One Ronald Reagan Biographer Accuses Another of Plagiarism

By Barbara Hollingsworth | August 6, 2014 | 4:55 PM EDT


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(  -- Ronald Reagan biographer Craig Shirley has accused fellow author Rick Perlstein of plagiarism for allegedly lifting entire passages from his 2004 book, Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All, without proper attribution.

Perlstein’s 856-page book, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, which was released Tuesday by Simon & Schuster, “credits some – but not all – of his uses of Reagan’s Revolution,” Shirley charged in an August 3 statement.

Perlstein’s book credits Shirley more than 100 times, and he states that “Craig Shirley saved me 3.76 months in research” in the book’s acknowledgments section.

But Shirley says that when he was asked to review Perlstein’s book, he spotted at least 45 striking similarities to his own book that were not attributed to him.

”When I looked to see if Mr. Perlstein credited his many uses of Reagan’s Revolution, I found that the body of The Invisible Bridge does not credit Reagan’s Revolution at any point, and there are no footnotes, end notes, bibliography or other common form of citation in his book,” Shirley stated.

“Instead, buried on page 810, Mr. Perlstein directs readers to access his personal website where, after several clicks, they can uncover “A Note on Sources” for The Invisible Bridge.”

In a July 28 letter to the publisher, Chris Ashby, Shirley’s attorney, said that “the nature and extent of Mr. Perlstein’s plagiarism is far worse than our preliminary review had indicated.” (See CPS Letter to Simon & Schuster 7-28-14.pdf)

Ashby listed several examples, including:

“Whenever he flew, Reagan would sit in the first row so he could talk to people as they boarded the plane. On one occasion, a woman spotted him, embraced him and said 'Oh Governor, you’ve just got to run for President!' As they settled into their seats, Reagan turned to Deaver and said, 'Well, I guess I’d better do it.’” (Reagan's Revolution, pg. 72)

“When Ronald Reagan flew on commercial flights he always sat in the first row. That way, he could greet passengers as they boarded. One day he was flying between Los Angeles and San Francisco. A woman threw his [sic] arms around him and said, 'Oh Governor, you’ve got to run for president!' 'Well,' he said, turning to Michael Deaver, dead serious, 'I guess I’d better do it.'” (Invisible Bridge, pg. 539)


“All the major Presidential candidates released their medical records in January. ...While arguably unnecessary for the America people to also know that Ford had hemorrhoid surgery or that Democratic contender Senator Frank Church had a testicle removed. ...” (Reagan's Revolution, pg. 111)

“Came the news on the last Wednesday in January that all major presidential candidates had released their medical records, the world apparently needing to know, for instance, about President Ford’s hemorrhoid surgery and Senator Church’s single testicle. ...” (Invisible Bridge, pg. 601)

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“Notwithstanding Mr. Perlstein’s amateurish attempts to conceal his thefts by altering words and phrases, each of these passages should have been enclosed in quotation marks,” Ashby stated in the letter.

Quin Hilllyer, who edited one of Shirley’s previous books, says that Perlstein’s “attributional omissions weren’t merely a matter of failing to credit a turn of phrase or two; instead, in a number of the 45 examples cited by Shirley’s complaint, they were failures to credit original, painstaking research.”

Shirley is demanding $25 million in damages, a public apology for the alleged plagiarism, and the destruction of all physical copies of Perlstein’s book, according to his lawyer.

However, in an interview Wednesday on HuffPost Live, Perlstein defended his book, telling Marc Lamont Hill that the plagiarism charges are "a completely ideologically-motivated smear job."

Shirley, who heads a conservative public affairs firm, "is Ann Coulter's publicist," Perlstein said. "You can say that he doesn't even know what the legal definition of the kind of things he's charging me with are. It's too bad."

When asked Cary Goldstein, vice president and executive director of publicity at Simon & Schuster, for a comment on the plagiarism charges, he said that the publisher “dismisses them out of hand. We see absolutely no merit in his complaint.”

Noting that “more than 120 citations [were] attributed to Mr. Shirley,” Goldstein added that the book’s online “source notes link directly to the passages he refers to.”

Posting links to sources cited in footnotes and the bibliography online instead of in the book itself will prove beneficial to future academics and historians who will be able to link directly to them, he added. “You can’t do that from the back of a book.”

The spat between the two Reagan biographers unleashed an animated discussion in the New York literary world over online “open sourcing,” a practice Perlstein calls “a publishing innovation.”

”I want to expand this idea of history as a collective enterprise,” he told The New York Times (NYT). “My notion is that people will read this book with their iPhones open.”

But in a stinging critique of his book in The Atlantic, NYT writer Sam Tanenhaus castigates Perlstein for adopting “the methodology of the Web aggregator” who “now finds rumor more illuminating that fact.”

“The subject of Perlstein’s relation to his sources is a dire and overriding concern throughout The Invisible Bridge, and…he doesn’t exactly help things out [that] he states at the outset that his book will not contain end notes,” Open Letters Monthly managing editor Steve Donoghue wrote.

After detailing the difficulty of checking citations from the book online, Donoghue added: “This isn’t the spirit of the open source software movement….This is Soviet cryptology."

"Perlstein’s personal delusions notwithstanding, the only possible aim of an arrangement like this is to discourage the confirming of citations.”