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Plagiarism and Our Buddy in the Ugly Sweater

BY Joshua Levy | Tuesday, February 19 2008

As we go into yet another night of compulsive browser refreshes to find out tonight’s primary results, the flap over Barack Obama’s alleged plagiarism of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s words is continuing to escalate.

One video illustrating Obama’s borrowed phrases has been a hit on YouTube:

It’s been viewed 280,000 times since it was posted two days ago. That’s impressive, and competitive with the number of views of Obama’s big post-primary speeches (his 17-minute-long South Carolina victory speech was viewed 180,000 times in one day). Obama should know better than anyone that YouTube cuts both ways — it can make you star, and it can cut you down real quick.

That said, we’ll have to see if this little kerfuffle stays on the radar.

And if we're talking "plagiarism" (and that term is getting mighty overused), Nico Pitney and Sam Stein have evidence that Hillary's been lifting bits from her husband's speeches.

Really, we could go back and forth all night about this, at least until the Wisconsin results come in. What seems clear is that politicians are always pulling lines from others -- they make mashups. Obama and Clinton aren't the first or last do it (though Obama's powerful speechifiying might put the onus on him to be more originial). Maybe we need a Creative Commons for political speeches!

A sidenote: The Politico’s Mike Allen, in his article about a second round of plagiarism allegations, points out the not-so-small fact that Obama senior advisor David Axelrod was also a consultant to Patrick. Axelrod told Allen that Clinton is behind this story (duh).

“We’re at a point in the campaign here where every little thing is going to be a big thing for a short burst of time because we’re getting down to the short straws. Obviously, Senator Clinton feels pressure. And her campaign is going to be very opportunistic, I expect.”

But here’s the fun part (emphasis mine):

Without naming him, Axelrod then took a shot at [Howard Wolfson, Clinton's Communications Director: “Our buddy in the ugly sweater will show up on your show and try to make this and other things an issue. Anything they can grab on to now.”

Priceless.