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Looper plagiarizes a 1980s article


Rep. Marsha Looper says she regrets the oversight.
  • Rep. Marsha Looper says she regrets the oversight.

Try missing the irony here: State Rep. Marsha Looper's recent newspaper column stressing the importance of private property rights was plagiarized.

The first eight paragraphs about half of the El Paso County Republican's article were copied almost verbatim from a piece written for the National Center for Constitutional Studies in the 1980s.

Looper's piece, which ran in the New Falcon Herald and the Fountain Valley News, isn't an exact replica. Small changes are evident throughout, typified by those in the opening sentence.

The original states: "Tired of having the fruits of their labors confiscated by an overpowering British government, America's Founders declared themselves free and independent." Looper's version: "America's Founders who were tired of having the fruits of their labors confiscated by an overpowering British government, declared themselves free and independent."

National Center for Constitutional Studies CEO Zeldon Nelson says the original article, titled "Private Property Rights: A Basic Premise of America's Constitution," was likely written collectively and was first printed as a part of a series in a magazine. Nelson couldn't find the original, but he did locate a copy of the article that was reprinted for the 1987 book Our Ageless Constitution (now out of print).

Looper wouldn't have needed to go to much trouble to view the article, however, since it remains on the center's Web site.

But Looper says she wasn't the one who lifted the work. In a phone conversation Monday, she said friends in Denver helped her write the column because she was too busy to write it on her own. She said she would talk to them to determine what went wrong. And, she added, she would apologize and seek to remedy the situation immediately.

"That's just not something that I can live with or tolerate," she said.

The next day, Looper e-mailed a new column to news providers, referencing the plagiarized material.

"In the article labeled "Toll Road Tyranny,' the footnote of the source for some of the information was accidentally cut off, and I apologize for any misrepresentation that may have occurred due to this oversight," she wrote.

The e-mail does not explain why, if they planned to cite the source anyway, Looper's friends went to the trouble of slightly changing nearly every sentence, instead of simply putting quotes around the original material.

Robert Steele, a nationally known authority on ethics for the Poynter Institute, a journalism resource center, says Looper must be held accountable for the "oversight."

"When we write something using the specific words or exact thoughts of other writers, we should give clear and appropriate attribution to the other writer," Steele says. "When material appears under our byline, our authorship name, we have responsibility for it. ... If we fail to measure up, then the responsibility and the consequences are ours."

Looper could see some backlash from papers that have eagerly printed her columns in the past.

"It's really disenchanting for me," says New Falcon Herald publisher and owner Michelle Barrette. She adds that her paper would consider carefully whether to run future Looper columns.

Fountain Valley News managing editor Patricia St. Louis did not return phone calls.

The good news for Looper is that Nelson says he won't take legal action. He says he doesn't mind Looper co-opting the center's ideas, since he wants people to learn about its views. He just hopes credit is given where it's due.

"What we normally suggest is that they at least reference us," he says.

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