1776 Report ‘Plagiarized’?
Large chunks of a hackish report were lifted from previous works of Commission members.
President Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission was supposed to be the definitive “patriotic” rejoinder to the academic left for what conservatives view as a slanderous rendering of U.S. history. But the report released by the commission on Monday has been mocked by historians as slapdash and slanted. And a good chunk appears lifted or recycled from other publications.
An entire page of the report suggesting classroom discussion topics for teachers appears to be copied nearly verbatim from an opinion piece published in 2008 by one of the commission’s members, Thomas Lindsay.
The similarities are pronounced enough to raise questions about how much original work actually went into the construction of the 1776 report. And it will undoubtedly fuel criticism that the final product was not meant to be an academic endeavor but, rather, a partisan effort to tilt the educational playing field.
Now a senior fellow at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, Lindsay was one of 16 conservative academics tasked by the Trump administration to help craft the 1776 Commission report. And nearly the entirety of page 39 and page 40 of that report lifts from his 2008 article without attributionin an effort to offer prompts for teachers “to encourage civics discussion among students.”
The report goes on to lift at least five more paragraphs from Lindsay’s 2008 article as well as adding other paragraphs specifically questioning the ways that the works of progressive politicians “differ from the principles and structure of the Constitution.”
Dr. Matthew Spalding, the executive director of the 1776 Commission, did not dispute that he and Lindsay borrowed from past work. Instead, he framed the repurposing of material as part of the commission’s mission.
“Dr. Thomas K. Lindsay and I are both involved with the 1776 Commission and—as with other Commissioners—contributed our own work and writing, under our own names, to the 1776 Report, which was an advisory report to the President,” said Spalding.
The 1776 Commission was established last September as a counterpoint to The 1619 Project, a feature from the New York Times that sought to reenvision American history from the perspective of Black Americans and the institution of slavery.
In December, the commission named several professors and lawyers affiliated with right-wing organizations and conservative think tanks to its board. According to the Federal Register, the commission met just twice — on Jan. 5 and Jan. 15 in Washington — before publishing the 45-page document on Jan. 18. The report also acknowledges several current White House officials and assistants “who assisted with [its] preparation.”
The sourcing of the report’s material has come under scrutiny. Courtney Thompson, an assistant professor at Mississippi State University, ran the 1776 Report through TurnItIn, a plagiarism detection service used primarily by universities and colleges, and claimed that 26 percent of the content had been liftedin various waysfrom other sources without citing other sources.
Material from a 2002 Heritage Foundation article summarizing the founding fathers’ views against slavery appears to be recycled in Section Four of the 1776 report, which argues against viewing the founders as “hypocrites” for owning slaves.
Another section lifts sentences from an essay published on the website for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, an educational nonprofit that focuses on promoting conservative values on college campuses
Both the Heritage Foundation article and the ISI essay were written by Spalding, who in addition to being the executive director of the commission is a professor of Constitutional Law at Hillsdale College.
While this strikes me as incredibly lazy, I’m not particularly concerned that members of the commission repurposed things they have previously written. While “self-plagiarism” is very much a thing in academic circles and would potentially get even an undergraduate in substantial trouble, I’m not sure that’s a standard we need to apply to a propaganda tract. [See my 2007 post making a detailed version of this argument on charges that the COIN manual was plagiarized.]
That the document is clearly that—an incredibly slanted take dispensing with all but the pretense of scholarly objectivity—is the issue here. That it comes with the imprimatur of the US Government and is intended to be used in teaching schoolchildren is just an embarrassment.
Reportedly, rescinding this travesty is going to be among President Biden’s first official acts after taking office this afternoon. It’s a rather silly thing for him to have to waste his energy on but there’s a lot of work to be done simply undoing the damage having an imbecile leading the country for four years has done.