As the 1988 election approached, then-Sen. Joe Biden looked like he might be the Democrats’ guy.
He seemed relatively young at the time; at only 44 he had a very different sort of image from the hair-plugged éminence très grise he is today. He was an energetic centrist and had been in the Senate for a while, during an era where that seemed to actually matter.
Then came the stump speech that killed his campaign: “I started thinking as I was coming over here, why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university?” he said during a debate at the Iowa State Fair in September of 1987.
“Why is it that my wife, who is sitting out there in the audience, is the first in her family to ever go to college? Is it because our fathers and mothers were not bright? Is it because I’m the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree that I was smarter than the rest?”
As it turned out, that speech wasn’t materially different from remarks made by Neil Kinnock, then the leader of the U.K.’s Labour Party. While on other occasions, he had credited Kinnock — an uninspiring Welsh John Lithgow lookalike who resigned his party leadership in 1992 after failing to deliver a single general election victory for Labour in nine years at the helm — Biden hadn’t this time.
Quickly, other instances of lifting passages without attribution — particularly from the Kennedys, at least the quotable ones — began to spring up, and it was later revealed he had failed a class in law school due to academic plagiarism. His candidacy was sunk.
Michael Dukakis (the Democratic primary contender whose campaign first noted the plagiarism and discreetly distributed video of the Biden speech alongside the Kinnock speech) won the nomination, and then got shellacked by then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in the general election. What was arguably Biden’s best chance at the presidency had been flushed down the toilet.
Fast-forward 31 years and Biden is a front-runner again. In fact, polls show him up over Trump in states like Texas. You would think he would be avoiding anything resembling plagiarism or even textual “borrowing” the same way Elizabeth Warren would be avoiding references to her Native American “high cheekbones.”
You’d be wrong. Only this time, nobody in the media really seems to care all that much — and thus we can tell why he’s killing it in the polls.
“Former Vice President Joe Biden’s climate plan appears to have used nearly identical language from other sources in at least five different passages,” Peter Hasson at The Daily Caller first reported Tuesday.
“Josh Nelson, co-director of environmentalist group CREDO Action, highlighted two instances where Biden’s campaign used the exact same language as left-wing nonprofits, without citations.”
And The Daily Caller managed to find more examples:
“Biden’s goal is to make CCUS a widely available, cost-effective, and rapidly scalable solution to reduce carbon emissions to meet mid-century climate goals,” Biden’s climate plan states, using an acronym for carbon capture, utilization and storage.
Here’s what the Carbon Capture Coalition had to say: “Its goal is to make carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) a widely available, cost-effective, and rapidly scalable solution to reduce carbon emissions to meet mid-century climate goals.”
Biden on aviation emissions: “Aviation accounts for nearly 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and that portion is expected to increase. Unfortunately today, few low-carbon technologies or fuels have been developed to tackle this challenge.”
And here’s Vox: “Aviation accounts for about 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and that share is poised to grow… few low-carbon technologies or fuels have been developed so far.”
Or, how about the age of sewage pipes? Quoth Biden: “The average American sewage pipe is 33 years old, with many pipes dating back 50 or even 100 years.”
And here’s American Rivers: “[T]he average American sewage pipe is 33 years old, with many pipes dating back 50 or even 100 years.”
Now, it’s worth pointing out that I doubt Biden himself wrote a word of this plan. Uncle Joe comes across as that relative who tells you right after buying his first laptop, with a certain amount of excitement, “I learned that you click once to select something and twice to open it!”
But then, it’s also worth pointing out that Biden probably didn’t write a word of his speeches back in 1987. In fact, he definitely didn’t write that Neil Kinnock part; Neil Kinnock did. However, Biden knew that no matter which speechwriter had put the words in his mouth at the Iowa State Fair that fateful day, he was plagiarizing: He’d credited Kinnock previously.
Given that this was going to be an issue in the 2020 campaign, surely Biden would have had someone check this sort of thing, right? This is one of his biggest initiatives, given the role that climate change plays in Democratic politics. He has a history of plagiarism. Again, to compare this to one of Biden’s competitors, it’s like Cory Booker not proofreading his campaign’s communiques to ensure there was no mention of his chimerical drug-dealer friend “T-Bone.”
But apparently, to some outlets, being a Democrat in 2020 means never having to say you’re sorry, at least if Quinnipiac has you up by four points in Texas over Trump.
Now, to be perfectly fair, there are plenty of examples of the media actually treating this as an issue, although probably not to the extent that it was back in 1987. However, take this headline/subheadline from Vox: “The Joe Biden climate plan plagiarism ‘scandal,’ explained,” it stated. “A reminder of some bad history, but far and away the least important part of his climate plan.”
