It was a historic day for Oklahoma: The state’s first female governor had just been sworn into office and delivered an inaugural address about the challenges the state faces and how to move forward into a brighter future.
But it wasn’t long after Gov. Mary Fallin spoke those words that some started questioning whether a part of that speech was actually hers.
When Fallin gave her inaugural speech on Jan. 10, she concluded with an anecdote about her meeting Ed Vezey, a World War II veteran from Moore, who is believed to be the last living Oklahoman who was a crew member on the USS Oklahoma when the ship was attacked and sunk at Pearl Harbor.
In those closing remarks, Fallin talked about Vezey’s experiences when the ship was attacked and about his life since then, ending the story with “Ed has lived a wonderful, long life and he had a motto. And his motto was a simple one. He said, ‘Life is one whale of an adventure. Grab hold of it, and go with it.’” The local blog The Lost Ogle first posted similarities between the anecdote and a feature story filed by Gail Banzet, a reporter for public radio station KOSU, on Jan. 7 — three days before Fallin’s speech was delivered. Other media quickly picked up the inauguration speech story.
The story in Fallin’s speech and the KOSU story do share some similarities, including the final line of the KOSU story: “Few people get the chance to live a life like Ed’s and his motto is simple. ‘Life is one whale of an adventure. Grab hold and go with it,’ he said.”
KOSU is a member-supported public radio network featuring news and cultural programs from American Public Media, Public Radio International and independent producers, according to the station’s website.
In a written statement, KOSU Director Kelly Burley praised Vezey and said he was pleased that Vezey’s story was being shared.
“KOSU is very pleased that Governor Mary Fallin shared the deeply moving story of Ed Vezey in her first speech as Oklahoma governor,” Burley said. “Regardless of where and how it is shared, the story of Ed Vezey is what should merit our attention and gratitude and is at the heart of KOSU’s mission of exploration and discovery.”
Rachel Hubbard, KOSU’s associate director, told TV station KOKH that “we noticed some similarities with the story, but I’m not going to use the word ‘plagiarism,’ no.”
I cannot imagine Mary or any of her staff listening to KOSU.
Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz told Oklahoma Gazette that Fallin has met with Vezey several times in the past and his motto is something he regularly shares when recounting memories.
Vezey confirmed that he often says his motto when speaking publicly and that he has met now-Gov. Fallin on several occasions.
“I wouldn’t call us bosom buddies, but I really like the gal,” Vezey said. “I don’t remember specifically (telling Fallin his motto), but every time I stand up to speak, that’s going to be part of it, and she’s heard me speak more than once.”
Weintz said the speech was written by several people in Fallin’s office, including Fallin herself.
A statement later released by the governor’s office praised KOSU’s work and credited the story with helping inspire the speechwriters to mention the veteran, but misspelled his name.
“The Governor was moved by Ed’s personal story after running into him during the ceremony to dedicate the memorial to the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor,” the statement read. “His story, which was recently told as part of KOSU’s incredible ‘Voices of Oklahoma’ series by reporter Gail Banzet caught the attention of the Governor’s office and led to a discussion about incorporating it into her inaugural speech and ceremony, a large portion of which was dedicated towards thanking our military men and women for their service and sacrifice. We commend KOSU and especially reporter Gail Banzet for bringing Ed’s wonderful story to the attention of so many people and we give them credit for helping inspire the mention in the speech yesterday. We also thank Ed Vesey for being an outstanding role model and an inspiration to all Oklahomans and Americans.”
Vezey said he doubts that the part of the speech in question was lifted from the news story.
“As far as her stealing from KOSU, I cannot imagine Mary or any of her staff listening to KOSU,” Vezey said.