Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden was on a roll during Thursday’s CNN town hall as he played up his working-class roots, until he repeated the long-debunked claim about being the first person in his family to attend college.
“Like, guys like me, were the first in my family to go to college,” said Mr. Biden after being asked about White privilege, adding, “We are as good as anybody else. And guys like Trump, who inherited everything and squandered what they inherited are the people that I’ve always had a problem with, not the people who are busting their neck.’
The Trump campaign was quick to flag the line, which Mr. Biden himself admitted was untrue in 1987 after his presidential campaign unraveled in a plagiarism scandal that saw him lift the remark from a speech by British Labour Party Leader Neil Kinnock.
“Joe Biden resurrected an old lie tonight, claiming he was ‘the first in my family to go to college,’” tweeted the Trump War Room. “In fact, Biden was forced to admit in 1987 after he plagiarized a British politician that that was not true.”
The incident drew attention to Mr. Biden’s history of plagiarism, both on the campaign trail and at Syracuse law school, as well as his penchant for embellishing the details of his personal life for dramatic effect.
He falsely claimed in 1987 exchange on the campaign trail in New Hampshire that he graduated in the top half of his law-school class—he graduated 76th out of 85—and that he attended on a full academic scholarship, although it turned out to be a half-scholarship based on financial need.
“Biden came clean about his plagiarism, his dishonesty about his academic record, and the fact that he was not the first person in his family to attend college back in ,” said the Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway in a Friday op-ed. “He even addressed the scandal, which forced him out of the presidential race, in a subsequent book. It is unclear why he has resurrected one of the false claims that got him in so much trouble 33 years ago.”
She also noted that several reporters praised Mr. Biden’s “first in my family” comment at the town hall, with Politico’s Tim Alberta tweeting Thursday that it “might be the single-most effective line deployed against Trump since he rode down the escalator.”
Mr. Biden’s 1988 Democratic presidential primary bid foundered after he said in a speech, “why is it that Joe Biden is the first person in his family ever to go to a university?” Reporters pointed out that Mr. Kinnock said earlier that year, “Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to a university?”
Mr. Biden later admitted that the claim was untrue in a 1987 interview with the New York Times.
“For example, borrowing Mr. Kinnock’s sentiments, Mr. Biden had said he was ‘the first in his family ever to go to university.’ In fact, Mr. Biden said today, ‘there are Finnegans, my mother’s family, that went to college,’” the newspaper reported.
Mr. Biden released law-school records showing that he lifted five pages from a published law-review article for a paper without adequate citation, according to 1987 news reports. He described the mistake as inadvertent.