Our March 19 editorial supporting the local Girl Scout council (“Sacred memories vs. real estate) riled plenty of Quad-City scouting families upset about the council’s initial plan to close camps.
We cautioned patience and collaboration for both the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois council and the camp supporters, certain their shared commitment to young women could bridge the heated differences over the future of the four regional camps.
It wasn’t a message the camp supporters wanted to hear, and they shared their concerns in letters we published on this page.
Today, we must thank some of those camp-closing opponents for alerting us to an Alabama woman who plagiarized our editorial in her letter to Alabama’s largest newspaper.
Cheryl H. Williams’ letter published April 29 at al.com, the web publication of the Birmingham News, was an almost word-for-word copy of our editorial, except with the names of Alabama scout camps on the auction block. We contacted Williams at her Birmingham home and asked her to divulge the plagiarism to her local newspaper and the council. She said she first saw our editorial when it was forwarded to her by the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama, where she has been a long-time volunteer.
The Birmingham News removed the plagiarized column. A representative of the Alabama council called and apologized.
We appreciate the apology.
Williams’ stunt was dumb, particularly in this Internet age when evidence of the theft was just a Google search away. But she’s hardly alone.
Many special interest groups encouraged plagiarism in the web’s earliest days by circulating form letters and asking supporters to sign and forward them for publication as letters to the editor. In the early 2000s, we caught literally hundreds of these forms being submitted as original letters. Invariably, when we contacted these individuals, they confessed to feeling foolish and not thinking their earnest advocacy would appear as plagiarism to readers seeing the same letter from different individuals.
It was an equal opportunity scam; we got plagiarized form letters from Republicans, Democrats, environmentalists, tea partiers, you name it.
In most every case, we contacted the sponsoring organizations and encouraged them to discontinue this dishonest practice, which demeaned both their cause and their supporters.
Fortunately, this cut-n-paste piracy pretty much disappeared, until this week.
We’ll let Alabama Girl Scouts and their local newspaper sort out whether Williams acted alone, or plagiarized on behalf of her council.
And we’ll keep double checking letters to assure it is original commentary from our readers, who we’re privileged to publish on this page every day.