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Repeated Errors in Judgment

Cheating, plagiarism, deception -- any way you describe it, it’s lying, and we’ve been exposed to a fair amount of it in the last few months, both within the MIT community and in the world at large. At MIT, Alvin Lin and Nick Gidwani, the 2004 class president and vice-president respectively, both resigned in disgrace after it was revealed that their entire election platform had been copied -- virtually word for word -- from a four-year-old platform for senior class president, which was available on the UA Web site.

Lin and Gidwani both acknowledged that they had done wrong -- Lin for plagiarizing and Gidwani for not paying attention to what Lin was doing -- but neither appeared to think it was worthy of their resignation. Lin wrote in his resignation letter to the class of 2004, “It constituted a crucial lapse of judgment and a personal failure on my part, for which I am solely and completely responsible.” Later in the letter, he wrote, “Even Presidents of the United States make mistakes.” Indeed they do -- Lin lifted the former line from Bill Clinton’s admission of wrongdoing in the Lewinsky affair.

Gidwani, perhaps a bit stunned by it all, allowed Lin to take the entire blame for the xeroxed platform even though the responsibility for it was half his own. In the heat of the moment, he used the 2004 class e-mail list to deride the other members of the class council; to add insult to injury, he claimed that there was no other option, as he had run unopposed for his position. Neither guilty party took serious responsibility for his actions, nor probably even fully realized what a despicable act this was.

But maybe they should be let off the hook somewhat. We students are not-quite adults still trying to find our place in the world, and a quick look at world events reveals that lying is not only rampant but often accepted as well. Clinton, Lin’s role model, enjoyed approval ratings of 60 percent during his impeachment proceedings even though a majority of Americans believed he had lied under oath to a federal grand jury. Pete Rose, as an active baseball manager, made bets on his own team and has denied it for more than a decade, yet an overwhelming majority of Americans support his reinstatement to the sport which banned him for life in 1989 for this and other actions.

More startling is the recent scandal at The New York Times centered around the plagiarism of Jayson Blair, a young reporter and devious con man who rose quickly to prominence with his coverage of many of the year’s top news stories. It was revealed a month ago that dozens of Blair’s stories contained quotations that had never been said or were from people who didn’t exist, and some stories had even been plagiarized from other news agencies. Most critical was his front-page reporting on the Beltway Sniper shooting, which has been thought to have directly affected the case that prosecutors are making against the sniper suspects. The scandal’s fallout has itself been front-page news. Blair immediately resigned, followed last week by the paper’s managing and executive editors.

Blair came out swinging, and in true American fashion, the angry 27-year-old who committed the capital crime of journalism, will not be jailed or ostracized. Already a celebrity, he will probably receive a large amount of money for a book deal, where he might describe how to con yourself onto the front page of The New York Times -- in more ways than one -- and many thousands of people will read it, believing every word.

Not unlike Blair, Lin came out swinging, proclaiming in his resignation letter to the class of 2004 that he would seek reelection.

So, will Lin or Gidwani win re-election in the fall despite their questionable attitudes towards lying? Will they even be permitted to run again? Who knows. Perhaps the Class of 2004 should show the MIT community that it values integrity more than the American public by electing someone else -- anyone else.