Obama Campaign On Defensive, Points Plagiarism to Clinton

Feb 18, 2008 7:41am

ABC News’ Sunlen Miller and Teddy Davis Reports: Senator Barack Obama said during a press conference in Niles, Ohio that he probably should have given credit to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick when he used his words at a speech on Saturday night in Wisconsin, as first reported by ABC News’ Jake Tapper.

Obama pushed back against questions about whether he has ever plagiarized before. Obama said he usually gives credit when quoting people or using ideas, but he insisted that he is friends with Patrick.

"I’ve written two books, wrote most of my speeches, so I’m putting aside the question that you just raised whether my words are my own, I think that would be carrying it too far," Obama said. "Deval and I do trade ideas all the time, and he’s occasionally used lines of mine and I at a Jefferson Jackson dinner in Wisconsin used some words of his.”

When asked if he should have credited Patrick, Obama admitted he should have: “I was on the stump. He suggested we use these lines. I thought they were good lines. I’m sure I should have. Didn’t this time.”

But the Illinois senator then turned his focus on Sen. Hillary Clinton, suggesting the New York senator uses his words without his approval. "Senator Clinton has used mine as well," Obama said, citing "fired up and ready to go," as examples.

The Clinton campaign today held a conference call with reporters to highlight charges that Obama’s  speech this weekend had a striking similarity to a speech given by Gov. Deval Patrick, D-MA in 2006.

"The power of his rhetoric has been much discussed," Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said today, referring to Obama. "So when we learned that he has taken an important section of a speech from another elected official, it raises questions about the premise of his candidacy."

"It makes those words much less inspiring; less authentic and more political," he added.

The Clinton campaign circulated a video of the similar Patrick and Obama speeches Monday.

Patrick, who supports Obama for president, has defended the Illinois Democrat for using his refrain without attribution. But Clinton’s spokesman argued that regardless of how Patrick feels, harm was done to Obama’s audience, and he compared it to an author who plagiarizes the work of another.

"I think it’s fine that Deval Patrick said that," added Wolfson. "What I’m concerned about is that the public has an expectation that the words are his own unless he credited them to someone else."

The Clinton camp believes that Obama’ s lifting of rhetoric without attribution is especially damaging to the Illinois Democrat because his speeches have played an important role in his rise from state senator three years ago to Democratic presidential frontrunner.

"When you are running on your rhetoric and the power of your oratory," Wolfson said, "I think it undermines a central" element "of his candidacy."

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe held a conference call with reporters today that was meant to be dedicated to tomorrow’s primary in Wisconsin, but instead focused on the controversy and little else.

In Saturday’s speech at the Wisconsin Jefferson Jackson dinner Obama shot back at his critics’ charges that his campaign is about words, not action.

“Don’t tell me words don’t matter! ‘I have a dream’, just words?" he said. "‘We hold these truths to be self evident that all me are created equal’ – just words? ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself?’ – just words? Just speeches?”

Plouffe tried to explain away the similarities in those remarks to the 2006 Deval Patrick speech by pointing out that the Governor and Obama are friends, and they often share thoughts and words in speeches.

Plouffe then tried to turn the argument to Obama’s opponent. He argued that Clinton is not in a position to be outraged about plagiarism. This is a “curious charge coming from Senator Clinton when she has actually repeatedly throughout the campaign used the language Senator Obama has used.”

Plouffe charged several instances when he says “Senator Obama’s language has been copied by the Clinton campaign.”

When reporters asked for specific examples, Plouffe said they would be provided. 

Obama campaign national press secretary Bill Burton soon sent reporters an email with Clinton quotes that he argued were copied from Obama.

Those phrases include: “Fired up and ready to Go”, “Bring our country together,” “Yes we can,”  “We’ve got to turn the page on George Bush and Dick Cheney,” and “Turn the Page.”

With reporting by ABC News’ Jake Tapper.

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