When Joe Biden was running for president for the first time in 1987, he was forced to admit that he had plagiarized parts of a paper he submitted as a first-year law student in 1965.
“I did something very stupid 23 years ago,” Biden, then a senator from Delaware and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told a press briefing that he had called in response to growing charges of plagiarism that were threatening his candidacy.
Syracuse University Law School initially failed him for plagiarizing, without citation, five pages from a published law review.
The law review in question was Tortious Acts as a Basis for Jurisdiction in Products Liability Cases, which was published in the Fordham Law Review of May 1965. Biden drew large parts of legal language directly from it, including “The trend of judicial opinion in various jurisdictions has been that the breach of an implied warranty of fitness is actionable without privity, because it is a tortious wrong upon which suit may be brought by a non-contracting party,” The New York Times reported at the time. Biden only included one footnote to that article in his paper.
Biden said his “mistake” at law school was neither intentional nor “malevolent”. He said it was due to ignorance, and that he simply misunderstood the need to carefully cite sources.
He added that the faculty of the Syracuse University Law School had allowed him to repeat the course and that the dean later vouched for his high character.
The then-presidential primary candidate released a 65-page file he obtained from the law school that he said contained all the records of his years there, to support his assertions of sincerity and honesty.
In a November 1965 letter he wrote defending himself, Biden wrote:”My intent was not to deceive anyone. For if it were, I would not have been so blatant.”
“If I had intended to cheat, would I have been so stupid?’,” Biden later wrote.
Biden has also received accusations of plagiarising other politicians in his speeches.
In 1987, in Biden’s closing remarks at a Democratic presidential primary debate, Biden lifted remarks from Neil Kinnock, the former leader of Britain’s Labour party, without any attribution.
“I started thinking as I was coming over here,” Biden had told the debate audience, “‘why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university?’” The segment was lifted directly from one Kinnock’s speeches.
Biden had used Kinnock’s phrases before and was often careful to credit him. Kinnock himself has always regarded the blunder as an innocent mistake. Biden had also been accused of giving multiple speeches on that campaign that were lifted from politicians including Robert F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey without citing them.
Although Biden dismissed these accusations as “much ado about nothing”, these gaffes proved to be his downfall, contributing to a “plagiarism scandal” that ended up ending his first bid for the White House.
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