Monday, August 11, 2008

Did McCain plagiarize his speech on the Georgia crisis today?

I found this story on both Americablog, and The Carpetbagger Report, with the source story coming from The Political Insider:

A Wikipedia editor emailed Political Wire to point out some similarities between Sen. John McCain's speech today on the crisis in Georgia and the Wikipedia article on the country Georgia. Given the closeness of the words and sentence structure, most would consider parts of McCain's speech to be derived directly from Wikipedia.

First instance:

one of the first countries in the world to adopt Christianity as an official religion (Wikipedia)


one of the world's first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion (McCain)

Second instance:

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. (Wikipedia)


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. (McCain)

Third instance:

In 2003, Shevardnadze (who won reelection in 2000) was deposed by the Rose Revolution, after Georgian opposition and international monitors asserted that the 2 November parliamentary elections were marred by fraud. The revolution was led by Mikheil Saakashvili, Zurab Zhvania and Nino Burjanadze, former members and leaders of Shavarnadze's ruling party. Mikheil Saakashvili was elected as President of Georgia in 2004. Following the Rose Revolution, a series of reforms was launched to strengthen the country's military and economic capabilities. (Wikipedia)


Following fraudulent parliamentary elections in 2003, a peaceful, democratic revolution took place, led by the U.S.-educated lawyer Mikheil Saakashvili. The Rose Revolution changed things dramatically and, following his election, President Saakashvili embarked on a series of wide-ranging and successful reforms. (McCain)

Granted the third instance isn't as close as the first two, which seem quite obviously taken from Wikipedia.

It should be noted that Wikipedia material can be freely used but always requires attribution under its terms of use. Whether a presidential candidate should base policy speeches on material from Wikipedia is another question entirely.

The McCain quotes do seem very similar to the Wikipedia entries--at least the first two. So you could probably make a case for plagiarism here. I think what bothers me even more here is that the McCain speech writers are using Wikipedia as a primary source of information on Georgia for this McCain speech. Wikipedia is an excellent source for quick research on topics, and to get some general information on the subject. I'll admit that I have sourced Wikipedia articles for general information. But I'm not sure I would use Wikipedia as a primary source of information for a campaign speech. Wikipedia is a community-built encyclopedia where anyone can post and edit entries. The problem with using Wikipedia articles as a reference is that the Wiki articles "may contain false or debatable information." People may write Wiki entries according to their own political or ideological slant. I have certainly found a number of Wikipedia articles on political topics and current events that have been in dispute, or require some type of clean-up of their entries. And it is because of these disputes are on current topics. I do not consider such Wikipedia entries as an accurate citation.

Wikipedia is great for a general information reference, and to dig deeper into more source material. But I'm not sure I would use Wikipedia as the McCain campaign did in bringing Wiki facts to their speech--not without looking into more credible sources. Of course, I'm not sure if the McCain speech writers even looked into more credible sources for this information that they placed in the speech. As for going back to the topic of the McCain campaign plagiarizing Wikipedia, maybe it is time to ask the McCain campaign for their denial on this question.

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