1. A perennial favorite from our archives is Erik Campbell’s “The Accidental Plagiarist: The Trouble with Originality,” published in our Spring 2007 issue.
Thus, not only are we readers and writers oftentimes taking out one another’s laundry, but also we periodically end up, as it were, wearing one another’s pants. Sometimes we do this unconsciously (which we politely euphemize as Influence: a laudable thing denoting wide reading and artistic ecumenicalism), and sometimes calculatingly (which we call Plagiarism: the redheaded stepchild of literature, the specter that haunts high-school compositions, the cancer that parasites the bowels of literary <emveritas< em=”“> whilst making many an author’s—and virtually every rapper’s—career). And then there’s the sticky phenomenon of “subconscious plagiarism,” of which we’re all guilty (by virtue of being human), and of which George Harrison is, in many ways, the poster boy.
2. Michael Nelson ran down a list of historians who critics love to hate in “The Good, the Bad, and the Phony: Six Famous Historians and Their Critics” in our Summer 2002 issue.
[Stephen E.] Ambrose’s troubles began on Jan. 4, 2002, when Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard published an article showing that several phrases, sentences, and extended passages in Ambrose’s most recent best seller, The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s over Germany, had been lifted from Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down over Germany in World War II, a 1995 book by University of Pennsylvania historian Thomas Childers. Ambrose had mentioned Childers’s book in footnotes but had failed to place the copied passages in quotation marks. Instead, he usually changed a few words.
3. Morris Freedman, a onetime classmate of Charlie Van Doren, questioned how terrible it really was for Van Doren to have participated in the fixed “Twenty One” TV quiz show in “The Fall of Charlie Van Doren” in our Winter 1997 issue.
But come on. We now live intimately with a mix of the actual and the contrived. Baseball continues to prevail, more or less, after a range of behind-the-scenes scandals. On some campuses, plagiarism is tolerated or has been redefined to seem negligible. “Fictionalized” reportage has become a respectable new genre even if we may be shocked by something so crass as Janet Cooke’s Pulitzer Prize winning deception.
4. Back in our Summer 1994 issue, Morris Freedman explained how the very concept of plagiarism first arose, in “The Persistence of Plagiarism, the Riddle of Originality,” before he came to the conclusion that plagiarism is rightly a moral offense.
What is at stake in indifference to plagiarism is our sense of the purity, of the separateness, of each created work from all other created works. The plagiarist pollutes the universe of achievement. He wants us to give his stolen object our stamp, our respect as his property. At best he makes an alloy of what should be pristine. At worst he soils, despoils, the idea of original creation. He is worse than the censor, who, in killing a book, Milton said, kills reason itself. The plagiarist kills a man’s soul, denying him recognition of his self, his offspring.