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McCain, Georgia, And Change You Can Xerox

There was a point in the spring when the media was abuzz with talk of “plagiarism.” Apparently, Barack Obama and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick

There was a point in the spring when the media was abuzz with talk of “plagiarism.” Apparently, Barack Obama and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), who are friends, shared some a few rhetorical lines. Politicians do this all the time, both Obama and Patrick had each other’s permission, and there was nothing untoward about it. The media flap lasted a few days before everyone suddenly realized how inane the story was, and the political world moved on.

I’m wondering if we may be poised for yet another “plagiarism” flap. CQ’s Taegan Goddard has the story.

A Wikipedia editor notices some similarities between Sen. John McCain’s speech today on the crisis in Georgia and the Wikipedia article on the country Georgia. They appear similar enough that most people would consider parts of McCain’s speech to be derived directly from Wikipedia.

At one point in the speech, McCain described Georgia as “one of the world’s first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion.” The Wiki page describes Georgia as “one of the first countries in the world to adopt Christianity as an official religion.”

This one was a little more interesting. Here’s the Wiki page (emphasis added throughout)…

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.

…and here’s the McCain speech.

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.

Taegan has a third, which was relatively similar, but not quite as blatant.

Now, I suppose the most obvious question is one of timing. Is it possible the Wiki page was edited after McCain’s speech, and that the person who changed Georgia’s entry relied on McCain’s speech for the content? I suppose, but if a Wikipedia editor noticed the similarities, it’s likely that the Wiki page came before the speech.

Truth be told, McCain’s done far worse than rely on lifted text for a speech. Hell, practically his entire policy and political agenda was lifted from Bush’s playbook, and few called that plagiarism.

Nevertheless, it strikes me as something of a gaffe, which when added to the list, points to an embarrassing situation. McCain thinks Czechoslovakia is still a countrybetween Sudan and Somalia; he’s confused about how many U.S. troops are in Iraq; he’s confused about Iran’s relationship with al Qaeda; and he doesn’t understand the difference between Sunni and Shi’ia.

And now, McCain can’t give a speech about the war in Georgia without relying on an online encyclopedia for content.

As Taegan added, “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.”

It’s not a scandal, but it is embarrassing.

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