O.K., this is grotesque. Rick Perlstein has a new book out, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, that continues his awesomely informative history of the rise of movement conservatism – and he’s facing completely spurious charges of plagiarism.
How do we know that they’re spurious? The people making the charges – almost all of whom have, surprise, movement conservative connections – aren’t pointing to any actual passages that were lifted from some other book. Instead, they’re claiming that Mr. Perlstein paraphrased what other people said.
Um, what? Unless there’s a very close match, telling more or less the same story that someone else has told before is perfectly ordinary – in fact, it would be distressing if history books didn’t correspond on some events.
I’m familiar with this process. There was a time when the various usual suspects went around claiming that I was doing illegitimate things with jobs data. What I was doing was in fact perfectly normal – but that didn’t stop Daniel Okrent, the outgoing public editor at The New York Times, from firing a parting shot (with no chance for me to reply) in 2005, accusing me of fiddling with the numbers. I also heard internally that there were claims of plagiarism directed at me, too, but clearly my accusers couldn’t cook up enough evidence to even pretend to make them stick.
The thing to understand is that fake accusations of professional malpractice are a familiar tactic for these people. And this tactic should be punctured by the press, not given momentum with “opinions differ on the shape of the planet” reporting.