Plagiarism is considered academic dishonesty and a breach of journalistic ethics; however, many famous authors such as Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Goethe, Rousseau, Alexandre Dumas, Jack London, T. S. Eliot, and many others were accused of plagiarism.
This week The Daily Caller and other media sources reported repeated plagiarism from the liberal The Daily Beast by veteran reporter Lizzie Crocker. Lizzie was fired but often the stealing from others is only worth a slap on the wrist. Often, a very slight slap on the wrist.
Plagiarism in the first century literally meant kidnapper to denote stealing someone’s literary work. The Roman poet Martial complained that another poet had “kidnapped his verses.”
In my research, I have discovered many plagiarized works even going back to ancient Greece and Rome. Some of the ancient historians were world famous kidnappers.
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Historian Will Durant reported that the major author of the Middle Ages Geoffrey Chaucer took material from others–2,730 lines for his finest single poem and thousands of lines from others!
Some slack is given the ancient plagiarists because of the circumstances of their day and because copyright was not known. There was no legal precedent for dealing with the theft of literary property.
In modern days, there is no excuse.
H. G. Wells authored A Short History of the World, The Outline of History, (written in six months!) and was the source of the famous radio drama War of the Worlds. He pilfered his Outline of History from Florence Deeks! Wells even passed on mistakes that Deeks had made!
Albert Einstein based his theory of relativity on Henri Poincare’s work but Einstein did not mention the man or others to whom he was indebted.
Famous historian Stephen Ambrose wrote Band of Brothers, and Crazy Horse and Custer,and award-winning biographies of President Eisenhower and Nixon. Seven of his books contained stolen material!
Another famous historian to backslide into plagiarism is former aide to President Johnson, Doris Kearns Goodwin; yet even after a revelation of plagiarism, the New York Historical Society gave her a $50,000 award for her book of Abraham Lincoln, Team of Rivals! She was also named “American History Laureate” by the society! Such recognition from an historical society is shocking after the revelation that Goodwin did not reveal her use of other’s work in her book The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys. The fact that Goodwin is often seen on national television as an historical expert, as well as the award, makes her recognition even more egregious.
Martin Luther King, Jr., famous civil rights leader and liberal preacher, started stealing from the very beginning of his ministry. His Ph.D. dissertation at Boston University was stolen from another writer. The university investigated and found the charge valid but did not rescind his degree; however, they did pin a note to his dissertation noting the plagiarism. The staff of King Paper’s Project at Stanford admitted, “King’s plagiarism was a general pattern evident in nearly all of his academic writings.” King continued to steal to the end of his life using purloined material for his sermons, speeches, and books. His “I Have a Dream” speech was taken from another black preacher who had delivered it at the 1952 Republican Convention!
Rev. Joseph Lowery, friend and compatriot of King defended King’s literary thievery by saying, “Preachers have an old saying. The first time they use somebody else’s work, they give credit. The second time, they say some thinker said it. The third time they just say it.” Oh, all right.
Jane Goodall is known for her conservation work and work with animals especially work with chimps in Tanzania. However, her Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants (published in 2014) contained passages lifted from others. A writer at the Washington Post was the first to blow the whistle on her. The Daily Beast found further examples of literary theft. She blamed it on “chaotic note-taking.” Goodall’s book contained entire paragraphs from astrology sites and Wikipedia.
Former Vice President Joe Biden who failed a law school course for plagiarizing did not learn from his school days. Later, he stole from famous people like Hubert Humphrey, Robert Kennedy, and Jack Kennedy. You may remember that he had to bow out of his race for President in 1987 when it was discovered that he purloined whole pages from the speeches of others.
Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family is a mishmash of fact, fiction, and fabrication that mesmerized American television audience in 1977; however, it was presented as fact. The series won nine Emmy awards, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody Award. Haley also won a Pulitzer for it in 1977. He claimed to have traced his own ancestry back through slavery to a very specific individual and village in Africa. It was supposed to be a saga of multiple generations of Haley’s family from Africa; however, professional genealogists proved Haley’s research revealed, “In truth, those same plantation records, wills, and censuses cited by Mr. Haley not only fail to document his story, but they contradict each and every pre-Civil War statement of Afro-American lineage in Roots.”
When Margaret Walker Alexander, author of Jubilee, sued Haley charging him of taking passages from her book, the suit was unsuccessful. But when Harold Courlander charged Haley with literary theft from his book The African, Haley folded like a cheap suit and threw $650,000 at Courlander to send him back to the farm.
Following the trial, Haley acknowledged “that various materials from The African by Harold Courlander found their way into his book Roots.” Yep, they “found their way” into his manuscript!
Roots was based on the alleged kidnapping of Haley’s family from Africa but that turned out to be unreliable, and untrue and usually unreported; but Haley’s “kidnapping” of material from other authors was a reality.
It’s also very telling that when the media deal with Haley’s plagiarism, if at all, they never mention that a white author won a large settlement from a famous black author for plagiarism.
Plagiarists have always been with us and will be in our future.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.