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Of tapes and truth

SO it was, after all, a Dukakis aide who leaked the videotape that helped undo Joseph Biden's presidential bid. The cleverly edited tape illustrated how Senator Biden had lifted some of his rhetoric from a particularly well-received campaign commercial that British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock made for last June's election. Now there is some speculation that the Dukakis campaign might be the next to collapse.

But some perspective is in order here. The tape leak might best be characterized as a campaign dirty trick - not exactly gentlemanly behavior, but then the political process is not always gentlemanly. The best we can hope for is that it be free and open, so that truth can out.

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The fact remains that Biden did plagiarize, from Mr. Kinnock, from Robert Kennedy, and others. His campaign did not collapse because of anything anyone else did to him - as he, to his credit, acknowledged.

At the heart of such controversies lies a certain public ambivalence. We want to know but have misgivings about the methods used to find out. What would be the ``correct'' way for Biden's lifting from Kinnock to come to light? Should Mr. Dukakis have called a press conference to announce that his staff had been reviewing the Kinnock and Biden videotapes and had noticed some interesting coincidences? Was leaking the edited tape to some news organizations, as was done, less confrontational and hence somehow better?

And what of the press itself, and its research abilities? Copies of the Kinnock tape were circulating in the United States, and Britain is not exactly Outer Mongolia. Are the national and international desks at most news organizations so far apart that no one noticed Biden's borrowing from Kinnock?

This is not on the same order as the Biden or Hart ``character'' episodes. But Dukakis has done the honorable thing in apologizing to Biden and has accepted the resignation of the aide who leaked the tape. The campaign will go on - as will the process of national self-discovery that is American politics.

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