Right-wing publicist and author Craig Shirley doesn't like a new book about Ronald Reagan written by award-winning (and liberal) historian Rick Perlstein. So the conservative publicist has threatened to sue for $25 million in damages and has asked for all copies of the book to be "destroyed," claiming that with Invisible Bridge: The Fall Of Richard Nixon And The Rise of Ronald Reagan, Perlstein's guilty of plagiarism for paraphrasing facts Shirley had previously reported in his own book about Reagan.
But of course, paraphrasing is not the basis for copyright infringement and that's certainly not what constitutes plagiarism.
Reviewing the supposed examples of infringement cited by Shirley's lawyers, Jesse Walker, books editor for the libertarian Reason magazine, concludes:
Facts are not copyrightable, and one pair of similar sentences does not an infringement make. I don't see a dollar's worth of damages here, let alone 25 million.
Instead, the attack on Perlstein seems to be more about partisan politics and the clash over who gets to write the history of Reagan and less to do with allegations of misappropriating work. (Perlstein references Shirley's work in the Invisible Bridge acknowledgements and cites Shirley more than 100 times in the book's online endnotes.) Conservatives have previously showered Perlstein's conservative-movement books in praise, but, "this time Perlstein is writing about Ronald Reagan. Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan--Perlstein has moved from covering a minor saint, to a martyr, to God," as Slate's Dave Weigel explains.
Nonetheless, with an unfortunate assist from the New York Times this week, which helped legitimize the dubious plagiarism allegation via a he-said/he-said accounting of the controversy, Shirley's attention-grabbing accusation has received a wider airing. Indeed, the Times article insists Shirley's dubious claim of plagiarism effectively "casts a shadow over the release" of Invisible Bridge, which is precisely the storyline movement conservatives want to create this week. (Separately, the Times, in a glowing review, recently labeled the book an "epic work.")
The Times' misguided new coverage seemed to draw a rebuke from the paper's own Paul Krugman. Denouncing the Perlstein smear campaign as a "grotesque" "sliming," and dismissing the plagiarism charges as "spurious," Krugman stressed that in cases where professional reputations are attacked via unsubstantiated claims, "this tactic should be punctured by the press, not given momentum with "opinions differ on shape of the planet" reporting."
And that's precisely what the Times dispatch failed to do in this instance.
When news broke that William Clark, a longtime aide to Ronald Reagan, had recently passed away, several conservative media outlets quickly posted tributes to the man. Touted as the "most important and influential presidential confidante" in nearly a century, Clark was warmly remembered as a "a great treasure to the nation" and an "inspiration."
By all indications the laurels were well earned and Judge Clark, as he was known, served his country with distinction. What's telling about the warm words written about Clark are how they contrast so sharply with the tone the same type of conservative outlets use to describe current foreign policy and national security advisors who were in any way connected to the terrorist attack in Benghazi last September.
I'm referring to the strangely personal and almost hysterical way pundits have attacked Obama officials, including the president's national security advisor, in the wake of Benghazi, where four Americans were killed, including a U.S. ambassador.
For the right-wing noise machine, Benghazi trumps all. It stands as a singular failure in American foreign policy and represents one of the darkest days in recent U.S. history. It's worse than Watergate, was a bigger story than Hurricane Sandy last October, and symbolizes an unconscionable failure to protect Americans serving abroad.
But here's what's interesting about Clark's recently lauded resume when viewed against the right wing's permanent Benghazi name calling: Clark served as Reagan's national security advisor between 1982 and 1983. On April 18, 1983, Islamic terrorists attacked the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. Sixty-three people were killed, including 17 Americans, eight of whom worked for the CIA.
Five months later local terrorists struck again. During a lengthy air assault from nearby artillerymen, two Marines stationed at the Beirut airport were killed. Then on October 23, just days after Clark stepped down as national security advisor to become Secretary of the Interior, the Marines' Beirut barracks cratered after a 5-ton truck driven by a suicide bomber and carrying the equivalent of 12,000 pounds of TNT exploded outside; 241 Americans were killed, marking the deadliest single attacks on U.S. citizens overseas since World War II.
Reagan had sent 1,800 Marines to Beirut as part of a larger peacekeeping mission following the June 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the Palestine Liberation Organization's withdrawal from the country. But national security experts, including some members of Reagan's administration, warned that the Marines were vulnerable to attack.
