Saturday, October 4, 2008

VIDEO:Canada’s Prime Minister Called A Plagiarist

By Sharon Otterman

The rhetoric was stirring — as was the situation. On the eve of the United States-led invasion of Iraq, Stephen Harper, who was then the leader of the opposition in the Canadian parliament, took to the floor to express his support for military action, even though most Canadians and the government itself were against it.

“Iraq’s continued defiance of the community of nations presents a challenge which must be addressed,” Mr. Harper, who is now Prime Minister, said at the time.

There was only one problem. That line, along with dozens of others in the speech, now appear to have been taken verbatim from a speech delivered two days earlier by Prime Minister John Howard of Australia.

The accusation of plagiarism against Mr. Harper emerged on Tuesday in the middle of an often-bitter election campaign in Canada, pitting the Conservative party led by Mr. Harper primarily against the Liberal Party headed by Stephane Dion. It will be the third national election in Canada in just over four years.

The aide who was responsible for writing Mr. Harper’s speech, Owen Lippert, resigned his post on Tuesday as a researcher for the Conservative campaign. He acknowledged in a statement that he had been “overzealous in copying segments” of Mr. Howard’s speech, saying he had been “pressed for time.”

Mr. Lippert, who has a Ph.D. in modern European history from the University of Notre Dame and who worked at the Fraser Institute, Canada’s largest independent economic research organization, from 1994 to 2002, said he was to blame for the incident.

“Neither my superiors in the office of the leader of the opposition, nor the leader of the opposition, was aware that I had done so,” he said of the speech-copying.

The similarities between the speeches were discovered by Liberal Party researchers. The party has been eager to play up Mr. Harper’s continued support for the Iraq war, as well as other links between the Prime Minister and the deeply unpopular administration of President George W. Bush to the south.

A new ad on the Liberal Party’s Web site, called “Harpernomics and Bush,” alleges that both Mr. Harper and Mr. Bush support unregulated capitalism at the expense of social welfare. “They both give big polluters billions in tax dollars,” the ad claims.

The Liberal Party has released a YouTube video clip showing the two speeches being delivered side by side, with Mr. Howard and Mr. Harper echoing one another in a kind of musical fugue. The Toronto-based daily The Globe and Mail and other newspapers reported that many of the copied lines were also used in opinion columns that Mr. Harper submitted to newspapers like The Toronto Star, The National Post and The Ottawa Citizen.

While this kind of allegation would quickly become big news in America, its initial reception in Canada seems tepid. Most Canadian newspapers did not put articles about the speech copying on their front pages this morning, nor was it the lead political item on broadcast newscasts, according to The New York Times’s correspondent Ian Austen. However, that may change as the story is played prominently around the world, including on the BBC and CNN.

One reason for the global resonance may be that the incident calls to mind other painful examples of high-profile political plagiarism, like Senator Joe Biden’s uncredited borrowing from an election campaign speech by Neil Kinnock, the British Labor Party leader, in an Iowa presidential debate in 1987. That revelation led to published reports that Mr. Biden, now the Democratic nominee for vice president, had borrowed from other speakers without attribution as well, and even a claim that he had plagiarized while in law school. The spiraling allegations ultimately led to his decision to drop out of the 1988 presidential race.

Then there is the cut-and-paste variety of copying that has become so common in the Internet age, which generally consists of lifting information from open sources. While this may sometimes fall short of plagiarism, it still raises concerns among those who say that such material should be attributed, especially when a government appears to be passing off lifted information as its own research.

Perhaps the most prominent recent example of such creative borrowing took place in the run-up to the Iraq war, when the British government acknowledged that large sections of its February 2003 report, “Iraq: Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation,'’ was taken from several magazine articles without attribution, and had been spotted by critics of the government’s policy who had studied the documents. That report had been portrayed as an up-to-date assessment by the British intelligence services of Iraq’s security apparatus.

As The New York Times reported at the time, the Blair government did not deny that it had borrowed material from published sources. But its spokesman insisted that the government believed ‘’the text as published to be accurate'’ and that the document had been published because ‘’we wanted to show people not only the kind of regime we were dealing with, but also how Saddam Hussein had pursued a policy of deliberate deception.'’

Source: NyTimes.Com

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