Over the last few days the communists of the left have been celebrating Barack Obama's commutation of the sentences of convicted traitors and terrorists. Meanwhile, there has been a concerted effort from the left to bring down Donald Trump's pick for senior director of strategic communications at the National Security Council, former Fox News host Monica Crowley, for purported crimes of plagiarism. And that effort seems to have succeeded, as Crowley has now declined to accept the position.
The media shrug over Obama's pardoning of terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera and traitor Bradley Manning (now known as Chelsea Manning), but CNN and Politico went after Crowley with accusations of plagiarism in her book What the Bleep Just Happened and her Columbia University Ph.D. dissertation, because the strategy of the Alinsky-trained left is always the politics of personal destruction.
However, Lynn Chu, a copyright attorney with over 30 years of publishing law experience, has examined the passages in question in Crowley's work and "found CNN's splashy 'plagiarism' accusation to be ill-supported—a heavily exaggerated, political hit job." The "CNN list [or plagiarized passages] was misleadingly long, possibly a calculated attempt to condemn her with manufactured, but false, bulk." Chu also determined that two dozen of the instances CNN noted were properly footnoted but that "CNN hid from readers that her footnotes gave proper credit to the source."
"I came away impressed by the very high quality and care taken by Ms. Crowley in her writing, scholarship and research overall," wrote Chu. "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."
I am a copyright attorney for a literary agency (J.D. University of Chicago, 1982) and member of the New York State Bar, with over 30 years of experience in the field of publishing and publishing law. I have often reviewed literary materials with an eye to issues of quality and I am well familiar with sourcing and attribution standards in both university press and commercial publishing.I was engaged to conduct a detailed review of the documentation published by CNN that accuses Monica Crowley of plagiarism (1) in her 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 (2000), and (2) in her book What the (Bleep) Just Happened?: The Happy Warrior's Guide to the Great American Comeback. I read the material presented by CNN, item by item consulting the literary works by Crowley. My summary conclusions follow.Plagiarism is a common law ethical violation, or tort, defined as: ‘"The act of appropriating the literary composition of another, or parts or passages of his writings, or the ideas or language of the same, and passing them off as the product of one's own mind.‘To be liable for plagiarism it is not necessary to exactly duplicate another's literary work, it being sufficient if unfair use of such work is made by lifting of substantial portion thereof, but even an exact counterpart of another's work does not constitute plagiarism if such counterpart was arrived at independently. O'Rourke v. RKO Radio Pictues, D.C Mass., 44 F. Supp. 480, 482, 483."’ [Black's Law Dictionary, Fifth edition, West Publishing Co., 1979]Detailed in Section 107 of the Copyright Act, “fair use” is a defense to a claim of copyright infringement—the statutory claim under which most accusations of plagiarism today would be subsumed. The copyright law has the effect of limiting accusations of plagiarism to those serious enough actually to damage the party copied. It is generally defined by Black's as follows:‘"Fair use" is privilege in other than the owner of copyright to use copyrighted material in a reasonable manner without consent, notwithstanding monopoly granted to the owner. Meeropol v. Nizer, D.C.N.Y., 361 F. Supp. 1063, 1067. sets forth factors to be considered in determining whether the use made in any particular case is "fair use."’[Black's Law Dictionary, Fifth edition, West Publishing Co., 1979]"Plagiarism" has other, stricter definitions set forth by educators or their institutions in order to educate students to highest ethical conduct. These are organizationally based and readily available online from various commentators.The tort definition refers to morally reprehensible behavior which from society's point of view ought to trigger liability or punishment.The term "plagiarism" is thus fairly fraught, and it means different things to different people for different purposes. In my review, I read the CNN and Crowley material substantively against her actual book and dissertation. I read for unique literary expression and ideas borrowed, how they fit into her material, and how the material was cited (or not) by her. I judged each item in context for what was appropriate, what was in error, the degree of error, and whether and how it needed be corrected. I came to my overall conclusions mindful of the totality.Each work presents different considerations. One is a Ph.D dissertation, a scholarly work. The other is a popular book that synthesizes recent news events from a conservative-libertarian point of view, aimed at a broad commercial audience.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.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. Some errors must be expected in any work of the length of Ms. Crowley's dissertation and book.In the case of the book, I found 57 out of 61 items presented by CNN to be unwarranted accusations. 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.26 of CNN's items from the dissertation were straightforwardly false—Ms. Crowley's paraphrases were correctly sourced in her footnotes. But in most of these 26, CNN had omitted her footnote references. CNN hid from readers that her footnotes gave proper credit to the source. Readers were disabled from being allowed to see or infer that sources were in footnotes. It seemed to selectively delete footnote references (though some were left in)—perhaps so that readers would assume no visible reference mark meant no footnote existed.Two short items in the dissertation did seem almost verbatim copied from an article credited neither in the bibliography or in a footnote. But they were short sentences expressing a standard foreign policy idea. I therefore recommended rephrase but felt that no citation was required with respect to the idea. The two items did have an idea and a unique expression, but were not quotable in context. (Both made the same point.) As they served only a minor role, to have presented the lines in quotes would have read as out of place in Crowley's material.News is famously considered history's "first draft." A majority of the items CNN listed as "plagiarism" were not original scholarly analysis or unique expression but news events or third party quotes. Proper names, titles, policy jargon, and "best standard" phrasing of rather familiar events. This generated a large volume of unwarranted "plagiarism" in highlit form. So, only a handful were questionable enough to conclude that they could be corrected. The level of error overall was small and unremarkable given the nature of the works.Other than the 15 out of 98 (83 without merit), I found CNN's splashy "plagiarism" accusation to be ill-supported—a heavily exaggerated, political hit job. Instead, after reading texts side by side with footnotes, I came away impressed by the very high quality and care taken by Ms. Crowley in her writing, scholarship and research overall. Many parallels in fact read on the page as rather different even if certain content or phrases were the same, and they were largely short, fragmentary, and routine.Historical research inevitably draws heavily on the work of other scholars. Dissertations exist to synthesize. 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.