Biden's 1988 Campaign Plagiarism Goes Well Beyond What Wiki Reveals

August 25th, 2008 11:14 AM

Joe Biden's 1987 stump-speech plagiarism of Neil Kinnock likely occurred more than once. Additionally, according to contemporaneous New York Times reports, including an editorial, Biden's orations featured unattributed speech-lifting from John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Hubert Humphrey.

That's a lot more than Joe Biden's defenders and two of his Wikipedia entries have thus far revealed.

Previous posts (here and here at NewsBusters; here and here at BizzyBlog) noted "interesting" modifications to the main Wikipedia entry of Biden, who Barack Obama selected as his vice-presidential running mate this past weekend.

The first post reported that the detail of Biden's undergraduate grades (generally C's and D's, with two A's in phys ed and an F in ROTC) "strangely" disappeared between Friday and Saturday. The second ultimately noted that a section relating to Biden's involvement in the presidential campaign of 2004 had been deleted, but that its text had inexplicably been moved to before 1988. It was as if the idea that Biden had "campaigned" in 2004 was true before Barack Obama selected him, but no longer true after that.

But to get to the next example of Wiki whitewashing by Obama-Biden's busy bees -- the worst found thus far -- we need to go back 21 years to the New York Times.

The first relevant article is from September 12, 1987 ("Biden's Debate Finale: An Echo From Abroad"), and comes from Maureen Dowd, who wrote (bold is mine):

At various campaign appearances last month, the Senator talked admiringly about Mr. Kinnock's themes and incorporated phrases and concepts after first crediting the Briton. But, in his closing remarks at the Iowa State Fair forum, he did not mention the Labor leader, nor did he some days later in an interview when he recounted the positive response.

Then, on September 17 ("Biden Was Accused of Plagiarism in Law School"), E.J. Dionne expanded the scope of the stump-speech plagiarism beyond Kinnock (bolds are mine):

This week politicians from both parties - some of them partisans of other candidates in the Democvratic Presidential race - told members of the press of additional instances in which Mr. Biden had used the language and syntax of others, including John F. and Robert F. Kennedy and Hubert H. Humphrey.

..... Some of the similarities in speeches were noted by The San Jose Mercury News and by The Des Moines Register in their Tuesday editions, and by The New York Times today. CBS News and ABC News broadcast reports on the subject this evening.

Mr. Biden and his aides have argued that the charges concerning his speeches are unfair, saying he used Mr. Kinnock's remarks often and usually attributed them to the British leader. The instance in which he did not, his aides said, was a lapse. Mr. Biden's campaign also argues that public officials frequently use material from the speeches of politicians of earlier generations.

At that point, the Dionne seemed to be casting doubt on the alleged non-Kinnock lifting. But a caustic Times editorial that same day was a lot less skeptical about at least one such specific example, and about one other person named by Dionne (bolds are mine):

As generations of teachers keep saying, plagiarism is theft. Considering their content, the Biden speeches sound like grand larceny. For instance, in a California speech last February, Senator Biden adopted almost word for word what Robert Kennedy said in 1968 about the gross national product: ''It doesn't measure the beauty of our poetry, the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debates, the integrity of our public officials.'' ..... Lifting that language trashes the very values he was urging.

What makes Senator Biden's behavior mystifying is recklessness. It's one thing to misappropriate someone else's words. It's another to take passages so clearly someone else's that you're likely to get caught. That's true of the Kennedy quotes and even more so of the Senator's abundant lifts of highly personal thoughts about ancestry from Neil Kinnock, the British Labor Party leader. It's a bit like Gary Hart inviting reporters to follow him even as he was seeing women other than his wife - a bit like daring people to catch you.

The misappropriations are troubling for another reason. Hackneyed political oratory gives voters one measure. But Mr. Biden claims to be a candidate with something to say and asks to be measured by that standard. By passing off the words of Neil Kinnock or Robert Kennedy or Hubert Humphrey as his own he deprives voters of his thoughts and his words. His message, counterfeit, clanks.

With that context, let's wheel on over to Wiki.

Here is what the main Wiki entry about Biden had about the 1987 speech plagiarizing as of Friday (with two relevant footnotes included), followed by what was there as of 9:00 a.m. this morning, followed by what the Wiki entry devoted solely to Biden's 1988 campaign had as of 9:00 a.m.:






Now it's time to call out the relevant Wiki wackiness:

Wiki washout #1 -- Supposedly, the "in all speeches but one" reference (#24) originally had footnoted support. As you can see, Footnote #24 does not deal with how often Biden failed to credit Kinnock. Though others have found evidence that Biden indeed credited Kinnock at other times, I have found no evidence proving, as Wiki breezily claims (but now only in its 1988 Biden presidential campaign entry, in the first red-underlined sentence), that the videotaped speech was the only such example. And where's the footnote in the new location of the "in all speeches but one" claim?

Wiki washout #2 -- Contemporaneous articles at the Times cast significant doubt on the "in all speeches but one" claim. Dowd noted an interview where Biden also failed to credit Kinnock (though it's not a "speech," it is definitely a second example), making it appear that Biden's failures to credit Kinnock may have been repeated and not a mere one-off (Footnote #23 links to Dowd's report). Additionally, Dionne's reference above is to "usually" crediting Kinnock, not doing it "all but once."

Wiki washout #3 -- The second red underlined sentence in the current 1988 presidential campaign entry would seem to contradict, or at least not to support, the idea that Biden failed to properly credit Kinnock only once.

Wiki washout #4 -- Worst of all, there is no indication at either Wiki entry that Biden was accused, and from all appearances accurately, of engaging in additional stump-speech plagiarizing of the Kennedys and Humphrey. Clearly the New York Times of 1987 would agree that it belongs.

The effects of all of this Wiki wackiness are not insignificant:

  • Current entries lead readers to believe that Biden only plagiarized Kinnock one time. This is highly unlikely at best, and known by Team Biden to be untrue at worst.
  • Current entries lead readers to believe that Kinnock was the only politician whose speeches were plagiarized. Given the evidence presented, that's virtually impossible.
  • Current entries give credence to Biden's specious claim at the time he withdrew from the 1988 presidential race that he was undone by "the exaggerated shadow" of his mistakes. The Wiki-driven context supports the presumption of exaggeration.
  • Ultimately, many readers will likely infer that all should be forgiven, because even at the time the whole thing seems to have been overblown. That's ridiculous: It's very clear from reading the New York Times articles from the period that once Biden was caught, repeated examples of stump-speech plagiarism cascaded forth, accompanied by demonstrated resume exaggeration and other dishonesty. Biden had to quit to stop the bleeding.

A NewsBusters commenter yesterday regaled me with the notion that what is happening to Biden's Wiki information represents "clean-up, reorganization, and general improvements." I would suggest that this commenter, who unlike me appears to have the time and detailed knowledge and experience to engage in such activities, get to work.

So when will we learn from traditional media beat reporters that at least two of their predecessors called out Joe Biden for serial and far from isolated plagiarism in 1987? Or will MoDo and EJ come clean on their own?

Cross-posted at


Postscript: Let's give thanks to the New York Times. Really.

You see, the Times appeared to be on the verge of dumbing down their search function to the point where deep-archive diving would have been very difficult. But thanks to reader complaints, the Times, though it initially forces readers to use the new feature-poor search, still provides access to the old one.

That old search function enabled me to very easily find the items above showing that Joe Biden's plagiarism went well beyond Neil Kinnock.

Thanks, NYT.