Wash. Post article highlighted review of Post columnist Gerson's book but omitted specific plagiarism allegation

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

A Washington Post article reported that David Frum's review of Post columnist Michael Gerson's book Heroic Conservatism "offers several examples of what he [Frum] terms the author's self-aggrandizement, saying that Gerson inflated his role in the development of the president's AIDS initiative in Africa and in writing a potential concession speech for George W. Bush on Election Day 2000." However, the article did not mention that Frum accused Gerson of plagiarizing from Frum's White House memoir.

In a November 26 Washington Post article, staff writer Michael Abramowitz cited former Bush White House speechwriter David Frum's book review of former Bush White House speechwriter and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson's book Heroic Conservatism: Why Republicans Need to Embrace America's Ideals (And Why They Deserve to Fail If They Don't) (HarperCollins, October 2007) in the December 3 edition of National Review as evidence that "[t]he civil war in Bushworld over Michael Gerson does not appear to be over." Abramowitz reported that Frum's review "offers several examples of what he terms the author's self-aggrandizement, saying that Gerson inflated his role in the development of the president's AIDS initiative in Africa and in writing a potential concession speech for George W. Bush on Election Day 2000." However, Abramowitz did not mention that in his review, Frum accused Gerson of plagiarizing from Frum's White House memoir, The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush (Random House, 2003). In fact, Frum wrote that the aspect of Gerson's book that had "persuaded me I had better set the record straight" and write the book review was that Gerson had reprinted an "observation" from Frum's memoir "almost verbatim and without credit."

In a post at his diary at National Review Online, Frum wrote: "My review of Michael Gerson's Heroic Conservatism will appear in the forthcoming print edition of NR, now in the mails. This was not a task I was eager to undertake. But for reasons explained in the review itself, I felt I had little choice."

In his review, currently available only in print, Frum asserted that his "observation" in The Right Man was "reprinted ... as the author's own invention" in the first printing of Heroic Conservatism and that he "ha[s] been assured that the passage will be attributed in future printings of the book." From Frum's review of Gerson's book:

But I was surprised to find an observation from my own White House memoir reprinted almost verbatim and without credit on pp. 36-37 of Heroic Conservatism as the author's own invention.

FRUM (2003): "Rove had ideas that nobody else had -- and that was his value to the president. Hughes had the same ideas that everybody else had -- and that was hers."

GERSON (2007): "Karl was valuable because he thought in ways that nobody else did. Karen was valuable because she thought in ways that everybody else did, which is often the key to being an effective communicator."

I have been assured that the passage will be attributed in future printings of the book. It was this episode, however, that persuaded me I had better set the record straight.

Abramowitz wrote that former Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully described Gerson "as a self-promoter who stole credit for speech language from his lesser-known colleagues" and that Frum "sides with Scully." His concluding paragraph begins as follows:

The attack on Gerson has prompted a furious counterattack from many current and former White House aides, and it's hard for an outsider to know what to make of the competing versions of recent history.

So Abramowitz presented the "civil war in Bushworld" as a he said/she said, the truth of which is unknowable, but omitted from his article concrete evidence of at least one of the allegations against Gerson -- that he claims other people's words and ideas as his own.

The Washington Post Co. has previously acted swiftly to respond to allegations that its employees had lifted material without attribution. In a March 24, 2006, washingtonpost.com blog post, executive editor James M. Brady announced that conservative blogger Ben Domenech had resigned from washingtonpost.com following allegations that he "plagiarized material that appeared under his byline in various publications prior to washingtonpost.com contracting with him." In a March 25, 2006, Washington Post article, staff writer Howard Kurtz reported that Brady "said he would have dismissed Domenech if the former Bush administration aide and Republican Senate staffer had not offered to quit first. He said there was 'enough smoke' in the allegations of plagiarism 'that we needed to sever the relationship.' " Indeed, according to the Post's "Standards and Ethics," "Attribution of material from other newspapers and other media must be total. Plagiarism is one of journalism's unforgivable sins."

From the November 25 Washington Post article:

The civil war in Bushworld over Michael Gerson does not appear to be over. Former White House speechwriter Matthew Scully made waves three months ago with his blistering portrait of Gerson in the Atlantic magazine, describing the former White House speechwriter as a self-promoter who stole credit for speech language from his lesser-known colleagues.

Now, David Frum, a former White House speechwriter and colleague of Gerson and Scully's, is out with his own account, and he sides with Scully.

"I worked closely with Gerson and Scully, and I know both men well, as I do the third member of that once-intimate band, John McConnell," Frum wrote in last week's issue of National Review. "I witnessed the events Scully chronicled, and I can attest to the accuracy of Scully's account."

In a review of Gerson's new book, "Heroic Conservatism," Frum offers several examples of what he terms the author's self-aggrandizement, saying that Gerson inflated his role in the development of the president's AIDS initiative in Africa and in writing a potential concession speech for George W. Bush on Election Day 2000.

Gerson, now a Washington Post columnist and fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, did not respond to requests for comment. He previously expressed shock over the criticism and said that he never sought to steal credit from colleagues.

The attack on Gerson has prompted a furious counterattack from many current and former White House aides, and it's hard for an outsider to know what to make of the competing versions of recent history. One thing is certain: Things may have been more tense and complex inside the White House than the gauzy picture of convivial teamwork commonly presented by many current and former officials.

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