Wikinews investigates claim McCain plagiarized speech from Wikipedia
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Saturday, August 23, 2008
On August 11, United States Senator and 2008 presidential Republican candidate John McCain gave a speech regarding the crisis between Georgia and Russia. Following the speech, a regular Wikipedia editor noticed that his speech was very similar to an article on Wikipedia also regarding the crisis, in what could be considered plagiarism. Wikinews was able to talk to that editor about how he found out about the similarities and what he did in response. Wikinews also took a deeper look at the claim and investigated further.
McCain gave his speech in Erie, Pennsylvania and was speaking to citizens, giving a warning to Russia stating, "Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin must understand the severe, long-term negative consequences that their government’s actions will have for Russia’s relationship with the U.S. and Europe."
McCain continued his speech saying, "Georgia is an ancient country, at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and one of the world’s first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion. After a brief period of independence following the Russian revolution, the Red Army forced Georgia to join the Soviet Union in 1922. As the Soviet Union crumbled at the end of the Cold War, Georgia regained its independence in 1991, but its early years were marked by instability, corruption, and economic crises."
While reading the first few paragraphs, the Wikipedia editor Killing Vector, (who wishes to be called by his contributor name in fear of retribution for coming forward with the claim), noticed a striking similarity to McCain's speech and the Wikipedia article on the country of Georgia. Not only did he notice the similarities, but after reading through the article's edit history, 'Killing Vector' noticed that his speech might have been lifted from Wikipedia, with some of the material in McCain's speech dating prior to the start of the Georgian and Russian crisis.
"I began reading the text of McCain's address on the Georgia crisis, and as I was browsing it the irregularity jumped out almost immediately. The paragraphs which discussed the history of Georgia simply didn't fit with the rest of the speech; the rhetorical style was jarringly different. I figured, "where's someone in a hurry going to get basic information on the Republic of Georgia?" I opened up Wikipedia, went to the article, picked a recent but not current revision more or less at random (July 24th), and hit gold on the first try; McCain's speech and the Wikipedia article had significant strings of words in common, emphasized the same events, made largely the same word choices," Vector said to Wikinews.
Although other media outlets reported the alleged plagiarism, the two passages below were dated at least one week prior to the Georgian and Russian crisis. The first two paragraphs of McCain's speech appear to resemble the Wikipedia article in the history dated July 24, 2008.
"Two paragraphs, about an eighth of the full speech, contain material directly copied from Wikipedia or superficially modified from its text. Those two paragraphs constitute the entire factual background of the speech, though — the rest is reaction and proposed policy," added Vector.
Example (identical wording is in italics.):
- Wikipedia – ....one of the first countries in the world to adopt Christianity as an official religion.
- McCain – ....one of the world's first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion.
- Wikipedia – After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Georgia had a brief period of independence as a Democratic Republic (1918-1921), which was terminated by the Red Army invasion of Georgia. Georgia became part of the Soviet Union in 1922 and regained its independence in 1991. Early post-Soviet years was marked by a civil unrest and economic crisis.
- McCain – After a brief period of independence following the Russian revolution, the Red Army forced Georgia to join the Soviet Union in 1922. As the Soviet Union crumbled at the end of the Cold War, Georgia regained its independence in 1991, but its early years were marked by instability, corruption, and economic crises.
|We did not copy Wikipedia in Sen. McCain’s remarks. There are only so many ways to state basic historical facts and dates and that any similarities to Wikipedia were only coincidental.|
—Brian Rogers, McCain campaign spokesman
McCain's campaign denies they plagiarized Wikipedia, but also didn't state whether they used it as a source for his speech.
"We did not copy Wikipedia in Sen. McCain’s remarks. There are only so many ways to state basic historical facts and dates and that any similarities to Wikipedia were only coincidental," said a spokesman for the McCain campaign, Brian Rogers to The Politico. Wikinews contacted McCain's campaign, but has yet to receive a response.
Wikinews e-mailed Jay Walsh, the director of communications for the Wikimedia Foundation to see what they thought of the situation, and what if anything they planned to do about it.
"We aren't particularly concerned with this," said Walsh who also added that "I'm only aware of this situation through media coverage I've seen, nor do we or I have any in-depth detail about the situation."
"I would say it's a good practice to attribute text or content whenever possible. Obviously when it's a matter of copyright then there are legal considerations, but the Foundation is not able to examine individual cases," added Walsh. Wikinews attempted to contact Mike Godwin, the legal counsel for the Foundation, but has yet to receive a response.
Vector stands by his claim and also notes what he calls 'dishonesty' on the part of McCain's campaign.
"What concerns me more, as a voter, is the ethical issue. Plagiarism comes from dishonesty and intellectual laziness on the part of an individual, but McCain's campaign's later denial adopts that individual's dishonesty," stated Vector.
- Wikimedia Foundation replies to Municipalist questions on McCain plagiarism charges Municipalist, August 14, 2008
- More Reactions to the McCain-Wikipedia Story Taegan Goddard, August 13, 2008
- Brad Wilmouth Olbermann Claims US 'Provoked' Russia, Sees 'Troubling Neocon Echoes' Media Research Center, August 13, 2008
- Chuck Lasker. "The Candidates On Georgia: A Sharp Foreign Policy Divide" — , August 13, 2008
- Taegan Goddard. "McCain Campaign Says No Plagiarism" — , August 12, 2008
- Jonathan Martin. "McCain camp dismisses plagiarism rap" — , August 12, 2008
- Andrew Romano McCain Gets Wiki Newsweek: Stumper, August 12, 2008
- Joe Conason. "A Cut-and-Paste Foreign Policy" — , August 12, 2008
- Press Release: "Statement by John McCain on the Crisis in Georgia" — John McCain presidential campaign, 2008, August 11, 2008
- Matthew Delong. "Wikipedia: McCain's Newest Foreign Policy Advisor?" — , August 11, 2008
- Taegan Goddard Did McCain Plagiarize His Speech on the Georgia Crisis? Congressional Quarterly, August 11, 2008
- Jonathan Martin. "McCain warns Russians of "severe, long-term negative consequences"" — , August 11, 2008