I finished reading all 800+ pages of Rick Perlstein’s new book The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan. My review of it will appear online soon, so I won’t evaluate the book here at this time. Rather I’d like to open up a discussion about the meaning of the ridiculous charges of plagiarism that have been leveled against Perlstein by Reagan scholar and right-wing publicist Craig Shirley. Most readers of this blog are no doubt aware of this faux controversy since it was covered in a fairly bad article in the New York Times—an article that New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has since criticized because it “amplified a damaging accusation of plagiarism without establishing its validity and doing so in a way that is transparent to the reader.”
Since the charges are flimsy at best they seem politically motivated. The Invisible Bridge is an unflattering portrayal of the ultimate conservative hero Ronald Reagan so there is a vested interest in destroying Perlstein’s credibility as an author. Or Shirley’s plagiarism charges might be a clever PR stunt meant to draw attention to Shirley’s book on Reagan’s 1976 bid for the GOP nomination—a book that Perlstein cites dozens and dozens of times!
Let’s discuss this: What is the meaning of these charges? What are other examples of plagiarism charges being leveled at someone for reasons other than actual plagiarism?