Scott McInnis dodges John Ferrugia's questions about plagiarism, Rolly Fischer

Yesterday, Scott McInnis made his first public appearance -- at Adams State College in Alamosa -- since word of his plagiarism problems broke. But according to Channel 7's John Ferrugia, who was there, McInnis treated a subsequent interview like a game of dodge ball, repeatedly declining to answer direct questions about his now-infamous "Musings on Water" or the assertion from old family friend turned under-the-bus-tossee Rolly Fischer that he's been lying.

Although the Denver Post has gotten most of the credit for breaking the plagiarism story, Channel 7 reported the story independently and got the information out at almost the same time. Ferrugia notes that the Post published an abbreviated take on the tale on its website last Monday afternoon about an hour before Channel 7's complete version went live. And Ferrugia landed an exclusive interview with Fischer that the Post cited in a followup story published the following day.

It's been widely reported that none of the attendees at yesterday's campaign event asked about plagiarism. But assuming that means the public in general doesn't care about the topic may be a leap too far. "We were told in an e-mail back-and-forth that McInnis would be answering no questions about the Rolly issue," Ferrugia says. "He would only be answering questions about farming issues."

Prior to the event, he goes on, "everyone was waiting for Scott McInnis to come in. He was on the phone upstairs and out of the building. His wife kept coming in and out to see who was there and who wasn't." She soon discovered that the media was well represented: "All the TV stations were there, Karen Crummy from the Post was there. They knew they were going to have to face this issue."

And so he did. But he delayed the inevitable. "When McInnis walked in, his handler said, 'We'll talk after,'" Ferrugia notes.

The order of these discussions after the event didn't strike Ferrugia as random. "He talked to Channel 4 first in a sit-down interview. Then he sat down with Channel 9. Then he did a sit-down interview with Fox and someone else and Karen Crummy. And then, when he got to me, he was too busy. He couldn't sit down. He had to go.

"I said to his handler, 'I wasn't born yesterday. Don't play this game with me.' But he still wouldn't sit down. He said, I want to stand up and you can use the stick mike.'"

Ferrugia agreed, and when the camera was rolling, "I asked him, 'Did you write the articles, or did Rolly write them?' He said, 'It was kind of a collaboration.' I said to him, 'Rolly said he wrote them. Is that right? Are you telling the truth?' And he said, 'We told our story last night. It's my responsibility. I've accepted full responsibility and that's it.'"

None of these responses constitute actual answers to Ferrugia's questions. And from the reporter's perspective, the evasions continued.

"I said, Did you write the articles?' And he said, 'The buck stops with me,' but he wouldn't answer the question. I said, 'Did you tell Rolly you were going to put your name on these articles and turn them in?' And he said, again, 'The buck stops with me.' I said, 'You're not going to answer that question, are you?' And he said, 'We've accepted full responsibility.' And then -- and this is key -- I said to him, 'Rolly said you lied. Do you agree with that?' And he said, 'It doesn't matter.' And then he said, 'I take responsibility' again and kept walking away from me. I had to basically follow him down the steps, and down the street, because he was trying to cut this thing short. I said, 'Do you still blame Rolly?,' and he said, 'It was my mistake,' and he just kept walking away. He wouldn't answer any pertinent question about any of this."

Expect this strategy to continue. "I believe he's made a political calculation that if he answers these questions in detail, it's going to get him into deeper trouble," Ferrugia says. "The question is if voters buy this and say it doesn't matter -- and they might -- or if they say, 'This really raises questions of honesty and integrity.'

"This has gone beyond plagiarism," Ferrugia believes. "This has gone to the question of telling the truth."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts