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Friday, August 22, 2008

More On Biden As Plagiarist 'Repeat Offender'

From Famous Plagiarists

Joe Biden’s history of plagiarism and “stressless scholarship” gave plenty of ammo to his enemies, one of them choosing to circulate a so-called “attack video” to demonstrate Biden’s outright plagiarism of a British politician’s speech. But this appropriation from Neal Kinnock was not the first occurrence of unacknowledged lifting by the senator from Delaware.

In 1965 Biden plagiarized while writing a paper as a student at the Syracuse University Law School in a legal methods course which he failed because of that copied paper. Such “stressless scholarship” as it is euphemistically called has become all too common in the modern Internet era with countless cheatsites and “research services” offering to sell students papers on topics from A to Z.

Biden’s case demonstrates that student plagiarism is nothing new. Only the methods of cheating have changed. Today, cheating has gone digital with the proliferation of Internet based paper filing and distributions systems, but the principles—or lack thereof—are the same. And as the Biden case illustrates, getting caught for such academic dishonesty may have serious ramifications for one’s political career. Joe Biden’s failed bid for the Democratic ticket is a case in point.

“Stressless scholarship” may seem like a pretty good idea at the time that many students make that decision to ‘crib’, copy, or dowload a paper off the Internet, but in Biden’s case the plagiarism of his student days came back to haunt his bid for the democratic presidential nomination like a spectre from his past.

In an article entitled “Biden’s Belly Flop”, Newsweek printed Joe Biden’s yearbook picture from his college days and a copy of his law school transcripts with the big “F” in his transcripts circled. Biden was given a chance to repeat his legal methods course, and above the “F” his retake grade of 80% was eventually penciled in. Being a repeat offender when it came to plagiarism made things much, much worse for Biden than they might have been otherwise in his failed bid for the Democratic presidential ticket in 1987.

Senator Biden’s plagiarism of a speech by British Labor Party leader Neal Kinnock took place at a campaign stump at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. In closing his speech, Biden took Kinnock’s ideas and language as if they were his very own inspired thoughts, prefacing Kinnock’s ideas with the phrase “I started thinking as I was coming over here . . . “. Little did Biden suspect that video footage of this speech would be spliced together with footage of Kinnock’s speech in an “attack video” which would be distributed by members of the Dukakis campaign.

Making the headline news in the New York Times, and the evening news on TV, the video was a stab in the back for Biden by his democratic competitor, and although he insisted that “I’m in this race to stay. I’m in this race to win,” the resulting publicity surrounding his unacknowledged use of Neal Kinnock’s speech was what eventually forced him out of the race. Name recognition was no longer a problem for Biden, but not the kind of name recognition which would assist his campaign for the democratic presidential nomination. His name was now a byword for plagiarism. His situation became a classic example of plagiarism for high school teachers and college instructors across the nation lecturing on the evils of unacknowledged source use.

Biden initially denied any wrongdoing, claiming that this was just an inadvertent lack of acknowledgement. Yet there were other instances of rhetorical borrowing from speeches made by Robert F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. And the fact that Biden had given other speeches using the Kinnock passages without acknowledgment suggested that the lifting was more than just an inadvertent oversight.

As with Al Gore’s case, the perception existed in the public mind that Biden just wasn’t the real thing. He wasn’t authentic, didn’t have thoughts and ideas of his own, and was a malleable piece of clay being molded by his handlers to suit the political whims and fancies which they thought would appeal to voters. A Time magazine article by Walter Shapairo was pretty much on the money in offering the speculation that “In the end, Biden may be remembered as the candidate who truly offered the voters an echo and not a choice.”

William Safire, former speechwriter for Richard Nixon, gloated in the New York Times over Biden’s demise, quoting a supposedly “embittered Democrat” who said, “I’m going back to Gary Hart . . . At least he didn’t steal that girl from some far-lefty in England.” And he concluded his op-ed column with a swipe at Biden’s ability to think apart from his speechwriter: “So my advice to candidates like Joe Biden is this: Do justly, love perorations and walk humbly with thy speechwriter. (I forget where I got that, but it has a nice ring to it.) ”

With all the press he was receiving over his Neal Kinnock plagiarism courtesy of the Dukakis “attack videos”, Biden was quickly becoming the “most famous political plagiarist of our time”, as Thomas Mallon describes the unfortunate Delaware senator. It was just a matter of time before Biden would have to bow out of the democratic primary.

Biden himself thought that all the attention to his rhetorical borrowing was “frankly ludicrous”, and the media analysts generally agreed, stating that is was “hardly a capital offense”, but as William Safire put it, “times have changed; you can’t get away with borrowing anything these days – not even an oratorical technique, much less a phrase or paragraph – unless you are willing to give the attribution.” If Gore’s loss of the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000 was more indirectly related to plagiarism, it is evident that Biden’s case is without question a direct result of his unacknowledged use of Kinnock’s speech as if it were his very own. This instance of plagiarism and the public exposure it received cut short the presidential aspirations of an otherwise gifted orator and statesman.

See our previous post, Biden For VP: When You Don't Have A Clue Choose The Professional Plagiarist.