BOISE -- Less than one month after losing the Republican primary in Idaho's 1st Congressional District, Vaughn Ward faces a new allegation of plagiarism after News Channel 7 discovered that Ward’s campaign kickoff speech mirrors that of a speech given by another congressional candidate in a district 25-hundred miles away.
Ward had already been accused of lifting the final passage of a now-famous speech by then-state Sen. Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and using it as his own in a speech that officially launched his run for Congress.
A close analysis of that speech now shows clear evidence that Ward’s text not only includes additional passages from the Obama speech, it also contains 15 virtually identical paragraphs from Pat Meehan, a Republican who is running for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 7th District.
Meehan delivered his speech on the front lawn of his Drexel Hill, Pa. home on September 14, 2009.
Four months later, Ward delivered his speech in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Boise on January 26, 2010.
Ward declined to go on the record Friday to explain the apparent blatant plagiarism, except to say that he had recently learned that his speech had been "outsourced.” But that explanation differs from what he said May 24 – the day before the primary – when first confronted with the Obama comparison. At that time Ward blamed his former campaign manager Ryan O’Barto.
“[O’Barto] took a speech that I wrote – a draft of core policies and things I wanted to say in our announcement speech – and he took and made some additions to the speech,” Ward said then. “[He] is no longer with the campaign.”
But in a telephone interview Wednesday, O’Barto said, “I did not write the speech.” He called again on Thursday to clarify his position: “Vaughn did not write the speech and I did not write the speech.”
O’Barto declined to say who did write it. “It was an internal campaign problem,” he repeated several times. Asked to explain what that meant, O’Barto said, “It's an internal campaign issue and that's the way I'm going to deal with it. That's the way it's going to stay from my end.”
O’Barto, who once served as an aide to Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, said he knows of Pat Meehan, but “I have never worked for him.”
Reached by phone at his suburban Philadelphia, Pa. home, Meehan confirmed that he and his campaign staffers wrote the speech he delivered. Despite repeated attempts to obtain a copy of the raw, unedited video of the speech, Meehan's press secretary could not locate one. Meehan did, however, verify that the text available online is what he read last fall. An edited video story done by Meehan's campaign is posted on his Web site and includes some sound bites that match his text.
"I'm flattered someone looked at the ideas we put forth,” Meehan said, “but I can't control what happens once we put them out on the Internet."
Meehan says he has never heard of Ryan O’Barto and was unaware that his speech had been copied until contacted by KTVB this week.
When O'Barto was asked if a possible reason for not being more forthcoming about the authorship of the speech was because he hoped to maintain a future relationship with the Republican Party, he answered: “I have no comment.”
Later, O’Barto added: “I'm just trying to move on with everything here. I don’t want to be in the news. It’s just not good for me. I just want to get past all of this.”
Ward blames loss on mash-up, media
Considered the front-runner in his 1st District Republican race against eventual winner Raul Labrador, Ward found himself dealing with a series of public gaffes, the last of which was a video posted on YouTube by Labrador supporter and fellow Republican Lucas Baumbach. In it, Baumbach mashed together video of Ward delivering the final passage of his speech side-by-side with video of Obama's speech to reveal how the two mirrored each other.
NewsChannel 7 reporter Nishi Gupta asked Ward to explain the word-for-word comparison. Ward said:
“That comes back to a process that was changed, a leadership that was changed inside the campaign I dealt with decisively when we had these issues arise. We're talking about something here that's already two weeks old, something we've already discussed on the campaign and on Channel 7 during our debate I said: 'Listen, I take full responsibility for everything that happens on this campaign.' And during that time that dealt with this issue. The same person who was involved in that is no longer a staffer on the campaign, same person who was dealt with writing the speech at the end.”
On the day after his loss, after the Baumbach video had gone viral – even Jay Leno had used it as the set-up to a joke on The Tonight Show – Ward said that he had tried to move past the issue, “but unfortunately that was too little, too late. I think we all know that and there’s not much else to be said.”
He had more to say, however, three days later when, in an interview with the Washington, D.C.-based news and blog site The Daily Caller, Ward said Baumbach spliced "together the common words and rhetoric from the two speeches to make it appear that they were identical. It wasn't true. It's now been self-admitted by the people who designed it. It was a piece of propaganda. That's their own words they used. And they used it to blow me apart. And they did.”
In several conversations with members of KTVB's staff and in at least one radio interview, Ward never denied speaking the words he is seen delivering opposite Obama in the Baumbach video.
But in the Daily Caller interview, Ward pointed fingers at the media in general, and KTVB in particular:
"We asked the media to conduct some due diligence prior to running the propaganda. No due diligence occurred until after the election when the creator proudly boasted of his accomplishment. The largest station in our state headlined this story and played the propaganda video over and over."
For the record, KTVB aired the story once - in the News at Ten on the night before the primary. The story did not run in the next morning's newscast, nor did it appear on KTVB.COM until after the polls closed.
Baumbach stands by his 'propaganda' video
Baumbach did, in fact, tell the Spokesman-Review’s Betsy Russell that his video “wasn’t accurate - it was a piece of propaganda.”
But in two separate interviews with KTVB this week, Baumbach stood by his video while acknowledging that he should have been more careful in his choice of words.
