5 times politicians were accused of plagiarizing
From Joe Biden to Ursula von der Leyen, politicians across the world have been copy-pasting content.
There’s been an epidemic … of political plagiarism.
On Wednesday, online magazine Reporter revealed just two of the of the 56 pages in Luxembourgish Prime Minister Xavier Bettel’s university dissertation weren’t plagiarized — to which he admitted he “could have — yes, maybe should have” done things differently.
It wasn’t the first time (and surely won’t be the last) a prominent politico was accused of copy-paste piracy, so we dug up some of the most eyebrow-raising cases from recent years.
Annalena Baerbock’s book bust
German Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock’s campaign for the Chancellery was beset by self-inflicted problems. Amid a scandal over stuffing her résumé with false information, it was also revealed that some parts of her book “Now. How We Renew Our Country,” couldn’t be ascribed to her and her alone.
The plagiarism findings, outlined in a blog post by Austrian media researcher and “plagiarism hunter” Stefan Weber, identified that several passages from the book were directly lifted from other sources without proper attribution. Sources ranged from media publications like magazine Der Spiegel and the Tagesspiegel newspaper to the Federal Agency for Civic Education, a government body.
“The accusations are without any basis,” a lawyer for the Greens said, referring to the allegations as an attempt at “character assassination.”
Baerbock later admitted she had been negligent, telling newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung she deliberately used publicly available sources: “Looking back, it would certainly have been better if I had worked with a list of references,” she said.
Hungarian President Pál Schmitt resigns
More than 200 of the 215-page doctoral thesis written by former President of Hungary Pál Schmitt contained elements of plagiarism, Hungarian outlet HVG weekly reported in 2012 — and a whopping 16 pages were word-for-word copies.
The former Olympic fencer initially shrugged off allegations, claiming they were “unfounded” and lamenting he had been called “a cheat” by members of parliament before an official investigation even started.
Protests broke out throughout the country following the allegations, and Semmelweis University in Budapest swiftly stripped the president of his doctorate. Schmitt was pressured to resign, but said he’d rather go to court to prove he was right.
Schmitt’s indignation didn’t last long. Three days after Viktor Orbán told a local radio station it was up to the president whether or not to step down, the president issued a statement: “My personal issue divides my beloved nation rather than unites it. It is my duty to end my service and resign my mandate as president,” he said.
Joe Biden’s campaign blunder
It’s quite something to be accused of serial plagiarism by former White House counselor and “alternative facts” aficionado Kellyanne Conway.
The former Donald Trump staffer criticized then-Democratic nominee Joe Biden in October 2020 for copying Trump’s “America First” policies, saying his “Build Back Better” agenda was “plagiarizing” the president.
In an attempt to back up her claims Biden was a serial offender, Conway brought up a speech from 1987 that ended Biden’s first bid for the American presidency.
Campaigning for the Democratic nomination against Michael Dukakis, Biden was widely panned for copying several passages from a speech by former U.K. Labour leader Neil Kinnock without attribution. In 2020, however, Conway’s broadside led Kinnock to come out in full-throated support for Biden: He told the Guardian he always regarded the incident as an innocent mistake, saying: “Joe’s an honest guy.”
Labour MP channels inner Obama
Many politicians could only dream of delivering a speech with the same gravitas as Barack Obama, but winning her own election gave U.K. Labour MP Kate Osamor the confidence to channel her inner President.
After being reelected as an MP in 2017, Osamor gave a speech to her constituency using one of Obama’s post-victory speeches in Chicago. The changes Osamor made to the passages from Obama’s speech were minor: She replaced “America” with “Edmonton,” her British constituency.
“If there is anyone out there who doubts that Edmonton is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of hope is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy?” she recited. “Tonight is your answer.”
Osamor was widely ridiculed. The speech prompted a spokesperson to claim she was only trying to invoke the spirit of a victory speech she thought “needed no introduction.”
Following the gaffe, Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen channeled his own former senior U.S. politician, saying: “They say plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery — but Kate Osamor is no Barack Obama.”
Incumbent President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, during her time as defense minister of Germany, was accused of plagiarizing the work of a law professor who published his findings online.
A blog dedicated to uncovering plagiarism in academic publications analyzed von der Leyen’s dissertation and claimed that up to 12 percent was plagiarized.
After an investigation, the Hannover Medical School said von der Leyen could keep her doctorate despite “obvious flaws” in her dissertation, further stating “the pattern of the plagiarism does not indicate a fraudulent intent.”
“This was a mistake, not misconduct,” the University’s president told die Zeit.
Von der Leyen is part of a long list of German officials accused of plagiarizing content, including Annalena Baerbock.
Earlier this year, German family minister Franziska Giffey stepped down over suspicions she’d plagiarized her doctoral thesis. In 2011, Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned after it was discovered his thesis contained plagiarized passages, and two years later, then-Education Minister Annette Schavan also stepped down in similar circumstances.