It's Not Plagiarism, But It's Not Helpful, Either ...

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Feb 19, 2008 7:55 AM


Much is being made of accusations that Barack Obama plagiarized part of a speech from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.

My take:  As I noted yesterday, Obama and Patrick share a top advisor.  Clearly, they know each other -- in fact, Obama says that Patrick recommended he use these lines to defend against the Clinton attack.  In my estimation, that's the key point ...

Dictionary.com defines plagiarism as,
the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work.

If someone tells you that you can use something, then you didn't steal it.  And if Patrick authorized Obama to use these lines, then it isn't plagiarism.  I think the distinction depends on whether or not the originator of the words and ideas authorizes their use.

Mike Huckabee, for example, has lifted Newt Gingrich's line about Fed-Ex (without citing Newt).  When I interviewed Newt, and mentioned it, he told me he was just happy the idea had gotten out.

... Of course, Clinton really had two reasons to make this attack.  The first was a long-shot hope that this story would catch fire.  (Remember, there is a history of this working:  Sen. Joe Biden's presidential ambitions in 1988 took a major hit when he plagiarized a speech by Neil Kinnock, the British Labour Party leader.)

But the other, more realistic, goal of the Clintons was to poke a hole in Obama's strength.  Even if one agrees with Obama's theory that words matter, the fact that he was using someone else's words seems to undermine his greatest strength.  At the very least, it makes him un-original...

My guess is that this won't be a silver bullet for Hillary, but that it could slowly begin undermining Obama's image.  Either way, there is no doubt that the YouTube video underscores the point that Obama "lifted" this line from Patrick, and having it on video makes the point unavoidable ...