Editorial under congresswoman's name nearly identical to other's
WASHINGTON - An editorial published recently in newspapers under a Cincinnati-area congresswoman's name was nearly identical to one released by another Ohio congresswoman in July.
An article ran under Rep. Jean Schmidt's name in several southwest Ohio newspapers in late August and last week. It said the new Medicare prescription drug benefit is saving local seniors money.
Almost the exact same article was in a packet of materials produced by the House Republican Conference. The office of Rep. Deborah Pryce, a Columbus-area lawmaker who leads the House GOP group, inserted data for her central Ohio district and put it on her congressional Web site on July 10.
Two newspaper editors said Monday they were led to believe the article was written by Schmidt or her staff.
"I would have assumed that it was her thoughts. The e-mail just said, 'Jean Schmidt's weekly column,'" said Jennifer Cooper, editor of The Pike County News-Watchman, a twice-weekly paper in Waverly, Ohio, which published the editorial Aug. 27.
Susan McHugh, editorial director for the Community Press weekly newspapers in Clermont County, said several papers in the publishing group ran the article last week and were inundated with letters from readers accusing Schmidt of plagiarism.
"I don't think it was plagiarism the way it's being painted by some of our letter writers, but if I write something and my name is on it, those are my words and I would expect that from elected officials or someone running for office," McHugh said.
The article also appeared with Schmidt's picture and name in The People's Defender in West Union, Ohio. An editor was not available for comment Monday.
Geoff Embler, spokesman for the House Republican Conference, said the sample editorials are there for all lawmakers to use however they wish. But Embler could not name any other lawmaker who has produced an editorial that was nearly identical to the samples provided.
Barry Bennett, Schmidt's chief of staff, said he put together the editorial from a packet of samples. He said "everybody does it" and the conference staff writes the items for every GOP lawmaker.
"It's as much Jean's as it is Deborah Pryce's or (Speaker of the House) Denny Hastert's," Bennett said.
Ady Barkan, spokesman for Schmidt's Democratic opponent Victoria Wulsin, said both parties provide highlights, or "talking points," for lawmakers to focus on, but it's understood that they shouldn't use whole editorials nearly verbatim.
Informed of the situation, but not which lawmakers - or even which party - was involved, Michael Bugeja, a professor of journalism ethics at Iowa State University, said it doesn't matter if the originator of the material often allows others to use it.
"That's the excuse that often accompanies the knowledge of ethical wrongdoing," he said. "'Everybody does it' is what our teenagers say when they get caught doing something wrong. And if everybody does it, I want a better government."
Still, Michael Josephson, founder of the Josephson Institute of Ethics in Marina del Rey, Calif., said newspapers should not be surprised that lawmakers often don't write their own material.
Newspapers "have been codependents and now you can't express moral outrage," he said. "It's kind of like saying, 'What? There's gambling at Rick's?' or 'What? There's lying in Congress?'"
Schmidt's truthfulness has come under repeated question in a little over a year in Congress. Two other congressmen, Tom Tancredo of Colorado and Steve Chabot of Ohio, have denied Schmidt's claims that they endorsed her in this year's Republican primary. She also received a public reprimand in April from the Ohio Elections Commission for claiming on her Web site that she had two college degrees when she had only one.