Montana Senator Responds to Plagiarism Accusations

U.S. Sen. John Walsh accused of appropriating significant portion of 2007 master's thesis

By Tristan Scott

U.S. Sen. John Walsh responded Wednesday evening to a withering New York Times report accusing the Montana Democrat of plagiarizing substantial portions of his 2007 master’s thesis at U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, calling the appropriated passages an unintentional oversight.

“I made an unintentional mistake. I take responsibility for it, I understand that the citations were not properly done but I am going to move on and continue to fight for Montanans,” Walsh said in an interview with the Beacon hours after the scathing report was published on the Times’ website.

“I don’t think that one research paper will define my 33 years of military service, my combat experience or my leadership,” he said.

According to the Times, Walsh lifted lengthy passages from several sources available online, most notably a 2002 report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Although the revelation comes months before an election in which the Democratic candidate is attempting to defend his seat against Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, the report dealt a blow to Walsh, whose campaign enjoyed a recent upswing, according to polling data. Some pundits projected the story, which when it broke filled a vacuum in the political news sphere, signaled a death knell for the campaign; others guessed its potency would be diluted by the months leading up to the general election in November.

Democrats saw it as a boon when Gov. Steve Bullock appointed Walsh, his former lieutenant governor, to replace U.S. Sen. Max Baucus when the longtime senator was tapped to become ambassador to China. Baucus had already announced his retirement, and the diplomatic plum gave Bullock the opportunity to appoint a Democrat whose incumbency might buoy the candidate through November.

By picking Walsh, whose military career makes him the only sitting Senator who is an Iraq war veteran, Democrats had a viable candidate in the race against Daines, who has run a smooth and strong campaign.

Though Daines has led in the polls by a substantial margin from the outset, a recent Public Policy Polling report showed Walsh closing the margin and tightening the race.

According to Lauren Passalacqua, a campaign spokesperson, Walsh’s apparent plagiarism was unintentional and the result of improper academic citations.

“This was unintentional and it was a mistake. There were areas that should have been cited differently but it was completely unintentional,” Passalacqua said. “Senator Walsh released every single evaluation that he received during his 33-year military career, which shows an honorable and stellar record of service to protecting Montana and serving this country in Iraq.”

Walsh’s vaunted military record has been a central theme of his campaign. A former adjutant General of the Montana National guard and Iraq War combat veteran, Walsh is also the recipient of a Bronze Star for “exceptionally meritorious service.”

According to the campaign, Walsh completed the research with the oversight of an advisor. Still, they acknowledge that the citations were not done correctly.

The Times article states that “about a third of his paper consists of material either identical to or extremely similar to passages in other sources … 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 paper included 96 footnotes, according to the Times, but uses language from previously published articles without quotation marks, in violation of the Army College’s student handbook.

The campaign said Walsh’s work on the paper coincided with challenges he faced after returning from his deployment in Iraq. He suffered persistent nightmares, deep anxiety and problems sleeping, according to the campaign.

Walsh said he sought out and received treatment following his deployment to Iraq in 2004 and 2005, when he led more than 700 soldiers into combat – the largest deployment of Montana soldiers and airmen since WWII. For his service, Walsh received the Bronze Star, Legion of Merit Award, and Combat Infantry Badge.

Walsh said he was on anti-anxiety medication while he was in college, and continues to take a low dose today.

“I am not blaming this on PTSD, but there were challenges reintegrating. I understand how important that reintegration process is to our veterans, which is why I have fought to make sure we have services in place for our returning veterans,” Walsh said.

The same month the paper was due, in March 2007, a solider Walsh led into combat in Iraq committed suicide, Walsh said.

The strategic research paper was part of the overall year-long class, Walsh said, “but where I really learned my strategic policy was while serving as a commander for 18 months leading a combat battalion. That is really where the experience and leadership that is important to me has come from.”

Daines’ office declined to comment on the Times report, but Walsh said the charged political cycle has painted a target on his back.

Still, Walsh said he will not change the tenor of his candidacy or his public service, and pledged to continue fighting to protect social security, medicare, women’s health, and Montana’s veterans.

“I believe the record that defines me will be by my leadership, and the more than 700 soldiers I led into combat, rather than a few missing citations,” he said.


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