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Joe Biden's lengthy history of fabrication, plagiarism and racial controversy

In 1987, Biden said publicly that he marched during the civil rights movement but later admitted he was "not an activist" and he was "not out marching.”

Published: August 20, 2020 5:08pm

Updated: August 21, 2020 1:32am

Now officially the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden offered himself to Americans this week as an affable, trustworthy and experienced alternative for the White House. But his five-decade record in politics offers plenty of controversies ranging from insulting confrontations over IQ and race to fabrications and plagiarism. 

An episode from the first of his three runs for president provides a case study. Biden once sparred in 1987 with a political reporter who asked him about his law school record. A tart Biden responded that he “probably” had a “higher IQ” than the reporter. And he claimed he finished in the top half of his class.

It was later revealed that Biden was near the bottom of his law school graduating class at Syracuse University's College of Law, specifically 76 out of 85 students.

Biden also admitted that he had plagiarized during his first year at the institution.

“I was mistaken, but I was not in any way malevolent,” Biden explained.

The plagiarism tag would follow him into politics. Eventually it was also revealed that Biden had used quotes in speeches as a U.S. senator from Bobby Kennedy, John F. Kennedy and Neil Kinnock, a British Labour Party leader, without any attribution

Earlier this year, he faced plagiarism again when it was revealed his 2020 climate plan lifted some passages from other documents without attribution. The campaign corrected the error.

In 1987, Biden said he marched during the civil rights movement but some media outlets pointed out that was not the case.

“I was not an activist,” Biden explained at a news conference at the time. “I was not out marching.”

These controversies eventually forced Biden from the 1988 presidential race in September 1987.

“Although it’s awfully clear to me what choice I have to make, I have to tell you honestly I do it with incredible reluctance and it makes me angry. I’m angry with myself for having been put in the position -- put myself in the position of having to make this choice,'' Biden said.

''And I am no less frustrated at the environment of presidential politics that makes it so difficult to let the American people measure the whole Joe Biden and not just misstatements that I have made,” he added.

Biden has repeated the claim that he was involved in civil rights activism during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary on a few occasions. And his some of the most awkward apologies he’s been forced to make involve the issue of race.

During his 2008 run for president, Biden apologized for referring to his then-rival Sen. Barack Obama as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." It didn't go unnoticed.

While campaigning in New Hampshire, Biden told a supporter that "You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent” in Delaware.

And in May of this year, Biden told radio host Charlamagne the God, "You ain't black" if you vote against him, which sparked controversy. He later apologized for that statement too.

Exaggerations have also been flagged several times in his career. 

During a presidential primary debate in 2007, for instance, Biden revealed that he had been “shot at” while visiting Iraq. When records conflicted with his account, he later changed his story.

In 2019 during Biden’s Democratic primary run, the Washington Post reported that the former vice president told a fake war story on the campaign trail. Politifact rated the story he told as false. Biden has dismissed the criticism. 

In March of this year, Biden claimed he was arrested in South Africa while trying to see the anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela. His campaign later said it didn’t happen after the U.S. ambassador who was with him on the trip said the arrest story wasn't true.

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