“My definition of propaganda differs from what maybe some people's sense of it is. Pretty much, everything out there is propaganda and I think you need to sift through it and decide what's true and what's not true. I did not intend for people to come off with the impression that I was a liar or a cheat or that I was smearing people.”
Baumbach said his video was - and is - a fair representation of what Ward said. He noted that he ended his video with a billboard that cited all sources used to create his mash-up.
“I didn't mean that I was lying; I didn't mean that I was trying to make anybody look worse than they already made themselves look. It wasn’t accurate in that I didn’t show everything. I left things out. The video speaks for itself.”
“I learned that you do need to be sensitive to words,” Baumbach concluded. “ The meaning of words are important. I shouldn't have used the word propaganda if that led people to believe that they were duped and they were stupid to change their vote. I think that the video was true.”
Ward parrots what Democrat John Kerry believes
When the entire Ward speech is examined line-by-line in comparison to Obama's, it is clear that Baumbach’s video only reveals the last section of the speeches and that there were more examples he did not even know about - not only in word-for-word similarities but in the structure of the speeches.
In one section, Ward talks about beliefs in America that mimic what Obama says are John Kerry's beliefs in America. Kerry was the Democratic Party's presidential nominee in 2004.
In another section, Obama's experience at a factory echoes a vignette Ward tells six years later that raises the question whether Ward's meeting actually happened, or was mimeographed solely to be used as a speech illustration, with minor adjustments to account for geography.
Barack Obama's 2004 speech:
We have more work to do. More work to do for the workers I met in Galesburg, Illinois, who are losing their union jobs at the Maytag plant that's moving to Mexico and now are having to compete with their own children for jobs that pay 7 bucks an hour; more to do for the father I met who was losing his job and choking back the tears wondering how he would pay $4,500 a month for the drugs his son needs without the health benefits that he counted on.
Vaughn Ward's 2010 speech:
We have work to do for the high-tech workers that I have met in the Treasure Valley. Their jobs are moving overseas and they now compete with their children for jobs that pay minimum wage. You know, I’m reminded of in Nampa I met a family who had a small business, 40-year family business, and I met and talked to the mother and the father who owned it, the husband and wife, and it was failing. And they choked back tears, saying, ‘We don’t know what’s next. What do we do?’ We have work to do for them.
Such examples, none of which are in Baumbach's video, appear to make a strong case that the Ward author plagiarized Obama when writing Ward's speech.
Boise State University English professor Mike Markel reviewed the Ward and Obama speeches, at KTVB's request.
"Although you cannot ever definitively prove plagiarism from internal evidence alone, I would say it is very likely that whoever wrote the second speech was working with a copy of the first speech before him or her," Dr. Markel said.
Jonathan Bailey, who founded Plagiarism Today, a company based in suburban New Orleans, La. that specializes in tracking and stopping the misuse of copyright information, says he is seeing more incidents of political speechwriters or volunteers “interjecting plagiarized material into campaigns, not just in speeches but also Web sites and other campaign literature.”
When KTVB transcribed Ward's speech and pasted the script into Grammarly, a Web site that specializes in detecting plagiarism, it flagged the document as being plagiarized and linked to Pat Meehan’s Pennsylvania campaign page that included the verbatim of his kickoff speech, available to anyone with access to the Internet.
In the side-by-side inspection of Meehan's speech as compared to Ward, it is clear there was no effort to re-work or change the replications - even when the narratives appear to be personal. An example:
Pat Meehan's 2009 speech:
I have looked the citizens of this Commonwealth in the eye as they have shared with me their deepest fears and their greatest hopes. They have told me they feel as if their voice just isn’t being heard in Washington, that the representatives they have elected have sold them out to the special interests, that government now seems to be something that is imposed on them, rather than something that is working for them.
Vaughn Ward's 2010 speech:
I’ve looked the citizens of Idaho in the eye and they have shared with me their deepest fears and their greatest hopes. They have told me they feel as if their voices are falling on deaf ears in Washington, and that their current representative is a part of the problem, and that their government now seems to be something that is imposed on them rather than something that is for them.
Ward said in his May 24 KTVB interview that the things he had been talking about on the campaign had 'come from the heart."
The full, unedited texts of Ward's, Meehan's, and Obama's speeches are available to allow readers the opportunity to do their own review, conduct their own line-by-line comparisons, and make their own judgments whether Ward plagiarized the others and whether Baumbach's video wasn't true, as Ward now claims.
When the passages from Meehan's and Obama's speeches are stripped out of Ward's 1,464 word speech, less than 25% of the text remains - text that could reasonably be characterized as original.
O'Barto, who says he resigned and was not fired by Ward when he left the campaign less than two weeks before the primary, held firm Thursday in refusing to reveal who authored Ward's speech. "People who know about politics know what really happened."
"It's an internal campaign issue and whether it makes sense to [the public], I have no other comment on anything else." O'Barto said he is moving from Boise to start a new job at a consulting firm in Washington, D.C.
Vaughn Ward said on April 30: “We need to elect leaders who believe in transparency, who believe in holding themselves accountable to a higher standard. These are important things that I think – that’s why people are so upset with our current government. They say, ‘I don’t believe them anymore.’”
- YouTube: Obama 2004 speech at Democratic National Convention
- YouTube: Lucas Baumbach: Ward plagiarizes Obama in announcement speech