No allegation does as much damage to a writer than plagiarism, or to an academic either. That became clear in the aftermath of a CNN probe into Monica Crowley, who is both writer and academic as well as being at the time under consideration for a position in the Trump administration. CNN accused Crowley of plagiarism in both her book What the (Bleep) Just Happened and in her doctoral thesis at Columbia. The sensational charges resulted in Crowley’s withdrawal from consideration from the job.
But were those allegations legitimate? One of the supposed victims of this plagiarism, National Review’s Andrew McCarthy, argues that CNN conducted a political hit job on Crowley — and he has some solid evidence for that charge [emphases in the original]:
All writers make mistakes. But Monica’s have been blown wildly out of proportion, to the point of smear. The well-regarded copyright attorney Lynn Chu has done a careful study of the plagiarism allegations and posted her findings on Facebook. Two things leap out.
The first is context. Readers were presented with a series of passages in which Monica is shown to have relied on the work of other writers (including yours truly) in two of her most notable written works: a bestselling 2012 book called What the (Bleep) Just Happened?: The Happy Warrior’s Guide to the Great American Comeback; and her 17-year-old Columbia University Ph.D. dissertation, “Clearer than Truth”: Determining and Preserving Grand Strategy. The Evolution of American Policy Toward the People’s Republic of China Under Truman and Nixon. What was not well explained to readers is that the cited passages constitute a bare fraction of what Ms. Chu correctly describes as “long, heavily researched, synthetic work[s]” – 361 pages in the case of the book, 461 pages in the dissertation, both heavily footnoted.
Secondly, about those footnotes: According to Ms. Chu, CNN itemized 37 passages out of the 461 dissertation pages as improperly mined from the work of others without sourcing; but 26 of these items were “straightforwardly false” because, in order to make Monica look like a plagiarist, CNN omitted her footnotes.
Say what? As any published author knows, plagiarism involves taking other people’s material without crediting the source. If Crowley footnoted those passages and cited the source, then it’s not plagiarism at all. Taking out the footnotes to make that argument is flat-out deception, if true.
And according to Chu’s letter on her Facebook page, what’s left after that isn’t much at all:
In my review, Ms. Crowley erred in 4 out of 61 items cited from the book, and 9 out of the 37 passages cited from the dissertation. Two other items from the dissertation required rephrasing, but not source citation, in my opinion. Nearly all of the questioned passages were short in themselves. …
The match often seemed computer-generated from shared proper names and generic phrases, or news and anecdotes repeated by aggregators and editorialists. This type of material is generally considered fair use and/or public domain. As a result, this CNN list was misleadingly long, possibly a calculated attempt to condemn her with manufactured, but false, bulk. …
Overall the corrections were few and minor. The instances I felt should be corrected were within the normal range of typical errors. Any long, heavily researched, synthetic work (361 pages for the book, 461 pages for the dissertation) will contain a few errors in sourcing or underparaphrasing. Computer cut and paste increases the overall likelihood of occurrences of improperly unaltered copying.
The term “plagiarism” should not be used until errors reach a critical mass. … The relatively few examples of unsourced copying found was in my opinion de minimus, should just be corrected, and not allowed to besmirch Ms. Crowley’s reputation.
Unfortunately, that’s precisely what happened. And it’s tough to argue against Andrew’s conclusion that CNN’s omission of the fact that those 26 instances they cited were in fact already footnoted is “shameful” indeed. CNN should answer for the publication of what now looks like an intentionally deceptive presentation involving not just a media competitor but also someone who wanted to work in the incoming administration.
Where does Monica Crowley apply to get her reputation restored.