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Media Blows Rand Paul Plagiarism 'Scandal' Out of Proportion

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published

As a writer and an editor, plagiarism is considered a serious offense. It is the Eleventh Commandment: "Thou Shall Not Plagiarize."

No writer, nor speech giver, wants to be accused of plagiarism because it could have lasting implications on the person's reputation, especially if said person is looking to become the next President of the United States. Recently, on the Rachel Maddow Show, it was revealed that U.S. Senator Rand Paul had plagiarized portions of movie descriptions on the Wikipedia pages for Gattaca and Stand and Deliver during some of his speeches.

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First, stop calling movie descriptions "speeches." It is not like he ripped off the Gettysburg Address or even some college valedictorian's graduation speech. He recited, nearly verbatim, the description of movies which, if nothing else, says Rand Paul -- or his speech writer -- doesn't watch movies often and doesn't want to take the time to watch them.

Is it plagiarism? Yes. Does Rand Paul deserve criticism? Yes. Not only for the plagiarism, but for using Wikipedia as his source. This is in no way a defense for his actions. If it was a speech writer, should he or she be fired? Probably. Is the mainstream media overreacting to this? No question.

The story has been picked up not only by sources one would expect, like Huffington Post, but by USA Today and the Washington Post because the headline people are running with is, "Rand Paul lifted his antiabortion speech from the Wikipedia page for a science fiction movie." One would certainly think that meant his entire speech.

Yes, a potential candidate for president doesn't want to be caught plagiarizing, especially from Wikipedia, but if ripping off movie descriptions is the worst offense then it certainly shouldn't be the big scandal Maddow wants it to be. And, while she says Rand Paul will have to answer to someone for this, conventional wisdom says he probably won't because it won't be an issue in 2016.

Now, if Maddow wanted to highlight solely the problem with comparing abortion today with the Authoritarian state in Gattaca, that would have been one thing, but instead she went a different route with it because it is easy to turn a minor thing into a scandal while ignoring the bigger issues for the sake of ratings.

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