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Plagiarism in Politics

October 25, 1998

* Re "Unoriginal Sins of the Candidates' Speeches," Oct. 19: As a university English teacher, I am appalled that The Times takes such a cavalier attitude toward plagiarism. Each term, I am required by the university to read aloud and distribute the policy regarding plagiarism: If a student is caught, he or she is failed from the course--no appeal.

After 20 years of teaching, I continue to wonder how students can believe that plagiarism isn't wrong. (I've even caught some students plagiarizing from one of my own publications!) Now I understand--as in sexual harassment and older statesmen/young interns in "sexual situations," plagiarism is OK as long as politicians and the media say it's OK. What a concept! Morality by position of power and popularity instead of by an objective standard to which we all must conform. I think I'll quit teaching and turn to politics. After all, I've got 20 years of plagiarized examples to craft my campaign speeches from!

GRETCHEN PASSANTINO

Costa Mesa

* You credited the John Kennedy quote, "Ask not what your country can do for you . . ." to an 1884 speech by Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. In 63 BC, Marcus Tullius Cicero said in a speech, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather, what you can do for your country." So much for plagiarism.

LOY BAXTER

Los Angeles

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