Over the last week, multiple allegations of plagiarism have been levelled at Sen. Rand Paul. In a couple speeches, Paul repeated Wikipedia descriptions of the films Gattaca and Stand and Deliver. A column he recently wrote for The Washington Times has lines that are nearly identical to one that was published in The Week a week earlier. He's borrowed language from the Associated Press, and he parroted information from Focus the Family during a speech earlier this year. And, oops — some of his book Government Bullies comes straight from the mouths of researchers at the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. Paul has responded to the allegations by challenging the "hacks and haters" to a duel, if dueling were still legal in Kentucky. "The footnote police have really been dogging me for the last week," he said in an interview on Sunday.
Now, Paul's senior adviser Doug Stafford has officially responded to the mounting allegations by saying basically, stuff slips through the cracks.
"In the thousands of speeches and op-eds Sen. Paul has produced, he has always presented his own ideas, opinions and conclusions. Sen. Paul also relies on a large number of staff and advisers to provide supporting facts and anecdotes — some of which were not clearly sourced or vetted properly. ... There have also been occasions where quotations or typesetting indentations have been left out through errors in our approval process. From here forward, quoting, footnoting and citing will be more complete."
To be clear, the examples of Paul's plagiarism go beyond errors in "typesetting indentations" (by which Stafford seems to mean block quotes, like the one above). So how serious are these allegations? It's pretty clear that Paul plagiarized, but the information that he copied was basic facts (like the plot of Gattaca), or conservative ideas we already knew he believes. And as Stafford admits, it was probably Paul's staff that got sloppy with citations, not Paul himself. Further, the people Paul plagiarized don't seem to have their shorts in a twist over it. The Week's editor-in-chief Bill Falk just appreciates the publicity. He told Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski:
"We’ve always known that the audience of The Week consists of smart, busy people who want to feel even smarter, including a lot of people on Capitol Hill. We’d like to thank Sen. Paul for his endorsement."
And spokespeople at the Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute were quick to say they don't mind that Paul parroted their ideals.
But some 2016 forecasters are saying Paul's copy-and-paste problem looks bad for his presidential hopes.
The word theft is a symptom of larger issue Rand has: undisciplined tendency to say whatever feels like&get defensive when called out— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) November 5, 2013
The "Southern Avenger" and the CTRL-C, CTRL-V crowd don't fill one with confidence about a potential Rand Paul Administration's staff hires.— Andrew Exum (@abumuqawama) November 5, 2013
And some think the whole thing is kind of a joke.
Report: Sen. Rand Paul plagiarized entire political ideology from Texas Rep. Ron Paul.— Jonathan Chait (@jonathanchait) November 5, 2013
Of course, plagiarism allegations did derail one of our favorite gaffe-prone politician's presidential hopes back in the 1980s. One Joe Biden was accused of lifting not only basic info but the entire life story of British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock. Biden would repurpose Kinnock's speeches without bothering to replace Kinnock's life details with his own — it got so bad that the Biden campaign tried to invent a coal-mining uncle to match Kinnock's. Paul's plagiarism, as The Washington Post's Aaron Blake notes, is not on that level.
Paul has pretty much denied all the charges, insisting that he "gave credit" to the sources he used. "The rest of it's making a mountain out of a molehill from people I think basically who are political enemies and have an ax to grind," Paul said in an interview with Fusion over the weekend. "This is really about information and attacks coming from haters. The person who's leading this attack — she's been spreading hate on me for about three years now." There Paul is referring to MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow, who first broke the story that Paul plagiarized Gattaca's Wikipedia page.
Unfortunately for Paul, Maddow isn't the only hack/hater following this story now, and more allegations could surface. Unless dueling becomes legal in Kentucky, in which case, problem solved.