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Get Me Rewrite!

Doris Kearns Goodwin now says that her copying may be more widespread than she thought. Simon and Schuster is destroying old copies of her book.

11:01 PM, Feb 25, 2002 • By BO CRADER
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IN AN interview with the New York Times, Doris Kearns Goodwin has now revised and extended her explanations for how other people's prose ended up in her book "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys." In the January 28, 2002, issue of The Weekly Standard, I reported on similarities in the language of Goodwin's work and three prior books: Hank Searls's "The Lost Prince: Young Joe, the Forgotten Kennedy," Rose Kennedy's "Times to Remember," and Lynne McTaggart's "Kathleen Kennedy: Her Life and Times." While the passages in Goodwin's book were footnoted, the text didn't contain quotation marks to show the language was taken from other works.

McTaggart had reached a private settlement over the matter with Goodwin and her publisher, Simon and Schuster, in 1987. In addition to paying what McTaggart described as a "substantial" monetary settlement, Goodwin added 40 footnotes attributing work to McTaggart, as well as a paragraph to the preface of the book that gave McTaggart credit for writing "the definitive biography of Kathleen Kennedy," which Goodwin used as "a primary source . . . in my research and my writing." The text of the book itself, however, was not changed to indicate passages and phrases that were taken verbatim or nearly verbatim from other works. McTaggart and Goodwin were also bound by a confidentiality agreement which, until recently, kept the entire episode under wraps.

Goodwin, a well-known TV commentator and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in history, initially explained the similarities by stating that her notes, written in longhand on legal pads, had gotten "shuffled" and that she had mistaken her notes on McTaggart's book for her own prose.

Goodwin's mea culpa in the February 4 issue of Time magazine elaborated on this explanation. Her handwritten notes "combined direct quotes and paraphrased sentences," but she had rechecked the "300 books" she had used as source material to ensure that she had properly attributed it. The "mistakes" were the result of a few books' being "not fully rechecked."

Goodwin's "college-age son," she explained, subsequently showed her "how to use the mysterious footnote key on the computer" so that she could record bibliographic information as she worked on her books.

The most recent development in the Goodwin case came in this Saturday's New York Times. David Kirkpatrick reports that after questions about her bibliographic method were raised she "began to fear the problems were more widespread." She "told her research team to stop working on her next book" and to search for other possible examples of copied language in "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys."

Her researchers found "additional repetitions from several new books as well." The discovery prompted her publisher, Simon and Schuster, to destroy all paperback copies of "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys" remaining in inventory. Moreover, a new edition of the work will be published this spring that will "correct as many as 50 borrowed phrases" from McTaggart's book and will "address the omissions [to properly attribute source material] fully." Goodwin says she offered to pay for destroying the books and publishing the new edition, but Simon and Schuster will pick up the tab, estimated at less than $10,000.

"I could not bear to have this book out there the way it is," Goodwin told the Times.

In a January 23 New York Times article Goodwin claimed that "on the Roosevelt book, I understood what had produced the problem on the Fitzgeralds and Kennedys; it was having taken handwritten notes on the books." Yet, in the most recent Times article Goodwin confesses that she didn't change her note-taking methods immediately after her contact with McTaggart, but had continued with the same system in her research for her Pulitzer Prize-winning "No Ordinary Time" on the Roosevelts. On her latest book, a biography of Abraham Lincoln, she insists she is using a computer to eliminate the possibility of error.

Bo Crader is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.