In the aftermath, Col. Timothy J. Geraghty, the commander of the Marines in Beirut, said, "It didn't take a military expert to realize that our troops had been placed in an indefensible situation." Conservative columnist William Safire referred to the Beirut debacle as Reagan's "Bay of Pigs."
Conservatives have casually smeared numerous Obama officials over Benghazi for the last eleven months, yet the embassy attacks surrounding Clark's tenure as Reagan's national security adviser apparently did not blemish his long public career.
Attacking President Obama for not doing enough to lower the country's unemployment rate, Fox News' Greg Jarrett and Brenda Buttner insisted on Sunday that when faced with a similar type of economic crisis in his first term, Ronald Reagan turned around the country's job rate in just four years.
This false comparison has become a favorite Fox talking point.
BUTTNER: And Ronald Reagan in fact did in four years, took the unemployment rate way down. Bill Clinton said [at the DNC] nobody could do it in four years and he did.
JARRETT: Reagan did it. 10.8 percent down to 7 percent within four years, down to 5 percent thereafter.
Why can't Obama be more like Reagan, the Fox talkers asked. Why can't Obama deflate the unemployment rate the way Reagan did during his first term?
But look at the numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor. During Reagan's first full month in office, February 1981, the unemployment rate stood at 7.4 percent. It then rose steadily and peaked at 10.8 percent in November 1982, before falling to 7.5 percent in August 1984, as he campaigned for re-election. (Jarrett's mention of "five percent" was in reference to unemployment at the very end of Reagan's second term.)
Obama? During his first full month in office, February 2009, unemployment stood at 8.3 percent, it peaked at 10 percent in October 2009, and currently stands at 8.1 percent.
Note that unemployment right now is nearly identical to when Obama began his first term. And at this point in his presidency, the unemployment rate under Reagan was nearly identical to when he began his first term. So why is Fox pretending Reagan slayed unemployment in his first term when his record is nearly identical to Obama's?
In fact, left unmentioned on Fox yesterday was the fact that in the months prior to Reagan's first term, unemployment in America had been decreasing.
Fox has attacked the economic recovery under President Obama by claiming that if Obama just adopted the policies of former President Ronald Reagan, there would be a stronger recovery. But as economists have pointed out, the Reagan recession ended not because of Reagan's fiscal policies but because the Federal Reserve drastically cut interest rates. Because interest rates are already at zero, such a rate cut is not a possible option now.
In their frenzy to take down Attorney General Eric Holder, right wing media pundits have started comparing the brewing Fast and Furious scandal, in which a failed ATF operation allowed guns to "walk" to Mexico in order to track their delivery into the hands of drug cartels, to Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s.
Naturally, the conservatives making this comparison believe Fast and Furious is much worse than Reagan's scandal, in which the Republican hero trafficked arms into the hands of a tyrannical Iranian government, negotiated with Hezbollah terrorists and funneled money and military equipment into the hands of violent revolutionaries in America's own backyard.
Specifically, Fox News hosts are pushing the unlikely argument that Fast and Furious is worse than Iran-Contra because, as they put it, "nobody died" as a result of the latter scandal. The assertion -- that the Reagan administration's felonious dealings with terrorists and terror-sponsoring nations didn't lead to a single casualty -- is absurd to anyone with even the most elementary understanding of what Iran-Contra was or to anyone with access to the internet.
Partisans are insisting the president doesn't deserve a break and that it sends an awful message to the nation for him to take ten days off.
Context, though, is sometimes helpful in terms of highlighting how silly the cries of protest from the far-right media really are. For instance, at the same juncture of his first term, Ronald Reagan, like Obama, was battling a bad economy. Unemployment stood at 9.5%. Reagan's response his third August in office? He set off for a nearly month-long vacation.
Not only did Reagan go on a secluded, 25-day California retreat, but his top aides reportedly stopped relaying news events to him so as to not disturb the president's sojourn.
From the Washington Post, Aug. 22, 1983 [emphasis added]:
As President Reagan relaxes on his mountaintop ranch northwest of Santa Barbara, tucked away from the workaday cares of Washington, his top advisers have decided to put an end to what one of them calls "unnecessary news stories."
The negative news coverage that the president abhors was a topic of discussion at a White House breakfast the day before Reagan left on his present 25-day trip, the 17th stopover at his ranch since his election.
The Washington Times is celebrating Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday by advancing the falsehood that Reagan ended the 1981 recession by cutting taxes and making misleading claims about Reagan's record on taxes and spending.