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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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"Mrs. Gibson gave a tea in her honor to introduce her to some of the other girls--hardly a routine practice for new recruits." (p. 130)

Goodwin:

"Mrs. Harvey Gibson gave a tea in her honor to introduce her to some of the other girls--hardly a routine practice for new recruits." (p. 666)

There are dozens more such parallels in "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys."

The treatment of McTaggart's work as a source changed after the first edition of Goodwin's book. The changes were not accompanied by any acknowledgment of defects in the earlier edition. And to this day, the borrowed passages are not placed in quotation marks, though they are now footnoted.

The 2001 edition of "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys" contains 40 endnotes citing McTaggart that were not in the first edition. And the preface to the latest edition of Goodwin's book includes the following paragraph: "In the preparation of this work, I was grateful for Lynne McTaggart's biography, "Kathleen Kennedy: Her Life and Times," which is the definitive biography of Kathleen Kennedy and which I used as a primary source for information on Kathleen Kennedy, both in my research and in my writing." McTaggart was not mentioned in the preface to the first edition. Yet the dateline of the preface in both editions reads "November 1986," as if nothing had been added.

McTaggart, in a phone interview, says that she is unable to comment on or discuss the matter.

David Rosenthal, a spokesman for Simon & Schuster, publisher of "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys," says that an "understanding" was reached between Goodwin and McTaggart. "In the original book there were some mistakes made," he says. "Those mistakes were corrected. Doris acknowledged the mistake to McTaggart, and they reached an understanding on how those mistakes should be corrected. The error was inadvertent. Back then, Doris kept notes on long legal pads and some papers got shuffled. It was corrected as soon as she became aware of the error."

IN RESPONSE to my questions, Goodwin explains, "I wrote everything in longhand in those days, including the notes I took on secondary sources. When I wrote the passages in question, I did not have the McTaggart book in front of me. Drawing on my notes, I did not realize that in some cases they constituted a close paraphrase of the original work."

She confirms that McTaggart contacted her shortly after the book appeared in 1987. "I acknowledged immediately that she was right, that she should have been footnoted more fully. She asked that more footnotes be added and a paragraph crediting her book. This was done in the paperback edition."

Goodwin continues, "This was brought to a satisfactory conclusion 15 years ago. And learning from this, I have made it a constant practice to use quotations in the text itself and to have the original source directly in front of me when I am writing."

Why weren't the passages ever put in quotation marks? "Had she asked for more quotations in the text," says Goodwin, "I would have done it."

Professional norms in the crediting of source material are not, however, matters of lawyer-like negotiation between authors and their sources. There is a right way and a wrong way to do these things. As Goodwin put it in her 1993 complaint against McGinnis:

"There's nothing wrong with an author building on material from a previous book. That's the way history is built, as long as you credit the source. . . . I just don't understand why that wasn't done."

Bo Crader is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.

UPDATE: The January 22, 2002 Boston Globe reports that Doris Kearns Goodwin has disclosed the settlement with Lynne McTaggart.