An unwarranted shot at McCain

CQ’s “Political Insider” asks whether John McCain “plagiarized” his speech today on the crisis in Georgia. The better question is why CQ is peddling what appears to be a non-story.

The CQ post cites three instances of statements in McCain’s speech that it thinks may be problematic in light of a Wikipedia article about Georgia. In two instances, McCain did use language similar to that which appears in Wikipedia. But the two instances are merely statements (1) that Georgia was one of the first countries to adopt Christianity as its official religion and (2) that Georgia had a brief period of independence after the Russian revolution that ended when Soviet troops invaded, and that Georgia didn’t regain its independence until 1991 at which time the country experienced some instability. In the third instance, which deals with basic facts about the Rose revolution, McCain’s language does not track Wikipedia’s.

CQ’s suggestion of wrongdoing by McCain strikes me as ridiculous. The information that the McCain campaign apparently obtained from Wikipedia is simple factual background material. Would it be improper for a candidate to say, based on research in an encyclopedia, that “XXXXX is a land of approximately __ million people and has been at peace with its neighbors since the YYYY war of 18__? That’s essentially all McCain was doing here. The idea that he should have cited Wikipedia as his source for basic factual information about Georgia is absurd. In almost 50 years of listening to political candidates, I’ve never heard one cite a source for this sort of background information.

CQ’s Taegan Goddard wonders “whether a presidential candidate should base policy speeches on material from Wikipedia.” But McCain was not basing any policy prescription on the (apparently accurate) background information contained in Wikipedia — e.g., the fact that Georgia adopted Christianity early on or that it gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Rather it is clear from the face of the speech that McCain has first hand knowledge of the current situation in Georgia, having met, he says, with President Saakashvili “many times, including during several trips to Georgia.” CQ elects to omit this fact.

This story, then, looks like much ado about nothing, and I’m surprised that CQ decided to run it.

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