Accuracy in Media

Senate Republicans have suffered a lot of embarrassment over the antics of Sen. Larry Craig, a pro-family politician who played footsy with another man in a bathroom. But the Democrats have their own embarrassments, and one of them is presidential candidate Senator Joseph Biden, their leading foreign policy “expert.” His logic was on display on Sunday’s Meet the Press, where the long-time Delaware Senator, who now chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was asked by host Tim Russert about changing his position on setting a deadline for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. Two years ago he said that setting a deadline for withdrawal would “encourage our enemies to wait us out.” Now he says the war must “end now.” Biden replied, “Well, I have changed my mind, but I haven’t changed my mind in any fundamental way.” 

Over a year ago this double-talker put his name on a plan by Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. Biden calls the plan, which is only three pages long, the “Biden-Gelb plan.” Biden has a habit of claiming credit for other peoples’ ideas. In this case, however, the main idea isn’t worth much. It is to turn Iraq over to the United Nations and the “international community” and divide the country up.  

Biden’s knee-jerk response in support of the U.N. playing a larger role in world affairs is also reflected in his decision to push for Senate ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). He has reportedly scheduled a stacked hearing on September 27 to push the pact through. A full Senate vote could follow quickly thereafter. This treaty would turn over management of the oceans to the world body. It could jeopardize American access to oil, gas and precious minerals, and put the legality of U.S. Navy maneuvers on the high seas before foreign judges running U.N. tribunals and panels.  

One has to have sympathy for Biden, who has suffered through some terrible adversities, including the death of his first wife and a daughter, and a brain aneurysm. But sympathy should not translate into excusing or rationalizing his public record and utterances. To cite the most recent example, Biden has just released a book acknowledging that he wasn’t the sole author of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This bill was Biden’s signature legislation. It resulted in tons of favorable publicity for him. But the book, Promises to Keep, reveals on page 240 that a female staffer was actually involved in drafting the legislation. 

“The staffer, Victoria Nourse, and I wrote” the legislation, says Biden. However, his presidential website gives Biden sole credit for the legislation. It quotes Biden as saying that “What I’m most proud of in my entire career was writing the Violence Against Women’s Act because it is evidence we can change people’s lives, but the change is always one person at a time.” The term “writing,” as commonly understood, means that he wrote it. His office sent out a release calling the senator the “author” of the legislation. But “author,” like the term “writer,” has a definite meaning.  

Some politicians take credit for the work that their staffers do. But when the politician is someone like Biden, who appears on Sunday talk shows as a foreign policy expert and runs the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate, the matter takes on more importance and urgency. 

It’s true that Biden “introduced” VAWA. It is also accurate to say that he sponsored it. But to have paraded around the country for many years claiming to be the “author” or “writer” of the bill diminished the work of the female staffer who had been doing the bulk of the work behind the scenes. Later in the book, Biden refers to Nourse as his “lead staffer” on the bill, but that description, too, diminishes her work in this area.  

In my search for occasions in which Biden gave credit to Nourse for her role in the legislation, I found a 1993 Senate document in which the Senator acknowledged, “For the past three years, Victoria Nourse has served as my chief advisor on this issue, among others. She has played a critical role in the development and drafting of the Violence Against Women Act and has worked tirelessly to promote its passage.” This document was posted on an obscure University of Maryland women’s studies website.  

So why would Biden admit the truth in the book? It was obviously because he didn’t want another controversy to haunt him as he campaigned for the presidency again. What’s more, Victoria Nourse, who is now a Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin, says on her website that she “assisted” in drafting VAWA. So this had become an open secret. Clearly, she was far more than a mere “staffer.” She had the expertise on this issue that Biden so clearly lacked.  

This controversy is relevant because Biden tries in the book to come to grips with the plagiarism that has dogged him throughout his career. For example, he says that he “botched” a paper in law school and that “one of my classmates accused me of lifting passages from a Fordham Law Review article…” Biden says that he had “cited the article, but not properly” and was told that he would have to “retake the course next year.” In other words, he flunked. This incident has been written up extensively and the facts are well-known. Biden had cited the article but had quoted from it extensively, making it seem as though the words from the article were his own. That’s not sloppy work. It’s plagiarism.  

Biden also deals with the case which figured prominently in his withdrawal from the 1988 presidential race, in which he plagiarized a speech by a British politician, Neil Kinnock. Biden used Kinnock’s words to describe his own background and upbringing. Biden insists that he didn’t credit Kinnock on only one occasion, and this was the incident that the media jumped on. But why was he quoting from a biographical speech by Kinnock in the first place? Didn’t Biden have his own story to tell? In another case, a reporter asked about Biden using a Bobby Kennedy quote without attribution. Biden blames this on “one of my speechwriters” who “had inserted an RFK line” into the speech “without telling me.”  

This is the closest Biden comes to admitting he doesn’t write his own material, and that he repeats what others put in front of him.  

Another odd thing about the book, as noted by Christi Parsons of the Chicago Tribune, is that the senator offers only one acknowledgment at the end of the book. Biden says that a writer and documentary filmmaker named Mark Zwonitzer “helped to refine and arrange the stories I wanted to tell into an overall narrative.” Zwonitzer is credited with having “transcribed” and “polished” Biden’s stories in the book. Biden also calls him a fact-checker. It sounds like Zwonitzer was denied due credit as a co-author. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time Biden took credit for the work of others.  

Which is why it is amazing that the Bush Administration is using a flawed vessel like Biden in an effort to pass the Law of the Sea treaty and give the U.N. control over the oceans. Conservatives will remember that it was Biden who helped lead the effort to sabotage President Bush’s nomination of John Bolton as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.  

One hopes that somebody in the media will ask Biden and other senators whether they have read the 202-page treaty document and know who actually wrote it. For that answer, please go to this (PDF) report. This treaty, negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations, was written by advocates of world government.

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