Sunday, August 24, 2008

Went to a garden party: does Joe Biden hide in your shoes?

At a garden party in Princeton on Aug. 23, LBE had an opportunity to ask around about the selection of Joe Biden for DemVeep.

The responses were gushing: great pick, lots of experience, especially about foreign policy.

What about the plagiarism? Oh, he gave many speeches where he credited that guy [Kinnock] and one time he didn't and everyone made a big deal about it.

What about the plagiarism in law school? Don't know anything about that.

After a slight discussion, the next remark was quite revealing, about how the person (talking to LBE) had been unjustly accused of plagiarism in college, and could imagine how Biden was railroaded. While not everyone may have that "memory" from college, the evaluation of Biden by other people could include the self-reference "I do cut and pasting all the time, nothing wrong with what I'm doing or what Biden did" (ie, about as ethically-challenged as eating dessert before dinner).

There is a broad spectrum of opinion on what constitutes plagiarism, and, even after finding plagiarism, about how serious a crime it is. For example, in some alternative universe, Glen Poshard would have been fired immediately for plagiarizing portions of his Ph.D. thesis. Just not in the universe of Carbondale, Illinois, a moral black hole. There are many people who do think Poshard was railroaded, but no one has yet offered a defense of page 54 of Poshard's Ph.D. thesis, likely because there isn't one.

We will see about the electoral universe of 2008, and about how many people really are offended by what Joe Biden did in the past.

Of Joe Biden,
Biden run for president?

Of whether or not Biden's plagiarism of Kinnock was a "single event," note the text from famousplagiarists:

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.

On the other side of the coin, see Media outlets reported allegations Biden plagiarized Kinnock, but not that he had previously credited him, which includes the text:

"I've been using it all over," Biden said in a telephone interview. He acknowledged failing to credit Kinnock Aug. 23 but said many members of that Iowa audience had heard the same words, fully credited to the Briton, in other campaign appearances.

One comment to the mediamatters piece was:

This should be very easy to understand. If you write 3 different books, and publish them, you need to cite the source in all three of them - even if the source is exactly the same - or its plagiarism. You don't get to cite a source in 2 books, then release a third not citing the source.

A different angle on the Kinnock plagiarism concerns the FALSITY of Biden's copying of the fact-pattern of Kinnock. From FOXNews:

Obviously, presidential candidates depend heavily on the words of others (professional speech writers) for their words, but Biden probably was most hurt because the borrowed facts from British Labor Party Leader Neil Kinnock didn’t correspond to Biden’s own history: his father and grandfathers were not coalminers who worked in the mines for 12-hour shifts. Biden was also caught padding his vita.

A 1987 article in the St. Petersburg Times (reproduced on americanthinker)noted:

Biden acknowledged Kinnock’s language didn’t fit his family perfectly. His father was in used car sales, his grandfather was a mining engineer. But he had been told and "assumed" that other relatives had worked in the mines. And, "to make it clear," members of his mother’s family had, indeed, been to college…

It isn't just that Biden COPIED Kinnock, it's that the copying of Kinnock's life story didn't fit Biden's facts. As the Midas commercial used to say, "we'll make it fit."

AmericanThinker also presents text: CBS News tonight quoted an aide to Mr. Biden as saying he had been exonerated. However, an academic official said Mr. Biden had been found guilty, "threw himself on the mercy of the board" and promised not to repeat the offense. This, according to the official, persuaded the board to drop the matter and allow Mr. Biden to remain in law school. IPBiz notes, that if this is true, it may be the first time we have a "convicted" plagiarist running for Presidential office.

See also E.J. Dionne's 1987 piece Biden Admits Errors and Criticizes Latest Report , which includes text about an outburst by Biden on April 3, 1987 in Claremont, NH:

The tape, which was made available by C-SPAN in response to a reporter's request, showed a testy exchange in response to a question about his law school record from a man identified only as "Frank." Mr. Biden looked at his questioner and said: "I think I have a much higher I.Q. than you do."

He then went on to say that he "went to law school on a full academic scholarship - the only one in my class to have a full academic scholarship," Mr. Biden said. He also said that he "ended up in the top half" of his class and won a prize in an international moot court competition. In college, Mr. Biden said in the appearance, he was "the outstanding student in the political science department" and "graduated with three degrees from college."

IPBiz notes that, even if what Biden said were true (i.e., graduated in top half of class at Syracuse Law School and had three (undergrad) degrees from the University of Delaware), such credentials probably should not be used to assert "I think I have a much higher I.Q. than you do." In fact, what Biden said wasn't true. He graduated well-into the bottom half of his class at Syracuse Law (76th in a class of 85). Anybody who has any familiarity with law school knows how grade-conscious law students (and potential employers of law students) are. When Biden later said: "I did not graduate in the top half of my class at law school and my recollection of this was inaccurate", it was an unbelievable understatement. Law students do not have inaccurate memories of their final grade point average, or whether they were in the "top half" or "bottom half" of their class. Biden is a legend in his own mind, and an overachiever trying to compensate for less than stellar credentials.

On the general topic of plagiarism, see Peter W. Morgan & Glenn H. Reynolds in the Idler, which includes a discussion not only of Biden, Safire on Biden, and the the expropriated words of Ingersoll (previously mentioned on IPBiz), which included the words:

why should the Biden speechwriter give a public pat on the back to the hack who pounds away for Kinnock?

See also
Joe "I exaggerate when I’m angry" Biden gets VP nod

Of Garden Party

***On issues in self-plagiarism-->

Sanctioning an Author who has Plagiarized; What is Self-Plagiarism? from WAME


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