Take away the part about “A reminder of some bad history, but… ,” substitute “college plan” for “climate plan” and you could have run this 32 years ago — provided, of course, you had no scruples.
If you didn’t click on the links I used to cite how Biden’s plagiarism was covered the first time around, I’d advise you to. They’re from The New York Times. Even back then, The Times was pretty much what it is now — a liberal fish-wrapper. But its editors knew plagiarism was a campaign-stopper.
Now, not so much. The only mention of it on its site seems to be a desultory Associated Press article about the scandal buried relatively deep within the website.
Meanwhile, here are some articles that showed up for me on their front page: “The administration plans to cut education and recreation for migrant children in shelters,” “I Want to Live in Elizabeth Warren’s America” and “It’s All Rooted In White Panic.”
To be fair, the last two are opinion pieces, although one wonders how one is supposed to tell the difference over at the Gray Lady these days. Either way, one can certainly suss out the opinion of The Times based on its lack of coverage.
And then there’s Politico. “It’s not just Biden: Multiple Democrats lift material from other sites,” its headline said Wednesday.
Well! A real scandal! Other Democrats are doing this, too! This should sink about four or five candidates, leaving only 19 to choose from.
Except that’s not what you’re supposed to take away from this. The message seems to be that in a ctrl+c/ctrl+v culture, who really cares any more about plagiarism?
“A sampling of policy proposals from Biden’s leading rivals suggests the lifting of direct text from academic papers, think tanks or policy institutes — and the cribbing of facts without attribution — is fairly widespread on 2020 campaign websites,” Politico wrote.
“A POLITICO review found previously published material on the official campaign websites of Sens. Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders, as well as frequent use of facts and data without citation on a number of others.”
After going through a litany of examples of plagiarism, here’s the textual peroration:
“Deborah R. Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor and expert in copyright and plagiarism, said she saw no transgressions by the candidates in any of the above examples,” the article by Natasha Korecki and Marc Caputo stated. “She said context matters, and it’s clear that the candidates, including Biden, are relying on other people’s facts and not pretending that a unique expression of someone else’s work is their own.”
“I don’t consider this plagiarism. I don’t see them saying, ‘This is my data’,” Gerhardt told them.
“When you have a political candidate repeating statistics from another source, I don’t think people think the politicians did their own data analysis.
“These are politicians and people expect that they’re relying on a study or other facts. Don’t we want our politicians to listen to people who are doing research or collecting data and tell the public about it?”
Well, yes. And then I would like them to cite these people, which isn’t terribly difficult.
Furthermore, it helps when they substantially change the language, which is what they ought to be doing if they’re not directly quoting.
And then there’s Michael Grunwald, senior writer at Politico, who somehow managed to make this whole thing worse on Twitter.
— Michael Grunwald (@MikeGrunwald) June 6, 2019
We’re supposed to be mad at Biden because he copied a few lines of his climate plan from environmental groups? That’s not “plagiarism.” That’s “agreeing.” “https://t.co/E2lR2oOuFB
— Michael Grunwald (@MikeGrunwald) June 4, 2019
So, OK. Let me just copy the entirety of Korecki and Caputo’s article without context. At the bottom, let me just say, “This is all utter nonsense.” Can I call that “disagreeing?”
Actually, that’s more legit than what Biden did. I could theoretically say it was fair use because at least I was acknowledging where it came from and adding a comment — however pitifully insubstantial — to it. Biden’s campaign: not so much.
By the by, as several users on Twitter pointed out, Grunwald has a somewhat different opinion of “agreeing” with others when there’s not a D after the candidate’s name:
— Stephen Miller (@redsteeze) June 5, 2019
Again, this is why Joe Biden is leading in the polls: Complete obsequiousness on the part of the media that makes their treatment of Hillary Clinton look vaguely critical.
When The New York Times runs a mostly uncritical writeup about Biden’s climate plan but only an AP article about how parts of it were plagiarized, that’s journalistic malfeasance. I understand that there’s only so many editorial staff — and someone had to pore over “It’s All Rooted in White Panic,” after all — but this may deserve a little bit more of a look when you consider Biden’s history.
And sadly, The Times was one of the better outlets when it came to coverage of this. No wonder Biden has such a lead in the polls.
You get the impression this guy could just screen an episode of “Beavis and Butthead” in place of a campaign speech and Vox’s headline would be “Biden delivers powerful message on aimless youth.”
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