Huffington Post sign-stealer Phil Busse has a history of journalistic malpractice
Phil Busse, the St. Olaf visiting professor who resigned after stealing John McCain lawn signs and writing about it on Huffington Post, has a long history of having his articles blow up in his face.
On Monday, Busse met with the provost and offered his resignation. "They forced me to resign," he says. "St. Olaf wanted to distance themselves from my actions. I can understand."
In his essay, "Confessions of a Lawn Sign Stealer," written for the popular Democratic blog, Busse tells of the visceral sensation he got from plucking three McCain lawn signs from the gold-colored stretch of Highway 19 outside of Northfield.
"Yanking out the signs and running like a scared rabbit back to my idling car was one of the single-most exhilarating and empowering political acts that I have ever done," Busse wrote.
Busse remains puzzled by the harsh reaction to his lawn-sign stealing escapades. "Without a doubt this was a childish thrill and clearly was stupid, and that was the point of the essay," he says.
St. Olaf wouldn't comment on Busse's hiring, citing personnel issues. But a cursory Google search shows that Busse and journalism have long had a conflicted relationship.
In October 2001, Willamette Week, an alternative weekly in Portland, Oregon, reported that Busse had plagiarized portions of a story from the local daily, The Oregonian, for an article he penned for Salon.com. Salon later removed the article from its website.
"2001 was unfortunate," responds Busse. "Had some quotes been properly attributed, there wouldn't have been much of a problem."
But Busse didn't stop to check his moral compass. In the spring of 2005, he wrote a 50-word restaurant review for the Portland Mercury that purported to review a restaurant that hadn't even opened yet.
"Between the writing and the editing, it went from the future tense to the present tense," Busse explains.
Three years later, he wound up at St. Olaf for the fall, teaching a class on media studies and spending his downtime looking for freelance work in a part of the country where few of his peers, or any of his students, knew of his past flubs.
But he didn't exactly make a good first impression.
"I didn't really like him as professor," says freshman Steve Benton, who took Busse's media studies class. "We didn't seem to be learning a lot. And he would turn lessons into stories about himself. It seemed like everything would snowball back to something like his running for mayor. It was a weird class."
Then came Busse's run-in with the lawn signs. Immediately after posting his essay last Thursday, emails and phone calls poured in, including a couple of death threats.
In the comments section of Busse's post, even fellow Huffington Post blogger Dawn Teo turned against him. "You know," Teo wrote, "some of those people cannot afford to replace their signs. You should be ashamed of yourself, and Huffington Post should be ashamed for posting your article."
By Friday, Busse was explaining his actions in the office of St. Olaf's president, David Anderson. That same day, he spoke with the Rice County Sheriff's Department, which announced it will charge him with misdemeanor theft, for which he could be fined $1,000 and serve 90 days in jail. "We're still working that out," says Busse.
On Monday, Busse resigned and St. Olaf released this statement: "The administration made clear that Mr. Busse's actions were in direct conflict with the college's values and mission and that the college did not in any way condone them."
Now Busse is headed back to Portland.
"I'm leaving in 24 hours," Busse says, shortly before the election that got him into trouble. "I need to get out of here before the mob comes at me with pitchforks."
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