January 12, 2015

Ben Carson plagiarizes from SocialismSucks.net; nation really doesn’t care about politicians who plagiarize their books


Ben Carson's America the Beautiful: now with 100% less plagiarism, 100% more foil-stamped signature

Ben Carson’s America the Beautiful: now with 100% less plagiarism, 100% more foil-stamped signature

Last Tuesday, reporters at BuzzFeed—a website that is either the future of journalism or the end of journalism or your home for detailed coverage of “21 Extremely Simple Curling Iron Hacks Everyone Should Know” or is just a website—published a story saying presidential wannabe Dr. Ben Carson’s book America the Beautiful included plagiarisms from SocialismSucks.net, a Liberty Institute press release, conservative theorist Cleon Skousen, and numerous other sources.

On Thursday, Carson apologized:

“I attempted to appropriately cite and acknowledge all sources in America the Beautiful, but inadvertently missed some. I apologize, and I am working with my editors to rectify the situation.”

Zondervan, a Christian publisher owned by HarperCollins, published America the Beautiful in 2012, and its spokeswoman . . . well, she didn’t apologize, exactly, but she did say that Zondervan would take care of this whole thing in due course:

“It has become apparent that further source citation is appropriate in Dr. Carson’s America the Beautiful. Any necessary updates will be made in subsequent printings.”

One possible reason why Zondervan’s statement was less than emphatic? This blog post on The Corner, the worst blog in the world, which uses a “source close to [Carson]” to slam Carson’s editor and Zondervan’s editorial staff.

Anyway, Zondervan will weather this storm. They have a new book of Carson’s coming out in February (You Have a Brain: A Teen’s Guide to T.H.I.N.K. [sic] B.I.G.), and in April, they’re publishing a special “signature edition” of America the Beautiful. What is a special signature edition? It is a book with “a beautiful cloth hardcover binding with a foil stamped Ben Carson signature, dustjacket, and special introduction to the reader from the author.” If Zondervan can make changes to the book in time for the special signature edition to be printed, then the timing is excellent: readers who want a plagiarism-free edition of Carson’s book will be able to buy a brand new hardcover, and readers who don’t care about plagiarism but love foil-stamped signatures will do the same. It’s a real publishing miracle.

You’ll notice that this blog post is written without irony or outrage. Indeed, we’re over 300 words in, and we haven’t yet made fun of SocialismSucks.net, a GeoCities-like temple of conspiracy and inanity that is inactive, but seems to be affiliated with Laissez-FaireRepublic.com and AmericanBacklash.com. Why the lack of verve, the absence of denunciation, the minimal drama?

Because a politician plagiarizing his or her book just isn’t that big a deal. This is not to say that plagiarism is okay—it isn’t—or that we should hold politicians to standards different from those we demand of hack pop-science reporters. We shouldn’t. But the fact is that politicians’ books—especially their campaign memoirs—are a banal and hopeless publishing category, and no one really cares about them. (Unlike politicians’ dissertations, which people should care about.)

That a politician still feels obligated to publish a book as a declaration of seriousness is good for the publishing industry, but it’s not particularly good for readers (who usually don’t read these books), much less for the politicians themselves. For the most part, politicians don’t actually write these books, but it’s no fun for their ghostwriters either. These poor souls have to sit in front of a computer for hours and try to come up with new ways to emphasize American superiority and socialistic foolishness—and new approaches to the problem of how to make a politician sound modest, when politicians are never honest.

These books exist because they tend to make money (though they often don’t), because they’re bought in bulk, because book tours are a good cover for an early stab at a campaign trip, and because they’re a way to get attention without having to announce anything new. All of this is well and good, but none of it has anything to do with the books’ content, which is basically interchangeable.

So the next time you encounter a passage in a book with a grand and noble title like The Way Forward or No Higher Honor and you discover that it seems awfully similar to something you recently read on Laissez-FaireRepublic.com, hold the outrage. The poor ghostwriter had as much fun plagiarizing that passage as you’re having reading it. Which is to say: none at all.


Mark Krotov is senior editor at Melville House.