Your words are not your own

Less Otten. More Originality.
By AL DIAMON  |  May 12, 2010

Plagiarism is a serious charge. So serious that even serial miscreants such as Tiger Woods, Goldman Sachs, and ex-Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Richardson’s campaign aides have never been accused of committing it.

To be found guilty of this ethical breach is to be lumped in with the likes of Vice-President Joe Biden, who copped most of his memorable lines from the late Robert Kennedy and a failed British Labour Party leader. Biden is also being investigated for stealing swear words from South Park.

Or, possibly, Richardson. That guy is not happy.

The latest public figure forced to deal with a plagiarism scandal is Les Otten, a leading contender for the Republican nomination for governor. Otten has admitted that much of his written answer to a question from a blogger about education policy was stolen from South Park.

Sorry, it was actually poached from legislative testimony prepared by a conservative think tank run by Eric Cartman.

Otten promptly fired the person most responsible for that mistake, but that left his campaign without a candidate. So, he was forced to hire himself back and can somebody else.

This wasn’t the only instance of Otten being accused of appropriating material that belonged to others. His first campaign logo and website looked suspiciously like that of Barack Obama (excuse: My Web guy didn’t realize Obama wasn’t a Republican). One of his business ventures used a design that bore more than a passing resemblance to another company’s (excuse: How did I know the name Goldman Sachs was already taken?). And his plan to create jobs bears a suspicious resemblance to that of the same think tank that provided his education material (excuse: When I’m governor, it’ll be legal to rob think tanks).

Possible bumpersticker: Less Otten. More Originality.

I hope his campaign doesn’t steal it.

In an effort to find out what’s wrong with Otten’s moral standards, I considered interviewing the candidate. Except he kind of hates me for suggesting in an earlier column that he’s a business failure and a pompous ass. To get around that problem, I conducted my interview without actually talking to him.

Here are the verbatim results. Except for the verbatim part.

Mr. Otten, how could these multiple instances of plagiarism have happened without you being aware of and approving them?
It has come to be practically a sort of rule in literature that a man, having once shown himself capable of original writing, is entitled thenceforth to steal from the writings of others at discretion.

Wait, you just swiped that entire answer from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s criticism of plagiarists. And, incidentally, when did you ever come up with anything original?
I’m glad you asked. There was my statement during a debate that if Jackson Lab builds its new facility in Florida, it’ll cost Maine 7000 jobs, which was original by a factor of 6800 jobs. I often claim to have saved Fenway Park, which requires some imagination. And I recently told the Bangor Daily News that many of the state’s prominent figures — such as George Mitchell, Bill Cohen, and Stephen King — have been forced to relocate to avoid Maine’s excessive taxes.

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