Monday, February 18, 2008

Obama, "Plagiarism" and YouTube Attack Ads (Updated)

By Cernig

The top story on Memeorandum right now is all about Obama's use of words and ideas from a 2006 speech by Deval Patrick, the current Democratic governor of Massachusetts. Comparisons to Joe Biden's infamous plagiarism, which sank his '88presidential run, are being made. The BigHead DC blog is claiming the scoop and saying it "discovered" the similiarity but the NYT's version makes it clear that this was an orchestrated attack on Obama "highlighted by a rival campaign that did not want to be identified".

The NYT also has the Obama campaign's answer - from Deval Patrick himself.

In a telephone interview on Sunday, Mr. Patrick said that he and Mr. Obama first talked about the attacks from their respective rivals last summer, when Mrs. Clinton was raising questions about Mr. Obama’s experience, and that they discussed them again last week.

Both men had anticipated that Mr. Obama’s rhetorical strength would provide a point of criticism. Mr. Patrick said he told Mr. Obama that he should respond to the criticism, and he shared language from his campaign with Mr. Obama’s speechwriters.

Mr. Patrick said he did not believe Mr. Obama should give him credit.

“Who knows who I am? The point is more important than whose argument it is,” said Mr. Patrick, who telephoned The New York Times at the request of the Obama campaign. “It’s a transcendent argument.”
Indeed, it's a tad ridiculous to attack Obama for using words neither he nor Patrick, but rather speechwriters, came up with.

Clips of both speeches have been dropped on YouTube in a concerted attack on the Obama campaign which neatly avoids being attributable in the way that a traditional attack ad would be. YouTube users like "wtmv" and "chrisoh7" joined yesterday apparently only to upload these videos. The latter's commenters, however, are mainly long-term Hillary Clinton supporters. Someone has found a way to make anonymous attack ads without even the chain of "ownership" of a 527 group. One has to wonder whether McCain's campaign is even close to being that net savvy.

Update The Swamp identifies the origin.
Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign wants everyone to see a campaign speech made in 2006 by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick just before he won that office and a recent speech by Sen. Barack Obama.
And various outlets are linking to a Boston Globe story from last April which noted the identical rhetoric in Obama and Patrick's campaigns. Back then, though, it made not a ripple. Of course, back then Obama wasn't as serious a threat to Clinton and the Clinton campaign hadn't yet unveilled its nastier side fully.

Update 2 The Politico finally names a name - Clinton campaign communications director Howard Wolfson has directly accused Obama of plagiarism.

But as my good friend Kyle Moore points out, Gov. Patrick's hearty endorsement of Obama's using his words leaves the Clinton campaign with a definition problem:
pla·gia·rism –noun

1. 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.
2. something used and represented in this manner.

Right, so it’s only really plagiarism if it lacks the authorization of the source, right? Hmmm
It seems clear that the Clinton campaign conceived and orchestrated this attack on Obama from word one, including the anonymous YouTube drops. While it's true that Obama will take a hit here, simply because his rhetoric is revealed as calculated rather than spontaneous, the Clinton campaign may well end up taking a bigger hit as it throws any semblance of fair campaigning out the window - and with it possibly Democratic unity should Clinton win the party's nomination.