The University of New Hampshire Law Review


[Excerpt] “In 2002 the history of History was scandal. The narrative started when a Pulitzer Prize winning professor was caught foisting bogus Vietnam War exploits as background for classroom discussion. His fantasy lapse prefaced a more serious irregularity—the author of the Bancroft Prize book award was accused of falsifying key research documents. The award was rescinded. The year reached a crescendo with two plagiarism cases “that shook the history profession to its core.”

Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin were “crossover” celebrities: esteemed academics—Pulitzer winners—with careers embellished by a public intellectual reputation. The media nurtured a Greek Tragedy —two superstars entangled in the labyrinth of the worst case academic curse—accusations that they copied without attribution. Their careers dangled on the idiosyncratic slope of paraphrasing with its reefs of echoes, mirroring, recycling, borrowing, etc.

As the Ambrose-Kearns Goodwin imbroglio ignited critique from the History community, a sequel engulfed Harvard Law School. Alan Dershowitz, Charles Ogletree, and Laurence Tribe were implicated in plagiarism allegations; the latter two ensnared on the paraphrase slope. The New York Times headline anticipated a new media frenzy: When Plagiarism’s Shadow Falls on Admired Scholars. Questioned after the first two incidents, the President of Harvard said: “If you had a third one then I would have said, ‘Okay, you get to say this is a special thing, a focused problem at the Law School.’” There was no follow up comment after the Tribe accusation.

The occurrence of similar plagiarism packages in two disciplines within an overlapping time frame justifies an inquiry. The following case studies of six accusation narratives identify a congeries of shared issues, subsuming a crossfire of contention over definition, culpability, and sanction. While the survey connects core History-Law commonalities, each case is defined by its own distinctive cluster of signifiers. The primary source for the explication of each signifier cluster is the media of newspaper, trade journal, television, and internet. The media presence is the Article’s motif—each case study summarizes a media construct of a slice of the plagiarism debate. By author’s decree the debate is restricted to “pure” plagiarism: the appropriation of another’s text without attribution. The survey is conducted according to chronological order, beginning with History.

Ward Churchill’s sui generis smutch from plagiarism continues to agitate media coverage. His argument that a dismissal by the University of Colorado for academic misconduct would constitute a cover for a First Amendment protected essay on 9/11 adds more challenge to the plagiary abyss. This Article concludes with up-to-date coverage of the Churchill narrative.”

Repository Citation

Arthur Austin, Parsing the Plagiary Scandals in History and Law, 5 Pierce L. Rev. 367 (2007), available at http://scholars.unh.edu/unh_lr/vol5/iss3/3