so  said it best…” and then quoted the original.

Why the editor should be “spending more time with family”

Editors have scads of software to detect plagiarism.  The editor (and publisher)  should have known  people would go through Mr Bush’s work with a fine tooth comb and should have been more diligent in assuring that the final book was beyond reproach. Ultimately, the publisher is responsible for the book, but the editor will take the fall.

Lessons for my clients

  • You’re wise to check your recollections of events with other sources. If they are the same, I’ll handle it without plagiarizing; if they are different, I’ll encourage you to acknowledge the differing points of view and make a compelling case to believe yours.
  • If others have written about you they’re likely to give your work some publicity whether your accounts agree or not. But all bets are if if you plagiarize their work.
  • List your references.

About Tamela M. Rich

From Charlotte, NC, Tamela writes books, articles, speeches and presentations for business professionals. From "the road" she writes about the people, places and experiences she discovers and the life lessons she learns from them. Invite her to share some of her lessons from the road at your next event!

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