Rand Paul and Wikipedia: Plagiarism or lazy staff?

Sen. Rand Paul is in a flap over speech passages lifted from Wikipedia and other sources without attribution. Will it hamper any run for the White House in 2016?

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. listens to a question during a news conference on Capitol Hill in 2011. Critics say he's quoted Wikipedia and other sources in speeches without attribution.

Being a southern gentleman, Rand Paul places great store in personal honor. At times, he even wishes dueling were still legal in Kentucky, the state he represents in the United States Senate.

It’s unclear whether he was thinking of pistols, swords, or maybe a walking cane (with gold head) of the type Rep. Preston Brooks used to beat Sen. Charles Sumner in 1856 in a dispute over the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

“I think I’m being unfairly targeted by a bunch of hacks and haters, and I’m just not going to put up with people casting aspersions on my character,” he fumed on ABC's "This Week” Sunday.

“I take it as an insult,” Paul continued. “And I will not lie down and say people can call me dishonest, misleading or misrepresenting, and if dueling were legal in Kentucky, if they keep it up, you know it’d be a duel challenge.”

So what was all the ruckus about?

Turns out phrases and whole paragraphs in recent Paul speeches appear to have been lifted from that major source of undergraduate study: Wikipedia. The Associated Press too, and story lines from a couple of popular movies.

The revelations mainly came from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Politico.com, and BuzzFeed.com.

On Saturday, BuzzFeed also reported that “An entire section of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s 2013 book ‘Government Bullies’ was copied wholesale from a 2003 case study by the Heritage Foundation…. The copied section, 1,318 words, is by far the most significant instance reported so far of Paul borrowing language from other published material.”

Paul is particularly miffed at Maddow – likely the one he was thinking of with his “dueling” comment. She’s one of the strongest media voices on the left.

“You know, the person who is leading this attack, she’s been spreading hate on me for about three years now, and I don’t intend for it to go away, but I also don’t see her as an objective news source,” he told anchor Jorge Ramos of Fusion, a new cable channel from ABC News and Univision.

Not so, says Maddow.

“This is about you lifting other people’s words verbatim and pretending that they’re your own,” she said on her show. “This is about you lifting entire sections of a website, inserting them into your own speeches, and then passing them off as your own original thoughts. This is something that high school students know not to do….”

The Paul camp is trying to dismiss the flap as inconsequential.
 “Only in Washington is something this trivial a source for liberal media angst,” Paul adviser Doug Stafford, the senator’s former chief of staff, told Politico.

But Stafford also said, “While Sen. Paul doesn’t believe that this is the normal standard for speeches, going forward he will be more cautious in presenting and attributing sources.”

End of story? Probably.

But in a way, it’s probably a good thing for Paul that any speech-making attribution sloppiness came out now. He’s frequently on short lists for Republican presidential candidates.

He doesn’t need any more headlines like this recent one on the Atlantic magazine web site – “Can Rand Paul Learn to Tell the Truth?” – referencing “his sticky habit for bending the facts.”

Better that it should come out now than in 2016.

(I’d explain the Kansas-Nebraska Act, by the way, but I’d have to crib from Wikipedia. And as everybody knows, professional journalists never do that.)

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