Skip to content
Breaking News Alert This Week In Lawfare Land: What Happens Next?

Joe Biden Resurrects False College Claim That Helped Ruin His 1988 Presidential Run


Joe Biden is not the first person in his family to have gone to college. But he has a lengthy history of claiming otherwise, no matter how much the lie gets him in trouble.

Even after having famously admitted exactly 33 years ago to the day that he had family who had gone to college before him, Biden once again made the false claim at a CNN Town Hall on Thursday night.

Biden enthusiast Charlotte Alter, a national correspondent at Time magazine, tweeted out his line, apparently unaware of its role in Biden’s 1987 presidential campaign collapse:

Back in 1987, The New York Times published Biden’s quote admitting that was not true:

In addition, Mr. Biden said … he had miscast some of his own forebears, painting them as having rather more humble origins than they in fact did. 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.’

Among others, his great-grandfather attended college at a time in which fewer than 2 percent of college-aged men and women in the United States did so. Now it’s around 60 percent.

Anniversary Of Kinnock Plagiarism Scandal

Biden’s first failed run for the presidency was ended by his dishonesty over his academic record and his plagiarism, including the biography and speeches of British Labor politician Neil Kinnock.

On a campaign stop in New Hampshire in 1987, a voter asked Biden where he attended law school and where he placed in his class.

Biden lashed out at the man angrily, making a series of claims that were not true:

BIDEN: I think I probably have a much higher IQ than you do, I suspect. I went to law school on a full academic scholarship, the only one in my — in my class to have a full academic scholarship. In the first year in law school I decided didn’t want to be in law school and ended up in the bottom two-thirds of my class, and then decided I wanted to stay, went back to law school, and in fact ended up in the top half of my class. I won the international moot-court competition. I was the outstanding student in the political science department at the end of my year. I graduated with three degrees from undergraduate school and 165 credits — I only needed 123 credits. And I’d be delighted to sit down and compare my IQ to yours if you’d like Frank.

It turned out that Biden did not receive a full academic scholarship, but a half scholarship based on financial need. He did not end up in the top half of his class, but near the very bottom. There is no record of him winning the moot court competition. He did not receive the outstanding student award at the University of Delaware. And he graduated with only one degree.

Worse, a release of his academic records showed that Biden had plagiarized five pages of a law review article.

Biden was also busted for lifting lines from the speeches of British Labor politician Neil Kinnock and other politicians. In Kinnock’s case, he even took biographical details as his own, such as that he was the first member of his family to attend college. That was true for Kinnock, but it was not true for Biden, as he admitted in 1987.

This video shows examples of his plagiarism:

Media Ignorance of Biden History

The media praised Biden’s line about college, apparently unaware of its history. It was such big news at the time that even Johnny Carson mocked Biden for it. Politico’s Tim Alberta said it might be the “single-most effective line” deployed against Trump since his political career began.

“Nobody has ever prosecuted the case that Trump, beneath the Queens bluster, actually despises his base,” the “chief political correspondent” opined. Tara Setmayer, one of CNN’s Never Trump activists, agreed that it was an “excellent moment” for Biden.

The Washington Post’s “fact” “checker” watched the town hall and gave Biden high marks, gently dinging him for saying, for example, patently absurd things such as that no one would have died from the coronavirus if Donald Trump had “done his job.” Nevertheless, the overall review was kind.

“A Joe Biden town hall does not hit the Pinocchio meter as much as a Donald Trump town hall. Biden tends to stick close to the facts but occasionally gets carried away with some over-exuberance,” Glenn Kessler and Salvador Rizzo wrote. (For perspective, the Washington Post “fact” “checking” team has claimed, among other things, that Trump is lying to say that the Russia collusion probe was a “witch hunt” that hampered his ability to do his job.)

Kessler and Rizzo completely missed Biden’s false claim about college, even as they gently dinged him for erroneously saying that if he were elected he’d be the first president without an Ivy League degree. There are many without such a degree, including Ronald Reagan, they note.

But the famous false claim about being the first in his family to go to college was not even noticed by the vaunted “fact” “checkers.”

The Washington Post has covered the issue previously, however. In June of last year, the Washington Post mentioned Biden’s lie about college, in an article headlined “Echoes of Biden’s 1987 plagiarism scandal continue to reverberate.”

‘Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university?’ he asks in the speech. Referring to his ancestors, some of whom were coal miners, he adds: ‘Was it because all our predecessors were thick? . . . Those people who could sing and play and recite and write poetry? . . . Those people who could work eight hours underground and then come up and play football?’

In the other, Biden speaks at the close of a debate at the Iowa State Fair. ‘Why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university? . . . Is it because I’m the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree? That I was smarter than the rest? Those same people who read poetry and wrote poetry and taught me how to sing verse? Is it because they didn’t work hard? My ancestors, who worked in the coal mines of northeast Pennsylvania and would come up after 12 hours and play football for four hours?’

The article noted, “Biden also acknowledged that he had inaccurately appropriated some details of Kinnock’s life: While Biden was the first on his father’s side of the family to go to college, he was not the first in his whole family. And his ancestors had not been coal miners; rather, some were mining engineers.”

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 1983. 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.