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It was 33 years ago this week that Joe Biden’s first of three presidential campaigns was embroiled in a plagiarism scandal, one that would torpedo the bid in controversy. While journalists and late night hosts in 2020 don’t seem interested in revisiting the scandal, it’s worth remembering that Johnny Carson had no problem mocking Biden in 1987. 

The Tonight Show star zinged: 

 

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Now on the political scene, one of the Democratic candidates is Senator Joseph Biden. Have you seen the problem he’s been having? He went around and made a speech, and apparently he quoted a British politician, took his speech and paraphrased it as his own. And the press got on him and he was also charged with taking part of Bobby Kennedy’s speeches. And Biden says, “Not to worry.” He reassured his staff, he said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” 

The Biden for President in ‘88 campaign imploded and didn’t even make it into calendar year 1988. This all happened after it was revealed that the Democrat stole portions of the life story of British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock without attribution and appropriated them as his own. 

As MRC Research Director Rich Noyes and I wrote in a study for NewsBusters last year: “Side-by-side clips showed Biden aping Kinnock talking about his wife being the first in her family to go to college, and about his ancestors playing football for hours after a long day of working in the mines.” 

Here’s a video montage created by the MRC’s Bill D’Agostino: 

 

 

Unlike in 2020, journalists and late night hosts in 1987 actually slammed Biden for the rhetorical theft. As we said last year: 

On the September 18 Good Morning America, ABC correspondent Jeff Greenfield (a former Robert Kennedy speechwriter) said Biden’s plagiarism of other politicians “suggests there is a kind of emptiness that you will fill with whatever sounds good.” On the same show, PBS commentator David Gergen suggested “voters are going to have to decide whether he was dishonest or dumb.”        

Today’s journalists, just like 2020 late night comedy hosts, can’t be bothered to vet Biden. That might risk being accused of helping Donald Trump. 

Here’s the transcript of Carson’s Tonight Show joke: 

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
09/16/1987

JOHNNY CARSON: Now on the political scene, one of the Democratic candidates is Senator Joseph Biden. Have you seen the problem he’s been having? He went around and made a speech, and apparently he quoted a British politician, took his speech and paraphrased it as his own. And the press got on him and he was also charged with taking part of Bobby Kennedy’s speeches. And Biden says, “Not to worry.” He reassured his staff, he said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” 

For more examples from our FLASHBACK series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.


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