Two articles with an interesting contrast going on right now -- one on John McCain and a recent speech he gave on Georgia, and the other about a student expelled from Semester at Sea.
First, it appears that a speech given by John McCain on the Russian invasion of Georgia borrows, without attribution, from a Wikipedia article on Georgia (note-- for the Wikipedia article, I am linking to the revision current on the date of this blog post, as wikipedia articles change over time).
I first read about this at the Political Insider.
It appears that a Wikipedia editor pointed out the similarities. The Political Insider provides three example; the first two contain clear overlaps, where common phrases appear verbatim in both texts.
The third example provided on the Political Insider blog, however, is more interesting -- in the quotation, given below, I have highlighted all of the "to be" verbs in the Wikipedia version, and I have italicized two key structural elements:
Begin quoted excerpt
In 2003, Shevardnadze (who won reelection in 2000) was deposed by the Rose Revolution, after Georgian opposition and international monitors asserted that the 2 November parliamentary elections were marred by fraud (1). The revolution was led by Mikheil Saakashvili, Zurab Zhvania and Nino Burjanadze, former members and leaders of Shavarnadze's ruling party. Mikheil Saakashvili was elected as President of Georgia in 2004. Following the Rose Revolution, a series of reforms was launched to strengthen the country's military and economic capabilities (2). (Wikipedia)
Following fraudulent parliamentary elections (1) in 2003, a peaceful, democratic revolution took place, led by the U.S.-educated lawyer Mikheil Saakashvili. The Rose Revolution changed things dramatically and, following his election, President Saakashvili embarked on a series of wide-ranging and successful reforms (2). (McCain)
End quoted excerpt
A comparison of the two passages shows a reliance, in the Wikipedia quotation, on "to be" verbs. The McCain speech, however, uses none, and the resulting text of the speech is less verbose -- this is a common side effect, and benefit, of using fewer "to be" verbs: quicker, more active phrasing. However, the italicized phrases mark the organizational structure of the excerpt: Fraudulent parliamentary elections sparked the Rose Revolution --> which led to a series of reforms. This structure, along with a few key words, survives intact from the Wikipedia article to the McCain speech, and this is one of the more common forms of unintentional plagiarism that I saw back when I taught writing to high school students. Clearly, this concept is difficult for writers at all levels to master. On its own, this would certainly be a borderline case, and one that would merit a conversation on what constitutes original work, and what deserves citation. Within the context of the first two examples, however, this appears to be an extension of the plagiarism cited earlier.
And, on a related note, a student was recently expelled from the Semester at Sea program for plagiarizing from Wikipedia. Maybe we need to put all the speechwriters on a boat...