Charges of plagiarizing policy documents piled up Wednesday against former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, putting the 2020 frontrunner’s campaign on defense in a replay of the issue that largely torpedoed his 1988 presidential bid.
The Biden camp said it would add citations to the climate plan released Tuesday after passages were found to match, in some cases word for word, statements previously posted online by several environmental groups.
The blunder gave an opening to Republicans, starting with President Trump, who called it a “big problem,” while Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said it “speaks to his integrity.”
In the long run, however, the incident may have done more damage by focusing renewed interest on the 30-year-old scandal over his 1987 campaign speech copied from Neil Kinnock, the leader of Britain’s Labor Party, and the discovery he plagiarized a paper at Syracuse law school.
“Honestly, the first thought that I had was, ‘Oh, no, not again,'” said Jonathan Bailey, an expert witness on plagiarism who founded the Plagiarism Today website.
The deja vu also provides more evidence that the biggest threat to Mr. Biden’s presidential aspirations lies, at least for now, on the left.
The initial discovery of two instances of virtually identical wording was discovered and publicized not by Republicans, but by Josh Nelson, vice president of the left-wing group CREDO Mobile, which has championed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s far more ambitious Green New Deal.
Mr. Nelson’s post touched off a fact-checking frenzy that quickly produced more examples. The Daily Caller News Foundation found three more excerpts in the climate plan; the Washington Post then unearthed a passage in the Biden education policy that mirrored language from the XQ Institute.
On the left, Joe Biden’s climate plan. Source: https://t.co/WHWvRK784s On the right, a description of the Carbon Capture Coalition on the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions website. Source: https://t.co/nulmTqXZ1p pic.twitter.com/4f010MqNjY
— Josh Nelson (@josh_nelson) June 4, 2019
For example, the Biden energy policy said: “Carbon capture, use, and storage (CCUS) is a rapidly growing technology that has the potential to create economic benefits for multiple industries while significantly reducing carbon dioxide emission.”
A September 2017 letter from the Blue Green Alliance said: “Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is a rapidly growing technology that has potential to create economic benefits for multiple industries while significantly reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.”
In a statement, the Biden campaign said it would update its website to give appropriate credit.
“Several citations, some from sources cited in other parts of the plan, were inadvertently left out of the final version of the 22-page document,” the campaign told CNN. “As soon as we were made aware of it, we updated to include the proper citations.”
Not letting Mr. Biden off the hook were Republicans, including Ms. McDaniel, who was quick to remind voters Wednesday of the Democrat’s history of transgressions.
“Joe Biden has been plagiarizing longer than I’ve been alive,” she said on Fox News. “It started in law school at Syracuse; it continued through his failing 1980s presidential campaign, and now we’re back at it.”
There was also little in the way of sympathy from media figures like CNN host John King, who blasted the Biden campaign as “lazy” or “arrogant.”
“This is a pretty amateur mistake for the frontrunner’s campaign to make on a substantial policy rollout when they had to know, when Team Biden got together planning to announce his campaign, the one thing they cannot do is plagiarize.”
Coming to Mr. Biden’s defense was Michael Grunwald, senior writer at Politico Magazine, who said the use of policy language taken from environmental groups should be viewed not as “plagiarism” but “agreeing.”
“It’s a politician’s plan! Obviously if I ever plagiarized an article I should be fired and shamed,” Mr. Grunwald tweeted. “But plagiarizing plans is what politics is about. You should vote for the politician who plagiarizes the most plans you like.”
That said, critics and media outlets have been quick to point out that this isn’t Mr. Biden’s first rodeo.
“This is somebody who’s been accused of this multiple times,” Ms. McDaniel said. “You’d think he’d dot the I’s and cross the T’s and take more care to make sure this doesn’t happening during this presidential campaign.”
Another problem is that more than just substantive proposals were lifted from other sources.
“It’s not just ideas … it’s exact verbiage,” said Mr. Bailey, adding, “When we’re talking about verbiage, especially in a report like this that’s a little more formal, it’s still problematic.”
If the latest plagiarism kerfuffle turns out to be less damaging than the first, it may be because the policy papers were drafted by the campaign, giving Mr. Biden a degree of separation that he lacked with his Kinnock-themed speech and law-school paper.
“It’s pretty obvious that Joe Biden himself didn’t sit down himself and pen this climate report,” Mr. Bailey said. “It’s not a personal scandal, but it does paint sort of a negative picture of his campaign for making unforced errors.”
With the exception of 2012, he said, every presidential campaign since 1988 has featured a plagiarism scandal, including 2016, which saw Melania Trump ripped for delivering remarks to the Republican National Convention that bore a strong resemblance to a speech given by first lady Michelle Obama.
What makes Mr. Biden unique is that he may be the only candidate to face plagiarism outcries in different campaigns.
“We’ve never had a repeat of a political candidate plagiarizing before,” Mr. Bailey said. “This is the only one I’m aware of. Usually candidates who get caught in plagiarism scandals are very careful not to do it again.”
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