AFTER 8 YEARS OF A BILL CLINTON PRESIDENCY this country has gotten used to mendacity, especially if the ends justify the right means. An untruth, a rewriting of history, or even using the hard work of someone else without compensation can all be washed away with an apology or even an excuse – especially if the media elite favor you.
Now we are in a new era. Honest speech and truth is fashionable. George W. Bush is now President and he has the audacity to use a phrase like the "axis of evil." His plain speech is contagious; dishonesty and fabrication are again recognized as immoral behavior.
So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that the liberal media have brought several top literary icons to their knees. In the New York Times author Martin Arnold writes, "the mea culpas being offered lately by two popular historians caught plagiarizing are lame." His article, "History is an Art, Not a Toaster," covers the plagiarism problems of historians Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin, who have been caught stealing passages from other peoples’ works and publishing them as original.
Ambrose, a very popular and prolific American historian, has also been accused of plagiarizing passages for many of his books according to the Weekly Standard and Forbes.com. Unfortunately, according to Forbes, although Ambrose acknowledged failing to put quotation marks around passages that were written by others, the only retribution suggested by Ambrose and Simon and Schuster is correcting the errors in future printings.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, a winner of the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for History for her biography, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II, has been accused of plagiarizing from several sources for her book, "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys." According to the Weekly Standard the only source that Goodwin acknowledged until recently was Lynne McTaggart’s Kathleen Kennedy: Her Life and Times. According to McTaggart, Goodwin’s settlement included "a substantial monetary settlement, many times more than what is usually the case for this kind of thing, according to my lawyer. It wasn't a token sum."
After acknowledging new errors Goodwin left her post on the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour under duress, became an uninvited commencement speaker, and asked her publisher not only to destroy old copies of the book but to reprint with the appropriate acknowledgments.
While plagiarism, or the stealing of someone else’s copyright, is a crime, it is far worse, in this writer’s opinion, to fabricate historical facts and documents. That’s called fraud.
With each passing day it is becoming clear that Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture by Emory University History Professor Michael Bellesiles, is just another literary fraud. Although it began with high praise from the liberal establishment, a few stalwart historians who kept verifying his thousands of footnotes have discovered that his ten-year effort was a sham.
Since my article, "Arming America, fiction, not history," more historians have evaluated Bellesiles’ interpretation of early America and have publicly determined that his research methodology and sources don’t corroborate his conclusions about the lack of firearms in early America.
In the February 1, 2002 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Wayne University history professor and a peer-reviewer of Bellesiles’ original 1996 article in the Journal of American History, is quoted as saying, "It is a case, of genuine, bona fide academic fraud." That same article quotes Randolph Roth, a professor of history at The Ohio State University and a member of the editorial board of the journal Historical Methods, as saying that if Arming America "were true, this would be history at its best. The problem is it just happens to be wrong." Roth further goes on to call "the episode ‘a crushing blow.’" Even the Chronicle of Higher Education, which has been most supportive of Bellesiles for almost two years, is changing its tune.
In the February 21 edition of the Wall Street Journal Kimberly Strassel, who covered the controversy over Arming America previously, published a long article titled "Guns and Poses" that included a summary of the five articles published in the most recent William and Mary Quarterly. Four of those articles reviewed Bellesiles’ methodology, while the fifth was Bellesiles’ reaction to his critics. The reviews were damaging, while Strassel writes that Bellesiles’ explanation "falls short of answering the questions."
As Bellesiles faces an internal investigation by Emory University on the grounds that he engaged in "research misconduct for his book," the Emory Wheel reports on a further embarrassment for Bellesiles. The articles states that because Bellesiles "criticized and misidentified the Center in an Emory publication, Academic Exchange," the Chairman of the Emory History Department felt obliged to send an e-mail to the Contra Costa County History Center, in Martinez, CA apologizing for Bellesiles’ accusations.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr in a Washington Times article has bestowed The J. Gordon Coogler Award for the worst book of the year to Arming America. Tyrrell writes "Mr. Bellesiles defends his position by citing documents that no other scholars can find. The book is a nonsense and a fraud." Professor Bellesiles should stop making excuses, acknowledge his fraud, and do the right thing -- return the Bancroft prize.