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Joe McGinniss on Doris Kearns Goodwin

The man who Doris Kearns Goodwin once accused of copying her work writes in response.

12:20 PM, Jan 23, 2002 • By BO CRADER
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MY ARTICLE in the latest The Weekly Standard, "A Historian and Her Sources," points out several instances of copied language in Doris Kearns Goodwin's "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys." Despite the fact that she had improperly copied from others, Goodwin in 1993 criticized Joe McGinniss for copying her book without proper credit. McGinniss has now written to us in response:

Joe McGinniss writes:

I respect and admire Doris Kearns Goodwin and her work. She was extremely gracious, and helpful to me during the period when I was doing research for "The Last Brother." She met with me personally to offer suggestions and advice.

It has always seemed to me that her later comments about the book constituted one of the duties she was expected to perform as a member of the Kennedy extended family. At best, her criticism was disingenuous. I fully agree with her about the need to "credit the source," and in "The Last Brother," I credited her repeatedly.

"The Last Brother" is not--nor have I ever suggested that it was-- a biography of Edward Kennedy. Nor, unlike Doris, do I consider myself a historian. Rather, my book is an interpretation of the arc of Edward Kennedy's public life in the 1960s. Naturally, this involved treatment of his parents, his siblings, his childhood, adolescence and manhood before John F. Kennedy became President.

Doris's book was an invaluable source, as I stated in an author's note (published in the original edition of the book, not added later): "Moreover, in almost every instance, the quotations and other facts that form the basis of my interpretations have been drawn from published sources that I believe to be reliable. For example (as should be apparent to any attentive reader), in the section of the book that deals with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I have relied heavily upon the factual account presented in 'The Death of a President,' the book written by historian William Manchester . . . Likewise, for other sections, 'The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys' by Doris Kearns Goodwin . . . [was]especially helpful."

I would add--because, although Doris now says, "I didn't mean it as harshly as it sounded," she has not acknowledged that her complaint about my work was essentially baseless--that I quote from her repeatedly in my text, in each case placing quotation marks around the words used, and crediting her as the source. The quotations begin on p. 133, where I attribute the first to "family biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin," and continue with attributions such as, "as Kearns Goodwin has described," and "Kearns Goodwin has written."

Her work was by no means my only source (much was drawn from the archives of the Boston Globe, and there was an abundance of other material, none of it dependent on Doris's work, gathered by two research assistants I employed.) In addition, many of the facts she relates reside in the public domain. Nonetheless, I don't believe anyone could read "The Last Brother" without being aware of my oft-acknowledged debt to her. Thus, her 1993 statement to the Boston Globe that, "[McGinniss] just uses it flat out, without saying that it came from my work," is not only regrettable, but erroneous.Joe McGinniss
Williamstown, MA

Bo Crader is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard