This week, as you read about property crime and crimes committed by corporate entities, this lecture marks a pause in the semester, committed to consolidating learning from prior weeks and looking ahead to future weeks’ work. The theoretical portion of our course is largely over, and your readings in Chapters 10 and 11 of Frank Hagan’s Introduction to Criminology add detail regarding particular varieties of crime, namely property crime, white-collar crime and corporate crime.
The 2016 Presidential Election and Neutralization of Plagiarism
At the end of the 2016 presidential election season, its beginning provides a bookmark to help us consolidate learning regarding criminological theory. As you learned a few weeks ago in our consideration of Sykes and Matza’s (1957) neutralization theory, those people who deviate from normal expectations for behavior may at times move to protect their standing as a legitimate part of the “dominant normative system” (a.k.a. mainstream society). These moves can be especially important for those people who depend on a sense of legitimacy in order to succeed in their roles, such as politicians.
We are very near to the end of the 2016 presidential election season, so near that it may be hard to remember when the season began. At the end of 2013, barely a year past the 2012 presidential elections, contenders for 2016 began jockeying for position, and one of the contenders stumbled right out of the blocks. In November 2013, the legitimacy of the candidacy of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul faced threats when it was revealed that Senator Paul had committed multiple acts of plagiarism. In particular, Paul had copied numerous passages written by others and passed them off as his own in multiple speeches, columns and also in his book. As you know from reading our course syllabus and our university’s Student Academic Integrity Code, plagiarism occurs when one takes the words of others and represents them as one’s own. It’s a form of theft and is a highly deviant act not only in academic circles but in journalism and politics as well. Journalists Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair had sterling natiional reputations until it was discovered that they had been copying the work of others; now their careers are over.
Within politics, the problem is not limited to the Republican Party. Our current Vice President, Joseph Biden, has never managed to gain the presidential nomination of his own Democratic Party, but not for lack of trying. In 1988, Biden was the frontrunner — until it was revealed he had flagrantly plagiarized another politician’s life story. At that point, journalists began digging into his past and unearthed further episodes of plagiarism in his career as an undergraduate student. Although Vice President Biden recovered in his career somewhat, his lingering reputation for plagiarism ensured that he would never quite break through again to the presidential level of politics. This is one reason why your professors keep talking to you about academic integrity standards: sure, we want you to be responsible — but we also don’t want you to shoot your burgeoning career in the foot.
Joseph Biden and aides responded to the discovery of his behavior (sources are provided as hyperlinks) in interesting ways, considering what we’ve read about reactions to the labeling of acts as criminal or deviant. Biden himself declared that “I was wrong, but I was not malevolent in any way. I did not intentionally move to mislead anybody. And I didn’t. To this day I didn’t.” Biden’s aide, Larry Rasky, told the press that the fault lay with political opponents who maliciously spread plagiarism rumors about Biden “to spin a story that will hurt our campaign while we are trying to lead the fight on Bork.”
Decades later, it was Senator Rand Paul’s turn to sit on the hot seat, and his responses are also most interesting in light of our course material in criminology. Some quotes (with sources in links):
- “It annoys the hell out of me. I feel like if I could just go to detention after school for a couple days, then everything would be okay. But do I have to be in detention for the rest of my career?”
- “I take it as an insult and I will not lie down and say people can call me dishonest, misleading or misrepresenting. I have never intentionally done so.”
- “Like I say, if, you know, if dueling were legal in Kentucky, if they keep it up, you know, it would be a duel challenge. But I can’t do that, because I can’t hold office in Kentucky then.”
- “This is really about information and attacks coming from haters. The person who’s leading this attack — she’s been spreading hate on me for about three years now.”
- “The footnote police have really been dogging me for the last week.”
- “I’m being criticized for not having proper attribution, and yet they are able to write stuff that if I were their journalism teacher in college, I would fail them.”
Remember Matza and Sykes’ five techniques of neutralization:
- Denial of responsibility: “It wasn’t my fault!” Perhaps, the criminal might suggest, he was pulled into the act by others, or his poor upbringing is to blame, or he never learned any better at school, and that he was therefore helpless to resist the criminal act.
- Denial of injury: “No one was really hurt!”
- Denial of victim: “These weren’t innocent victims. They deserved what they got!”
- Condemning the condemners: “Who are you to judge me? We’re all criminals in a way, and the police are just as corrupt as I am!”
- Appeal to Higher Loyalties: “I had to hit that kid. He was threatening my sister!” “No one insults my church deacon and gets away with it.”
These are all present in Rand Paul’s and Joe Biden’s remarks. In this week’s readings, we’re reminded that individuals in high places can act in deviant and criminal ways just as much as those in low places. Responses to plagiarism indicate that high and low responses to being found out correspond as well.
Activity for the Week: Corpwatch
We began this semester thinking about the consensus model of crime that treats criminal law, criminal apprehension and criminal prosecution as a reflection of consensus on the part of a society that clearly understands what sort of behaviors cause harm and dispassionately fights crime to protect all. Your readings this week on white-collar crime confront the uncomfortable fact that there are many ways people are harmed in our society, often knowingly, that nevertheless go unpunished or underpunished under law.
Let’s forget consensus this week. This week, I’d like you to look at some of these larger-scale harms and discuss whether, in your own opinion alone, they ought to or ought not to be crimes. Visit the website CorpWatch (at http://www.corpwatch.org/) and find an article of interest to you in which a corporation is described as being engaged in a socially harmful activity. To receive credit for Activity 9, upload the following work by November 12 on the “Activity 9: Corpwatch” page in the “Activities” section of our course Blackboard site:
1. Name the article and identify its URL.
2. Describe the allegedly harmful corporate act(s) forming the main subject of the article.
3. Indicate whether, for these acts, any person or organization been charged with or convicted of a crime.
4. Indicate whether, in your opinion, any person or organization should be charged with a crime for this act. If so, what crime and on what basis? If not, why not?
Your grade will not be based on the rightness or wrongness of your opinion — this isn’t a guess-what-Professor-Cook-wants-to-hear exercise. Rather, your grade will be based on the extent to which you have followed steps 1 through 4 thoroughly and with thoughtfulness. In other words, a good grade will result from following a careful process of considering the questions raised in the assignment. I look forward to reading about what you find.
Becker, Howard. 1963. Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: Free Press
Schur, Edwin M. 1973. Radical Non-Intervention: Rethinking the Delinquency Problem. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Sykes, Gresham and David Matza. 1957. “Techniques of Neutralization: A Theory of Delinquency.” American Sociological Review 22: 664-670.