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Rick Perlstein: Time to ‘Fess Up and Make It Right With Craig Shirley


Reagan Revolution & The Invisible Bridge

We are always interested in anything new written about Ronald Reagan, and when we read Frank Rich’s review of Rick Perlstein’s new Reagan book “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan” in The New York Times, and noted that it included a reference to ConservativeHQ.com Chairman Richard A. Viguerie we were even more interested.
 
Then it came to our attention that Perlstein’s book isn’t exactly new.
 
Much of it appears to have been lifted verbatim or cribbed without attribution from our friend, Craig Shirley, the celebrated Reagan biographer and author of Reagan’s Revolution and Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America.
 
Here are just two of many troubling examples outlined in letters from Craig Shirley's attorneys to Perlstein’s publishers Simon & Schuster:
 
Craig Shirley in Reagan’s Revolution (2005)

Page 297: “Even its ‘red light’ district was festooned with red, white, and blue bunting, as dancing elephants were placed in the windows of several smut peddlers.”
 
Page 322: “About the only person in Kansas City who was keeping cool was Reagan himself . . . Reagan, watching on television, dissolved in laughter.”
 
Rick Perlstein in The Invisible Bridge (2014)

Page 771: “The city’s anemic red-light district was festooned with red, white and blue bunting; several of the smut peddlers featured dancers in elephant costume in their windows.”
 
Page 785: “Just about the only person who was calm through the entire thing was Ronald Reagan. He watched it on television in his hotel suite, dissolving in laughter.”
 
Letters from Shirley’s attorneys to Simon & Schuster say “There are many, many more passages like these throughout The Invisible Bridge."
 
We obtained copies of the letters Craig Shirley’s attorneys sent to Simon & Schuster alerting them to the potential copyright infringement and found two paragraphs to be particularly revealing:
 
“…Mr. Perlstein actually called Mr. Shirley to discuss the work, much like a hit-and-run driver might return to the scene of his crime or lurk in his victim’s hospital lobby. Specifically, in May 2014, Mr. Perlstein called Mr. Shirley to allege that citations in Reagan’s Revolution were inaccurate. Mr. Shirley requested a list of the citations at issue, which Mr. Perlstein failed to provide. When Mr. Shirley followed up with Mr. Perlstein to request the list again, Mr. Perlstein backtracked and told Mr. Shirley that he had determined the citations in fact were accurate.
 
“Most recently, just this month, Mr. Shirley obtained a review copy of The Invisible Bridge. After realizing the book contained no bibliography, footnotes, end notes or other citations, Mr. Shirley initiated an exchange of e-mail messages in which Mr. Perlstein confessed to making a “principled decision” to omit them because he thought they were “useless except for show.” (Of course, as Mr. Perlstein’s May 2014 phone call to Mr. Shirley betrays, he found the notes in Reagan’s Revolution to be quite useful.)
 
In his defense Perlstein has claimed to other outlets that Craig Shirley’s work is credited on a website associated with The Invisible Bridge and that such attribution absolves Perstein of the alleged plagiarism.
 
But as Shirley’s attorneys noted in one of their letters to Simon & Schuster, “…it is worth noting that while Mr. Shirley is referenced in the online source notes for these passages, the address at which those notes are posted appears nowhere in The Invisible Bridge or on its dust jacket—a fact which further evidences Mr. Perlstein’s intent to steal and conceal.”
 
With over 150 years of family newspaper editing and writing experience behind us we are unaware of any “principle” of the professions of journalism or history that allows one author to appropriate the work of another without attribution, and then claim such long-recognized professional standards are “useless except for show.” (Author Steven Hayward apparently agrees with this assessment, referring to Perlstein’s “peculiar method of source citation” in a Powerline article on the subject.)
 
In writing an 856 page work of popular history it would certainly be possible to make a mistake, or to think a general footnote at the end of a lengthy passage was enough, or to have a good faith disagreement about the genesis of an idea or insight, but to many observers in the book and political world this doesn’t look like one of those cases.
 
Historian Dolores Kearns Goodwin got caught up in a similar scandal, acknowledged her error and settled with the aggrieved author. Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan is scheduled to arrive in bookstores today. This would be a good day for Perlstein to ‘fess up, acknowledge his error and make it right with Craig Shirley.

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