Q&A Friday #44: Is Ann Coulter A Plagiarist?

Question: “What in the wide wide world of sports is going on with the media and Ann Coulter? …actually, I’m talking about her alleged plagiarism.” — easytokikalib

Answer: Liberals despise Ann Coulter so much that they’ll smear her with anything and everything they can think of, whether it has any validity or not.

Because of that, ever so often, there seems to be some liberal blogger accusing Coulter of plagiarism. Here’s one I wrote about back in August of 2005 just to give you an example:

“There has been a claim floating around on the left that Ann Coulter plagiarized some other writers in a column called “Thou shalt not commit religion.” It’s complete bunk. Coulter listed 23 pieces of speech that have been “funded in whole or in part by taxpayers.” The “plagiarism” here is supposed to be that several of the items appeared on other lists in conservative publications and that in some cases, the wording was similar. Gee, maybe’s it’s just me, but how many different ways are there to say “A female performer inserting a speculum into her vagina and inviting audience members on stage to view her cervix with a flashlight?” The lefties are just being silly.”

Now there’s some guy named John Barrie claiming that he found “textbook plagiarism,” in Coulter’s work. I’ve taken a look through his examples and some others that were provided.

Most of them are something like, “Coulter used a few quotes that someone else did, too. Look, the words are the same in the quotes, so it’s plagiarism!” But, if you look through the work of any big name columnists and compare it to everything else ever written on the subject, you’ll find a few sentences and paragraphs that look roughly the same as things others have written simply because they’re writing about the same topic. Heck, there’s one particular right-of-center columnist (I won’t say which one) who wrote several columns in a row talking about topics that were covered in posts that came out earlier in the same week on RWN. Does that mean he was cribbing my material or even reading Right Wing News at all? No. It just means that people of a like mind may take note of the same topics and say similar things about them. There’s nothing unusual about that.

In any case, in my opinion, the only thing that could fairly be said to rise to the level of plagiarism in all the examples provided was this:

Example 1, Page 5 (Of Godless): “The massive Dickey-Lincoln Dam, a $227 million hydroelectric project proposed on upper St. John River in Maine, was halted by the discovery of the Furbish lousewort, a plant previously believed to be extinct.”

Alleged Source: “The massive Dickey-Lincoln Dam, a $ 227 million hydroelectric project proposed on upper St. John River, is halted by the discovery of the Furbish lousewort, a plant believed to be extinct.” (“People and events that made Maine’s century,” Portland Press-Herald, Dec. 12, 1999 (Not available online)(Identified by Rude Pundit, John Barrie/New York Post)

Since this is a very insignificant paragraph in a 280 page book with hundreds of citations, my best guess would be that Ann just made a mistake and didn’t quote and cite something that she should have. In my opinion, that’s no big deal and again, if it was someone like Maureen Dowd or Thomas Friedman who made a mistake like that, no one would even notice it in the first place or make a huge issue out of it if they did (although Ann should have that corrected in the next printing of the book).

It’s also worth noting that Crown Publishing, the group that put out Godless, seems to look at this issue about the same way:

“Steve Ross, senior vice president of Crown Publishing group, which published the book, defended his best-selling polemicist by noting there are 19 pages of endnotes.

“We have reviewed the allegations of plagiarism surrounding ‘Godless’ and found them to be as trivial and meritless as they are irresponsible,” Ross said.

“The number of words used by our author in these snippets is so minimal that there is no requirement for attribution.”

So is Ann Coulter a plagiarist? In my opinion, no; mistakenly leaving out a single citation in a book doesn’t justify that charge.

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