Jonathan Martin of The New York Times sums it up well:
"Democrats were thrilled when John Walsh of Montana was appointed to the United States Senate in February. A decorated veteran of the Iraq war and former adjutant general of his state’s National Guard, Mr. Walsh offered the Democratic Party something it frequently lacks: a seasoned military man.
On the campaign trail this year, Mr. Walsh, 53, has made his military service a main selling point. Still wearing his hair close-cropped, he notes he was targeted for killing by Iraqi militants and says his time in uniform informs his views on a range of issues.
Just one problem, as Mr. Martin reports. One of the signature accomplishments of Walsh's tenure--his graduation from the prestigious Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania--has been tainted by accusations of plagiarism.
And we're not talking about a paragraph or two that lacked proper sourcing or attribution. According to the Times, at least 25% of the final paper required for the master's degree--earned by Mr. Walsh at the war college--was appropriated directly from the work of other writers, with no attribution at all.
The school has launched its own investigation, but it probably won't take very long. Remarkably, the NYT has provided an interactive graphic that illustrates how Walsh lifted entire sections of his paper from other sources; in some cases, changing only a word here or there, and in other instances, copying the work of other authors verbatim.
This isn't the first time Senator Walsh has experienced ethical issues. After being named his state's Adjutant General, he was denied promotion to flag rank--almost unheard of in the national guard--for encouraging soldiers to join a private group, the National Guard Association, in which he was seeking a leadership post.
Confronted by the Times outside his Senate office, Walsh said he "didn't do anything wrong," and "didn't recall" copying entire sections of his paper from works published by scholars at Harvard and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Later, a member of the Senator's campaign staff offered a pair of novel defenses for his plagiarism. Apparently, he was troubled by the suicide of one of the soldiers he served with in Iraq, an event that occurred "several weeks" before the paper was due. The same staffer also stated the Senator was suffering from PTSD, a claim Walsh subsequently denied (though he did admit he is currently taking anti-depressant medication).
Perhaps a little context is in order. Walsh's assignment was only 14 pages in length, so it was not a master's thesis, or even comparable to many of the papers Your Humble Correspondent wrote in grad school.
I also know a little bit about the senior service schools, having served as an adjunct instructor at the Air War College during my last assignment on active duty. While the war colleges are a required stop for aspiring generals and admirals, the academic "pace" is anything but brutal.
The Air War College, for example, was sometimes described as an "Air Force-sponsored golf vacation," given the ample opportunities for recreation during the in-residence course. And no one really cared; most of the students had come from command and staff billets, working 14-16 hours a day, and they would "graduate" to more important jobs with an even heavier workload. War college was a respite from that grind and a square to be filled.
So, it's a little hard to figure why Mr. Walsh found it necessary to plagiarize long stretches of a brief paper. It's also puzzling that the Army didn't catch it sooner; each student at the war college has their own faculty adviser who guides them through the process and is supposed to review various drafts of a student's final paper. The Army War College provost told the Times that Walsh's paper will be run through an on-line plagiarism analysis program, and if a violation is found, the school will convene an academic advisory board to determine if it was intentional.
If found guilty of plagiarism, the war college commandant will determine any final punishment, including revocation of the master's degree and removing Walsh from the list of graduates. The Army could also recall the Senator to active duty and impose additional sanctions, though such an option is considered highly unlikely. He retired from the guard in 2012, the same year he was elected Montana's Lieutenant Governor.
Walsh attended the war college in 2007 and evaluations after graduation affirm the program bolstered his chances for selection as adjutant general. Put another way: it's hard to imagine Walsh entering that post without attending the war college (emphasis mine). Most of the slots at Carlisle are reserved for active duty Army officers and those from other services, so most of the guard billets are reserved for students with the ability, political connections (or both) to reach the top of the state chain-of-command, or at the National Guard Bureau. Walsh's selection for the war college indicates he was very much an up-and-comer in the guard ranks.
Before the scandal broke, Senator Walsh emphasized his military record with Montana voters, enhancing his appeal in a largely conservative state. Walsh was appointed to the Senate earlier this year after incumbent Max Baucus resigned to become U.S. Ambassador to China. In recent polls, Walsh has trailed his Republican opponent, and the plagiarism controversy may end his political career.
ADDENDUM: While Walsh's plagiarism is surprising, so is the Times' interest in the story. Normally, Democratic politicians get a pass in such matters (paging Joe Biden), but Walsh got the full treatment, including a word-by-word analysis and ambush interview outside his office. The Senator must be wondering what he did to incur the paper's wrath.