Media Matters asks Random House to investigate Coulter plagiarism allegations

July 7, 2006

Peter Olson, Chairman and CEO
Stuart Applebaum, Public Relations
Random House, Inc.
1745 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

Jenny Frost, President and Publisher
Tina Constable, Vice President, Executive Director of Publicity
Crown Publishing Group
1745 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

Dear Mr. Olson, Mr. Applebaum, Ms. Frost, and Ms. Constable:

I am writing to bring to your attention troubling evidence that one of your authors, Ann Coulter, plagiarized portions of her recent Crown Publishing Group book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism.

The New York Post reported on July 2 that John Barrie, who created a “leading plagiarism-recognition system,” examined Coulter's book and found three examples of “textbook plagiarism.” The Post reported:

Barrie, CEO of iParadigms, told The Post that one 25-word passage from the “Godless” chapter titled “The Holiest Sacrament: Abortion” appears to have been lifted nearly word for word from Planned Parenthood literature published at least 18 months before Coulter's 281-page book was released.

A separate, 24-word string from the chapter “The Creation Myth” appeared about a year earlier in the San Francisco Chronicle with just one word change -- “stacked” was changed to “piled.”

Another 33-word passage that appears five pages into “Godless” allegedly comes from a 1999 article in the Portland (Maine) Press Herald.

Meanwhile, many of the 344 citations Coulter includes in “Godless” “are very misleading,” said Barrie, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, where he specialized in pattern recognition.

“They're used purely to try and give the book a higher level of credibility -- as if it's an academic work. But her sloppiness in failing to properly attribute many other passages strips it of nearly all its academic merits,” he told The Post.

The Post went on to report that Barrie also found that “Coulter's Universal Press [Syndicate] columns from the past 12 months” included “similar patterns of cribbing”:

Her Aug. 3, 2005, column, “Read My Lips: No New Liberals,” about U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, includes six passages, ranging from 10 to 48 words each, that appeared 15 years earlier in the same order in an L.A. Times article, headlined “Liberals Leery as New Clues Surface on Souter's Views.”

But nowhere in that column does she mention the L.A. Times or the story's writer, David G. Savage.

Her June 29, 2005, column, “Thou Shalt Not Commit Religion,” incorporates 10 facts on National Endowment for the Arts-funded work that originally appeared in the same order in a 1991 Heritage Foundation report, “The National Endowment for the Arts: Misusing Taxpayers' Money.” But again, the Heritage Foundation isn't credited.

I know Random House takes plagiarism very seriously, as it should. When evidence recently surfaced that Kaavya Viswanathan plagiarized from two books by Megan McCafferty, published by Random House subsidiary Crown Publishing Group, the company reportedly pressured Viswanathan's publisher -- Little, Brown & Co. -- to pull her book from stores.

According to USA Today, in April 2006, “McCafferty's publisher, the Crown Publishing Group, labeled Viswanathan's actions 'literary identity theft' and had urged Little, Brown, which initially said her novel would remain on sale, to pull the book.”

The Boston Globe reported in May 2006 that Little, Brown would not publish a revised edition of Viswanathan's book, and that the publishing company made the rare decision not to publish a second book by Viswanathan, which was part of the original two-book contract with Little, Brown.

The Associated Press reported in April 2006, “In a statement issued soon after Little, Brown's announcement, Crown said it was 'pleased that this matter has been resolved in an appropriate and timely fashion.' ”

Coulter has exhibited a pattern of behavior suggesting that Godless itself may include other examples of plagiarism beyond those Barrie has already identified. Now that the newspaper syndicate that publishes Coulter's column has indicated it will investigate the charges, we urge Random House to undertake a comprehensive review and consider all appropriate action, up to and including pulling the book. Coulter's unethical conduct, as evidenced through the instances of plagiarism identified in her columns, and manifested in the book itself, does not only tarnish Coulter; if immediate action is not taken, it will soon reflect poorly on Random House.


David Brock
President & CEO
Media Matters for America