Sen. John Walsh’s response to plagiarism has destroyed our faith in him.
First off, he was caught unaware. He says he didn’t know he made “a mistake” on his 2007 U.S. Army College research paper until questioned by a New York Times reporter in the hall near his office the afternoon before the story was published.
Then Walsh told the Associated Press that he was being treated for post traumatic stress disorder in 2007 while at the Army War College and trying to “reintegrate” back into his life after serving 11 months in Iraq, ending in 2005. He also told the Associated Press that one of the soldiers he served with died by suicide.
We would admire Walsh’s courage for publicly sharing his mental health challenges if he spoke up to support other veterans and other Americans with mental illnesses. But his PTSD claim sounded like an excuse for the problems with the U.S. Army War College paper.
“I fully understand I made a mistake. I take full responsibility,” Walsh said in a conference call with the Gazette editorial board last week. “The stresses I experienced following my deployment did not cause these mistakes.”
As a newspaper, The Billings Gazette takes plagiarism seriously. It’s disturbing that Walsh didn’t know that he did something wrong when he cobbled together a poor quality research paper out of large sections of other writers’ work without crediting the authors.
The plagiarism bombshell exploded at the worst possible time for the Walsh senatorial campaign. He was gaining in the polls against U.S. Rep. Steve Daines. Montana absentee ballots will go out in a little more than two months.
There have been calls for Walsh to withdraw as the Democratic nominee. But there is no replacement candidate who could jump in and run a competitive campaign in the little time left before voting starts.
If Walsh were to resign his U.S. Senate appointment now, according to Montana law, the governor could make an appointment to fill the vacancy till the Nov. 4 election. But as a practical matter, there isn’t time. Montana would effectively lose half of its U.S. Senate representation for the rest of this year.
Gov. Steve Bullock, who chose Walsh as his lieutenant governor running mate in 2012, endorsed his Senate bid and appointed him to the U.S. Senate earlier this year, bears significant responsibility for sending Montanans a weak Senate candidate.
Other Montana Democrats, including Bullock, should put pressure on Walsh to do the right thing. They need to distance the party from this, as well as demonstrate they can make a stand beyond politics. Instead of closing ranks around Walsh, Democrats should call on him to do the right thing.
Having repeatedly said that he wants to do the honorable thing, Walsh should stop campaigning and do his utmost to serve Montanans well in the remainder of his brief Senate appointment. That is the honorable course.
We call on Walsh to devote all his time to serving as U.S. senator and bag the campaigning. Montana needs full representation as the Senate reauthorizes the surface transportation bill, finalizes the budget, deals with public land issues, veterans services and numerous other issues important to our state.
Haunted by a serious lapse in academic honesty, Walsh is finished as a U.S. Senate candidate. But he should work even more diligently to finish the Senate job he already accepted.