Friday, July 21, 2006
Sloppiness & Carelessness of Coulter
After learning that Ann Coulter may have "liberally lifted" from his work in her best-selling book Godless, a journalist slams the conservative pundit for "sloppiness and carelessness" in not citing his published book review with a footnote.
Though Coulter does cite the original author of the quotes, other statements in her book indicate that she either did not read the book itself, or chose to misrepresent the author.
"I think it is quite clear that Coulter used the excerpt from my review rather than referring to the original source," said Mark Engler, a New York City based writer and activist.
For the first chapter of her book, entitled "On the Seventh Day, God Rested and Liberals schemed," Coulter refers to a 2003 best seller which centered on a notorious crime committed by Mormon fundamentalists in the early eighties (Chapter 1, pp. 16-17):
In the book Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, Jon Krakauer writes of the Bush administration, "This, after all, is a country led by a born-again Christian...who characterizes international relations as a biblical clash between forces of good and evil. The highest law officer in the land, Attorney General John Ashcroft, is a dyed-in-the-wool follower of a fundamentalist Christian sect—the Pentecostal Assemblies of God of America...and subscribes to a vividly apocalyptic worldview that has much in common with key millenarian beliefs held by the Lafferty brothers and the residents of Colorado City."
However, that entire quotation, excerpted from a paragraph in Krakauer’s book, originally appeared in a book review written by Mark Engler in 2003 for the independent journalism magazine, In These Times.
In one of his few mentions of the White House, Krakauer reminds us that, "This, after all, is a country led by a born-again Christian...who characterizes international relations as a biblical clash between forces of good and evil. The highest law officer in the land, Attorney General John Ashcroft, is a dyed-in-the-wool follower of a fundamentalist Christian sect—the Pentecostal Assemblies of God of America—...and subscribes to a vividly apocalyptic worldview that has much in common with key millenarian beliefs held by the Lafferty brothers and the residents of Colorado City."
Aside from removing the second dash after "America," Coulter's excerpt reads exactly the same, including the same points of ellipsis, excluding the same parts of Krakauer’s paragraph not excerpted in Engler’s review.
This is how the paragraph originally appeared in Krakauer’s book, before Engler excerpted it:
This, after all, is a country led by a born-again Christian, President George W Bush, who believes he is an instrument of God and characterizes international relations as a biblical clash between forces of good and evil. The highest law officer in the land, Attorney General John, is a dyed-in-the-wool follower of a fundamentalist Christian sect—the Pentecostal Assemblies of God-who begins each day at the justice Department with a devotional prayer meeting for his staff, periodically has himself anointed with sacred oil, and subscribes to a vividly apocalyptic worldview that has much in common with key millenarian beliefs held by the Lafferty brothers and the residents of Colorado City."
‘Implausible’ Coulter didn’t use his review
Engler agreed that if Coulter had used Krakauer's book as a source instead of just his review, she probably would have thrown in "President George W Bush, who believes he is an instrument of God," which could have served her thesis better.
"In the previous paragraph of my review I had discussed an incident in which President Bush exhibits a belief 'that he is an instrument of God,' as Krakauer puts it," Engler said. "Given that, I thought it would be unnecessary to include that phrase in the Krakauer quote, and I excerpted it out with an ellipsis."
"I can't see any reason why Coulter would have excerpted in the same way for her writing if she was quoting from the actual book," Engler added. "Faced with a tight word count on my article, I truncated some of the other sentences, but again, it seems implausible that Coulter would have done so in the exact same manner on her own."
Engler also notes that in the next paragraph Coulter writes "my guess, not a Christian" about Krakauer when that fact would have been evident to anyone who read the book, or even read Engler's full review.
"Krakauer's own lack of religious conviction is an important theme in Under the Banner of Heaven, and anyone who read the book would not have to guess about him not being a Christian," Engler said. "For that matter, anyone who read my review in its entirety would know that Krakauer has a 'critical view of faith in general' and 'depicts religious conviction as essentially irrational and deluded.'"
Engler theorized how Coulter’s "team" may have "cribbed" from his work.
"I suspect that Coulter had heard some mention of Krakauer's bestseller, wanted to comment on it, and sent a researcher off to find a relevant quote," Engler said. "Then her team pulled the excerpt from my review."
Prior Coulter plagiarism allegations
John Barrie, a plagiarism expert who devised an "iThenticate" plagiarism-probing system, said that Coulter had likely plagiarized in her book and some of her syndicated columns in an article in last Sunday's New York Post. Some of the examples cited by Barrie and the Post were first discovered online nearly a year ago.
The Rude Pundit first blogged about the apparent plagiarism in a June 2005 column by Coulter last summer, and RAW STORY followed up on the blogger's work, revealing that the column was little more that a cut-and-paste repetition of points authored by conservative religious groups in the early 1990s.
One of the three examples of "textbook plagiarism" in Godless cited by Barrie was also noted first by The Rude Pundit last month days after the book's release. RAW STORY then reported that Coulter "cribbed" a list of adult stem cell treatments from a Right To Life website for the seventh chapter of her book nearly word-for-word.
The senior vice president for the company that published Coulter's Godless characterizes previous plagiarism allegations as "trivial," "meritless" and "irresponsible."
"We have reviewed the allegations of plagiarism surrounding Godless and found them to be as trivial and meritless as they are irresponsible," Crown Publishing Group's Steve Ross told the New York Post a few weeks ago.
"The number of words used by our author in these snippets is so minimal that there is no requirement for attribution," Ross told the Post's Niles Lathem, who also reports that Ross "defended his best-selling polemicist by noting there are 19 pages of endnotes."
But Ross was referring to only the three examples cited by Barrie in the original Post article.
So far, 12 different examples of Coulter apparently re-using unsourced material have been reported.
'Adds to the case for wrong-doing'
Engler said that in regards to his book review, Coulter had seemingly committed "a much lower order of plagiarism," but that it "adds to the case for wrong-doing."
"The uncredited re-use of the excerpt is certainly a much lower order of plagiarism than actually presenting someone else's words as your own," Engler said. "In my student days, it would have merited a footnote saying 'as cited in...'"
"On its own," Engler doesn't see it as a "serious ethical breach," but he does believe that it suggests "a certain sloppiness and carelessness in her writing, though."
"When put alongside more substantial accusations of plagiarism, I think it adds to the case for wrong-doing," Engler said.