Fact check: Clinton campaign’s fingerprints appear on plagiarism charge against Obama

CLEVELAND — Hillary Rodham Clinton says reporters, not her campaign, uncovered evidence of Democratic rival Barack Obama sharing speech lines with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

She made the claim Tuesday despite the fact her campaign posted video clips on YouTube illustrating similarities in the speeches and has suggested in several instances that the shared lines amount to plagiarism.

THE SPIN: “It’s not us making this charge, it’s the media,” Clinton told Honolulu television station KITV Tuesday. “The media is finally examining my opponent which I think is important. We’re trying to pick a president, someone for the toughest job in the world.”

She added: “I think the media is going to be putting forth whatever facts and information it has for voters to assess on their own.”

In an interview with another Honolulu station, KGMB, Clinton noted that Obama and Patrick share a strategist, David Axelrod, “who is apparently putting words in both of their mouths.”

She added: “I think that’s a serious concern.”

FACT CHECK: Any suggestion that the story had a life of its own, apart from the Clinton campaign, is disingenuous.

The Associated Press, the Boston Globe and other news organizations have reported on instances in which Obama used some of Patrick’s speech lines — often without attribution.

In the latest example, from a Democratic Party dinner Saturday night in Milwaukee, Obama repeated almost word for word part of a speech Patrick gave in 2006 extolling the importance of powerful oratory in politics. This was to rebut Clinton’s charge that rhetoric is less important than results.

The New York Times reported the speech similarities Monday, having looked into them the day before. The story said the similarities “were highlighted by a rival campaign that did not want to be identified.” The common lines were not characterized as plagiarism in the story.

Patrick, a friend and supporter of Obama, said he encouraged the candidate last week to respond to Clinton’s criticisms about his rhetoric, as he has done before. He said he shared lines from his 2006 campaign for governor with Obama’s speechwriters and wanted no credit, because the two men often swap ideas.

The Clinton campaign jumped on the matter. Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson held an hourlong conference call about it Monday and repeated many of the charges during another call Tuesday.

“Senator Obama is running on the strength of his rhetoric and the strength of his promises and, as we have seen in the last couple of days, he’s breaking his promises and his rhetoric isn’t his own,” Wolfson told reporters Monday.

Wolfson added: “It raises questions about the premise of his candidacy.”

And Clinton told reporters Monday night: “If your whole candidacy is about words, those words should be your own. That’s what I think.”

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said: “Senator Clinton knows full well that her campaign held a conference call with reporters to fan these flames and the fact that she suggested her campaign had nothing to do with it is exactly the kind of evasive tactic voters are rejecting.”

Obama said Monday he wished he’d credited Patrick. He noted Clinton occasionally has used lines similar to his in her speeches.

By Beth Fouhy

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