PolitiFact Wisconsin: Did Sheriff Clarke plagiarize?

Posted at 6:40 PM, May 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-31 19:40:53-04

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is never shy about expressing his views, but a thesis he wrote a few years ago has come under scrutiny.

PolitiFact Wisconsin looks at the accusation. 

"We are checking whether Sheriff Clarke committed plagiarism on his Master's degree thesis as CNN reported," said Tom Kertscher with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "or whether he committed formatting errors as he says." 

CNN's story alleges Clarke used material and lifted language dozens of times from other sources in his 2013 thesis.

Clarke earned a Master's degree from the Naval Postgraduate School in California.

The school tells PolitiFact Wisconsin it is reviewing the plagiarism allegation.

"What Clarke would do is take a sentence or two from a book or an article and change the words slightly," said Kertscher. "that way he was not using quotation marks because he wasn't using material word for word."

PolitiFact Wisconsin points out Clarke does use extensive footnotes. Clarke refused a request for information but told a national conservative talk show host quote, it's not plagiarism.

Clarke says he used 362 citations in his 112-page thesis.

"I think the takeaway here is that while Clarke did use footnotes to indicate he did a lot of research," said Kertscher. "By using passages from other works and then changing them slightly he's suggesting that those particular ideas were his own when in fact he was essentially quoting other sources."

PolitiFact Wisconsin found there's no single precise definition for plagiarism so it set aside the Truth O Meter for this one.

It will ultimately be up to the school that is reviewing Clarke's thesis to decide.