Stumped Speech

For Rand Paul, Footnotes Do Not Equal Accuracy

Sen. Rand Paul made his first major speech since being embroiled in a plagiarism scandal, going out of his way to provide footnotes to sources. But the facts still weren’t right.

Senator Rand Paul gave his first major speech in the wake of a recent plagiarism scandal Tuesday to cadets at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. But while his staff added 33 footnotes to the publicly released version of his speech about U.S. foreign policy, just because everything was correctly cited didn’t necessarily make it accurate.

The Kentucky senator’s speech included extensive citations in the wake of Paul being exposed as a serial plagiarizer by a number of outlets including Buzzfeed and MSNBC. In his defense, Paul initially dismissed these concerns as attacks from “haters." But, after losing his column from the Washington Times, Paul acknowledged that “mistakes” were made and said he would restructure his office.

The restructuring seemed to be effective so far in that the content of Paul’s speech was entirely original. But, some of the arguments that the Kentucky senator made did not match the facts associated with his own footnotes.

For example, in the following two sentences about Egypt, Paul makes at least four factual errors.

“In Egypt recently, we saw a military coup that this Administration tells us is not a military coup. In a highly unstable situation, our government continued to send F-16s, Abrams tanks and American-made tear gas,” Paul said.

In fact, the State Department has repeatedly said it would not weigh in on whether the July overthrow of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was a “coup,” deciding that the administration was not required to make a determination one way or the other.

Following the military takeover of the Egyptian government, the administration quietly halted all shipments of heavy weapons to Egypt, mostly adhering to a law requiring a cutoff of military aid to any country that has experienced a coup, while maintaining a position of ambiguity over whether a coup had taken place.

Moreover, last month, the administration publicly announced it would continue its suspension of several categories of military aid to Egypt, including the F-16 fighter jets and Abrams tanks that Paul said Tuesday had continued. The administration is hoping to continue some military aid related to counterterrorism and other issues, but is seeking specific authority from Congress for those items.

In addition, the ABC News report Paul cites in his footnotes for this information is from 2011 and only mentions that U.S. made tear gas was used in the Egyptian revolution that occurred two years ago, well before Morsi’s election or his overthrow.

Paul’s statements on the U.S.’s Syria policy are equally problematic.

“As we continue to aid and arm despotic regimes in Egypt, we are also now sending weapons to the rebels in Syria,” Paul said. “According to a recent poll from Pew Research, over 70 percent of Americans are against arming the Islamic rebels in Syria, yet the Senate continues to arm these Islamic radicals. [15] [16] This is unacceptable!”

The Obama administration has sent little, if any, weapons to the Syrian rebels, something that has angered several Republican colleagues of Paul, most notably Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). The Free Syrian Army, the armed wing of the Syrian opposition has received only Meals Ready to Eat, first aid kits, and 10 pickup trucks. The CIA is reported to be vetting some arms shipments to the rebels coming from third countries such as Saudi Arabia, but the White House has repeatedly shot down State Department proposals to arm the Syrian rebels.

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Paul also incorrectly quotes the Pew poll that he footnotes. The Pew Research Center wrote “overall, 70% oppose the U.S. and its allies sending arms and military supplies to anti-government groups in Syria.” Paul instead used the phrase “Islamic rebels” to substitute for “anti-government groups.”

The Kentucky senator then explicitly linked these Islamic rebels to al-Qaeda, asking “How can we ask our brave men and women to fight against al-Qaeda in some countries, while arming al-Qaeda in other countries? It makes no sense. I for one am not inclined to have America become the Air Force for al-Qaeda.”

He neglected to note that the U.S. is legally barred from providing assistance to al-Qaeda, or its affiliates in Syria, namely the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the al-Nusrah front, which has been designated as a terrorist group by the State Department.

Perhaps the most confusing part of Paul’s speech is a passage about Benghazi where the Kentucky senator contradicts himself in back-to-back sentences.

“When Hillary Clinton was asked for more security, she turned the Ambassador down. [27] Under cross-examination, she admitted that she never read the cables asking for more security. [28],” Paul said.

The article Paul footnotes as proof for his first sentence explains that witnesses were “expected” to testify that Clinton was personally involved in the refusals to place more security in Benghazi in the attack; not that this was a fact. The second sentence confirms that Clinton was not personally involved in the Benghazi security request, refuting what Paul said one sentence earlier.

The Kentucky’s senator commitment to footnote his speeches to back up his statements is an impressive step towards transparency. In doing so, it seems Paul may have neglected accuracy in his attempt to ensure originality.