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A Historian and Her Sources

From the January 28, 2002 issue: Doris Kearns Goodwin's borrowed material.

5:10 PM, Jan 18, 2002 • By BO CRADER
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IN 1993 HISTORIAN Doris Kearns Goodwin complained that Joe McGinniss had borrowed extensively for his "The Last Brother" from her 1987 book "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys." "He just uses it flat out, without saying that it came from my work," Goodwin told the Boston Globe. "You expect that another writer would acknowledge that," Goodwin continued. "It's inexplicable why it wasn't done."

Now, it's Goodwin's use of source material that requires explication.

Two weeks ago in this magazine, Fred Barnes reported on the striking similarities between Stephen E. Ambrose's "The Wild Blue" and Thomas Childers's "Wings of Morning." Subsequently, The Weekly Standard received a letter pointing out that Goodwin's "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys" borrowed with insufficient attribution from three earlier works by other authors.

An examination of the works in question confirmed the correspondent's allegation.

One source for Goodwin was Hank Searls's 1969 "The Lost Prince: Young Joe, the Forgotten Kennedy." Searls describes Joe Kennedy's disappointing last game on the Harvard football squad:

"Joe had shivered on benches from West Point on the Hudson to Dartmouth in the mountains of New Hampshire." (p. 101)

Eighteen years later, Goodwin writes that Joe Kennedy was

"shivering on benches from West Point on the Hudson to Dartmouth in the mountains of New Hampshire." (p. 507)

Searls describes the scene after the 1937 Harvard victory over Yale:

"He turned helplessly to his old classmate Campbell, then fought his way blindly through hysterical fans to the field to comfort his son." (p. 105)

Here's Goodwin:

"[He] turned helplessly to Tommy Campbell, then fought his way through the hysterical fans to provide solace to his son." (p. 508)

Searls writes that

"Naval pilot training held coldly to the premise that it was better to remove the accident-prone early, before too much time and money had been wasted on him." (p. 178)

Goodwin changes a few words:

"Naval pilot training held coldly to the premise that it was best to remove those who couldn't conquer the tensions of flying early, before too much time and money had been wasted on them." (p. 622)

In an interview, Searls acknowledges the similarities. There's "a certain amount of license," he says. "She changed a few words, which seems to me to be within bounds of journalistic ethics, although I myself always tried to give credit to authors I used."

In another instance, Goodwin's prose mirrors that of Rose Kennedy's 1974 autobiography, "Times to Remember." Kennedy writes:

"I ran upstairs and awakened Joe. I stood for a few moments with my mind half paralyzed. I tried to speak but stumbled over the words. Then I managed to blurt out that priests were here with that message. He leaped from the bed and hurried downstairs, I following him. We sat with the priests in a smaller room off the living room, and from what they told us we realized that there could be no hope, and that our son was dead." (p. 301)

The corresponding passage in Goodwin's book differs mainly in changing perspective from the first to third person:

"Rose ran upstairs and burst into her husband's room. Waking him, she stood for a few moments, her mind half paralyzed, trying to speak but stumbling over her words. Then she managed to blurt out what the two priests had said. Joe Senior rushed down and escorted the priests into a small room off the living room. There he and Rose heard the story which made it clear that there could be no hope. Their eldest son was dead." (p. 689)

BUT THE MOST striking borrowing is from Lynne McTaggart's 1983 "Kathleen Kennedy: Her Life and Times."

McTaggart, for example, writes that

"her [Kathleen's] closest friends assumed that she and Billy were 'semiengaged.' On the day of the party reports of a secret engagement were published in the Boston papers. . . . The truth was that the young couple had reached no such agreement." (p. 65)

The corresponding passage in Goodwin's book differs by just a few words:

"her [Kathleen's] closest friends assumed she and Billy were semi-engaged. On the day of the party, reports of a secret engagement were published in the Boston papers. . . . The truth was that the young couple had reached no such agreement." (p. 586)

McTaggart:

"Hardly a day passed without a photograph in the papers of little Teddy, taking a snapshot with his Brownie held upside down, or the five Kennedy children lined up on a train or bus." (p. 25)

Goodwin:

"Hardly a day passed without a newspaper photograph of little Teddy taking a snapshot with his camera held upside down, or the five Kennedy children lined up on a train or bus." (p. 523)

McTaggart: