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article imageMcCain Accused Of Plagiarism, Campaign Releases Internal Memo And Denies Claim

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By Susan Duclos     Aug 12, 2008 in Politics
Yesterday a Congressional Quarterly blog showed similarities between John McCain's statement regarding the Georgia-Russian war, and historical facts published at Wikipedia. Today the campaign offers an internal memo from speechwriter to rebut that claim.
The blog for Congressional Quarterly published a piece yesterday showing similarities between certain phrases and historical facts that John McCain listed in his public statements regarding the ongoing Geogia-Russia conflict that is raging, questioning whether McCain, via his speechwriters, plagiarized portions of entries from the popular information site Wikipedia.
First instance:
one of the first countries in the world to adopt Christianity as an official religion (Wikipedia)
vs.
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)
vs.
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)
They offer a third instance but admit that those similarities are not as pronounced as the ones listed above.
After that piece was published the McCain campaign provided The Politico with an internal email from McCain's top speechwriter Mark Salter, where he laid out the directives from the candidate as to what he wanted in his statement for Salter to write up for him.
In that internal email that was written Sunday afternoon, before the CQ piece was published, it said, "Jsm just called. He would like to explain a little georgian history. Old nation. Absorbed into ussr. Independent after cold war. Plagued by corruption. Then rose revolution. President us educated."
Then, Salter added, McCain wanted to explain why the issue is important. "Intimidating and laying marker for others in near abroad like ukraine. Pipeline etc. Then get into his recommendations."
This leaves a few questions.
Was Wikipedia one of the information sites that Salter referenced in obtaining the information that McCain wanted in his speech?
According to McCain aides "there are only so many ways to state basic historical facts and dates and that any similarities to Wikipedia were only coincidental".
They did not deny that Wikipedia was one of the sites referenced.
Is consulting Wikipedia, or Britannica or any other informative sites to obtain facts that writers use for articles, speeches, blog posts or any other type of communication, considered plagiarism if the information is used but reworded to match the writer's style?
One might also wonder if every single word uttered from the campaign trail is written by speechwriters or do the candidates ever just speak off the cuff?
Last but not least, if Wikipedia was referenced, are there not far more informative sites that could be used, that do not have controversy surrounding them on whether their information is factual?
Disclaimer- As a writer, I myself have used Wikipedia as a reference, but many, like me, often verify the information from another source. For myself that is Britannica with a premium membership, I verify, then link to the Wikipedia piece, if it is factual, because those without memberships cannot get the full Britannica entry.
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