A controversial letter printed Sunday in The Billings Gazette left Max Lenington in hot water.
Lenington, who is Yellowstone County’s treasurer and assessor, as well as the county superintendent of schools, sent in a letter that was published with the headline, “Why I hate Barack and Michelle Obama.” It quickly became one of the most-read stories on the Gazette’s website.
It stated near the end, “I condemn, in the strongest manner, as to why the media refuses to investigate them as they did President Bush and President Clinton and for refusing to label them for what they really are. There is just no possible way; whereby, a white president and his wife could ignore the law, flaunt their position and be the lord of the people, as these two are permitted out of fear for their color.”
However, those words are not Lenington’s words but a nearly verbatim version of the conservative columnist Mychael Massie’s August 2012 column titled, “Why I Do Not Like The Obamas” at www.mychal-massie.com.
In his piece for The Daily Rant, Hard Hitting Conservative Commentary, Masse wrote, “I condemn in the strongest possible terms the media for refusing to investigate them as they did President Bush and President Clinton, and for refusing to label them for what they truly are. There is no scenario known to man, whereby a white president and his wife could ignore laws, flaunt their position, and lord over the people as these two are permitted out of fear for their color.”
Most of Lenington’s letter is paraphrased or copied from Massie’s piece, without attribution, except for the opening sentences, which read: “About a month ago, I submitted a letter to the Billings Gazette disparaging our divider-in-chief, President Obama. Since that time, I have been ‘tweeted,’ emailed and phoned by people who ask ‘Why do you hate the Obamas? It seems somehow personal. You even disrespect their family Christmas picture.’”
The first letter to the Gazette is also under scrutiny for being mostly derived from a form letter petition on the conservative World Net Daily (www.wnd.com) website.
Both letter similarities were pointed out by freelance writer Chris Woolston, who posted in The Billings Gazette’s comments section on Sunday, “Not only is this letter ridiculous, it also appears to be plagiarized. You can read the original almost identical, word for word, here: http://mychal-massie.com/premium/why-i-do-not-like-the-obamas/.”
When asked how he came about the revelations, Woolston said, “A strange thing happened; someone from the Gazette actually sent me a link on my Facebook page and there was no message, just a link (of Massie’s piece). So I followed it and realized it was plagiarized, and so I commented that in the comment section. So the Gazette knew about it first, or at least somebody there did.”
Tuesday’s edition of The Billings Gazette reported that the second case of plagiarism “came to light Monday.”
However, “‘Came to light’ is a very vague phrase,” Woolston noted. “In the second case of plagiarism, I believe I was the first one to notice it that same afternoon. So I sent the link to the editor of the Gazette, and they acknowledged it was plagiarism. So they definitely knew about it on Sunday and decided to make two stories instead of one.”
Indeed, Woolston had written a Gazette Facebook post at 5:57 p.m. Sunday, “Seems that Max has trouble coming up with his own ideas. Not only is this letter evidently plagiarized, his first letter to the Gazette (link to the letter) was obviously lifted from this (link to WND).”
According to Massie’s bio, “He is the former National Chairman of the conservative black think tank, Project 21-The National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives and a former member of its parent think tank, the National Center for Public Policy Research.”
When informed of Lenington’s apparent plagiarism, Massie responded via email: “His dishonesty is magnified in that he contacted requesting my permission to use ‘some’ of my comments for an editorial he was preparing to write for the newspaper you reference. It was my understanding that he was writing an original piece and would use one or two of the comments in my copyrighted syndicated column.”
Attached was Massie and Lenington’s correspondence with Lenington’s government email address asking for permission to use some of his “excellent Anti-Obama comments.” Massie obliged, provided Lenington give him full attribution.
In an email letter obtained by The Outpost, Mr. Lenington made three points in his defense. The first was apparently in defense of using his government work email to contact Massie for personal business.
Lenington wrote, “First, let me say that I hold an elected public office; where I am often required to send and receive politically-charged emails on a regular basis. They are often to or from county commissioners’ or other county treasurers’; but most likely from members of the Montana Legislature. Did my politically-charged email to Mychal Massie constitute a breach of the County’s email policy?”
Lenington also wrote, “Secondly, my letter to the editor #1 contained quotations from the Articles of Impeachment of President Barack Obama which I had just signed and circulated. These Articles will be presented to Congress at a future date. Does this constitute plagiarism?”
Finally, Lenington wrote, “Thirdly, my letter to the editor #2 contained some verbiage from the writings of Conservative Mychal Massie, of which I had obtained written permission from Mr. Massie to reproduce. If Mr. Massie has since changed his position, I was not aware of it. I highly respect the writings of Mychal Massie. Does this constitute plagiarism?”
Massie’s written response was, “Suffice it to say that I am greatly offended by what was his misleading me. I find his actions morally opprobrious and offensive but apparently not out of character for him.”
Others also were critical of Mr. Lenington. “I’ve got pretty strong opinions about some national Republican figures but you won’t hear about them,” said state Rep. Kelly McCarthy, who represents House District 51. “I’m sure a lot of us in politics do. The voters in Montana who elect us expect us to work together to get the people’s work done. This kind of vitriol does not foster good relationships between the parties.”
He added, “How easy will it be for Max to work across the aisle now that he’s written what he’s written? I might have other Republican colleagues who feel the same way, but we won’t hear about it because it would interfere with their ability to do their jobs … . They just wouldn’t put something like that in the public sphere. It’s really poor judgment and it leads to really ineffective leadership.”
McCarthy said interested parties could push for a recall election, but it probably wouldn’t be cost friendly to the taxpayers and his next election is only a year away. Montana Democratic Senator Robyn Driscoll reiterated McCarthy’s response about it being too costly, and speculated that the most prudent thing would be for Mr. Lenington to resign or even be asked by his colleagues to resign.
A colleague of Massie’s, Dan Bubalo, said they were used to getting “tapped” and having their writings used without credit. He said part of them merely shrugs it off when the likes of Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh use their content or ideas without recognition, but the “other part wonders why doesn’t somebody pay up?”
However, as far as legal action in plagiarizing a copyrighted column, Bubalo said, “Neither of us is litigious, so we’d never sue, but we know when someone is stealing.”
For his final defense, Lenington wrote, “In closing, I have held an elected position in Yellowstone County since 1982. Like all other politicians at all levels of government, I have sometimes used my office as a ‘bully pulpit’ to effect change in other areas of government – federal, state & local.”
Driscoll disagreed with such “divisive” tactics. “I don’t think we need that kind of thing in politics, and there’s too much of it right now, and it gets nobody anywhere,” she said.
Bubalo leveled a remark at Lenington, stating, “As superintendent, what example do you set for a staff or professional instructors when you steal the words of another and present them as your own? When you do so, you set the template for others to do the same, and then for students to do the same as well, which is incongruous in the world of education.”