With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Doris Kearns Goodwin: Goodwin's Bluff

In 2002 and 2003, I wrote a series of columns attacking Doris Kearns Goodwin for failing to concede that her much-publicized borrowings from author Lynne McTaggart constituted plagiarism, even though Goodwin had cited McTaggart in footnotes to the book in question, The Kennedys and the Fitzgeralds....

... I have misrepresented Ms. Goodwin's actions, and I owe her an apology.

In my earlier columns, I portrayed Ms. Goodwin as somewhat craven for correcting her faulty text only when bad publicity required it. What I should have written was that Ms. Goodwin was really, really craven for saying she was going to correct her faulty text and then, once the braying media pack scampered away, not doing it!

In an Oct. 6 Boston Globe column, Alex Beam revealed that just one week ago he managed to purchase a St. Martin's paperback copy of The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, and despite Goodwin's promise the edition was not corrected. What gives?

"We did exactly what we said we were going to do," says Simon & Schuster's Hayes. ''We did pull all our copies as promised. We weren't aware that other copy [from St. Martin's Press] was out there."

We weren't aware that other copy was out there? Simon & Schuster and Doris Goodwin were collectively unaware that one or both of them had sold reprint rights to St. Martin's Press? And that a paperback St. Martin's edition had been published in 1991? And could still be purchased, in all its plagiaristic glory, with the mere click of a computer mouse? Um, that isn't possible.

Hayes told Beam that Simon & Schuster did indeed pull its own copies off the shelves. But that new, corrected Simon & Schuster edition of The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, promised for the spring of 2002, turns out to have been 100 percent bluff. Four springs have come and gone since Goodwin promised the corrected paperback edition. None has appeared. According to Beam, Hayes says it may be published after Goodwin's book tour for her latest book, Team of Rivals. That would appear to suggest that the corrected volume also may not appear. Meanwhile, Goodwin has refused to acknowledge the plagiarisms in another book, No Ordinary Time, even though these were well-documented in August 2002 by the Los Angeles Times.

Look, I wish the woman well. Thomas Mallon (in a strange puffer of a magazine profile in the Atlantic) pronounced Team of Rivals, about Lincoln's Cabinet, to be a wonderful piece of work, and Mallon's a discerning literary critic. Mallon also happens to be kind of a hanging judge on the subject of plagiarism; he wrote a very smart book about it. But in his Atlantic profile of Goodwin he declares himself at the outset to be bored with the topic of plagiarism, and he dismisses it pretty quickly. Mallon's behavior reminds me of the huntsman's in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Remember the huntsman? He's dispatched by the Evil Queen to cut out the heart of Snow White. But he can't do it because Snow White is so lovely and defenseless and kind (or is she just media-savvy?), so he lets her go and he brings the Evil Queen a stag's heart instead. I sincerely doubt Goodwin would let anything like her previous plagiarisms mar her new book. But she hasn't delivered on her promise to correct the plagiarisms in The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, and I don't feel I can ignore that.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall. Who's the slickest of them all?

Read entire article at Timothy Noah in Slate