Biden tries to defuse plagiarism charges

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

It's raining on Joe Biden's parade. This was the week Senator Biden, a presidential candidate, was supposed to shine as he presided over the historic confirmation hearings on Judge Robert Bork's nomination to the United States Supreme Court.

Instead, Joseph Biden has been showered with criticism that in speeches he has plagiarized famous politicians, and that he cribbed from a legal journal when he was in law school.

Ironically, the senator from Delaware is known as one of the most eloquent Democrats in public life. His passion, his sharp wit, and his way with words are supposed to be among his greatest strengths.

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Now critics charge that some of the best words were taken - without credit - from others, including Robert Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey.

Yesterday Mr. Biden responded to the charges. He conceded that at times during his life, ``I've done some dumb things.''

But he called the charges of plagiarism ``ludicrous.'' He said his actions in law school were ``mistaken,'' but ``not in any way malevolent.''

Lowell Junkins, co-chairman of the Biden campaign in Iowa, insists that the whole matter is being blown out of proportion.

``People out in Iowa believe this whole thing is goofier than a $3 bill,'' Mr. Junkins says.

Yet the charges have created a stir within the Washington Beltway. There was a rumor, dismissed by Biden's staff, that he would relinquish his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The fuss began on Saturday. The Des Moines Register and the New York Times reported that Biden had used, without credit, the words of British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock during Biden's closing remarks at a debate in Iowa last month.

Mr. Kinnock, in a TV commercial in May, had said: ``Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? ... Was it because our predecessors were thick? ... Was it because they were weak, those people who could work eight hours underground and then come up and play football? ... It was because there was no platform upon which they could stand.''

Biden, using Kinnock's gestures and cadence, said in August: ``Why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university? .. Is it because our fathers and mothers were not bright? ... Is it because they didn't work hard, my ancestors who worked in the coal mines ... and could come up after 12 hours and play football for four hours? ... It's because they didn't have a platform upon which to stand.''

Biden told the audience that the thoughts had come to him as he was driving from the airport. But yesterday, Biden explained to reporters that he was at a loss for a closing statement when he got to the airport, and an aide had suggested using Kinnock's statement. Biden, who had studied a tape of Kinnock, agreed.

Since then, other examples have surfaced, including an excerpt from one of Robert Kennedy's speeches. Biden explained yesterday that one of his writers had lifted the words from Mr. Kennedy, unbeknown to Biden, who failed to recognize them.

The law school incident took place during Biden's first few weeks at Syracuse University. In a required paper, he copied five pages from a law review article without giving credit. He got caught, was given an ``F'' in the course, and was required to take it again.

Biden claimed - then and now - that it was an innocent mistake. At the time, Biden explained in a letter to the faculty that ``I honestly didn't think it possible to plagiarize a legal memorandum.''

Biden graduated 76th out of 86 students in his class. His scholastic record was undistinguished. But there were no more ethical lapses. Dean Robert W. Miller of Syracuse told the Delaware Board of Bar Examiners after Biden's graduation:

``Mr. Biden is a gentleman of high moral character. ... There is nothing to indicate the slightest question about his integrity, industry, or ability.''

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