Another fight has erupted over President Ronald Reagan’s legacy of unabashed promotion of the American way of life as superior and desirable, only this one is not an ideological dispute.
It’s a charge of plagiarism against author Rick Perlstein, author of “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan,” for allegedly lifting text from Craig Shirley’s book “Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign that Started It All.”
Shirley’s attorneys have written twice to the publisher of the new tome, pointing out nearly 50 similarities between Shirley’s book and Perlstein’s new book, which is scheduled for release Tuesday.
Shirley, president of Shirley & Bannister Public Affairs, explained in a statement that Perlstein had asked him to review “The Invisible Bridge.” After receiving a copy, Shirley “immediately noticed startling similarities” to his own book on Reagan.
“The similarities were not just in historical facts – after all, both works cover the same historical figure and period. Rather, the similarities were in wording, phrasing and expression – nearly 50 in all, according to our initial review of the work,” Shirley said.
Shirley said he “found that the body of ‘The Invisible Bridge’ does not credit ‘Reagan’s Revolution’ at any point, and there are no footnotes, end notes, bibliography or other common form of citation in his book.”
“Instead, buried on page 810, Mr. Perlstein directs readers to access his personal website where, after several clicks, they can uncover ‘A Note on Sources’ for ‘The Invisible Bridge.’ There, Mr. Perlstein credits some – but not all – of his uses of ‘Reagan’s Revolution,’” he said.
In a July 25 letter, attorney Chris Ashby, on behalf of Shirley, charged that Perlstein used so much of Shirley’s work, he “should have sought to license its use.”
An analysis provided by Shirley lists dozens of comparable passages. In Ashby’s first letter, he notes that “Reagan’s Revolution” contains the passage, “Even its ‘red light’ district was festooned with red, white, and blue bunting, as dancing elephants were placed in the windows of several smut peddlers.”
Ten years later, “The Invisible Bridge” by Perlstein states: “The city’s anemic red-light district was festooned with red, white and blue bunting; several of the smut peddlers featured dancers in elephant costume in their windows.”
It was among dozens of examples cited.
The letter, to David Hillman of Simon & Schuster, contends Perlstein “lifts without attribution entire passages from ‘Reagan’s Revolution’ – in some instances, attempting to conceal his theft by altering words or re-ordering sentences, but in other instances not even bothering to do so.”
“Second, he presents – again without attribution – facts and ideas Mr. Shirley first discovered and developed, recounting them instead as if they were widely known or as if he himself had discovered and developed them.”
Shirley is demanding a public apology, $25 million in damages and removal of the books.
The lawyer note Shirley “conducted 104 interviews with historical figures, including then Vice President Richard Cheney, former Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury and White House Chief of Staff James A. Baker III, former Sen. and HHS Secretary Richard Schweiker, former U.S. District Court Judge Charles Pickering, and journalists, columnists and authors such as Howard Fineman, George F. Will and Jules Witcover.”
“We know that Mr. Perlstein relied heavily on ‘Reagan’s Revolution’ when writing ‘The Invisible Bridge,’” the lawyer wrote.
“Even more telling … is the fact that Mr. Perlstein actually called Mr. Shirley to discuss the work, much like a hit-and-run driver might return to the scene of his crime or lurk in his victim’s hospital lobby.”
Placing “source notes” online instead of in the book “underscore the intentional nature of Mr. Perlstein’s infringement,” the letter said.
Even Perlstein’s “backhanded reference to Mr. Shirley in the acknowledgements section of his book – he quips that Mr. Shirley ‘saved [him] 3.76 months of work’ – is unavailing,’” the letter said.
In a second letter only days later, Ashby’s legal team cited more similarities in the books and said the case was being turned over to a litigation team for legal action.
Perlstein, who is described in a biography at “The Nation” as the “hypercaffeinated Herodotus of the American century,” previously has written about Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon.
In a telephone call with the New York Times, he said: “The claim of plagiarism doesn’t fly; these are paraphrases. I’m reverent toward my sources. History is a team sport, and references are how you support your teammates.”
In the same Times report, Simon & Schuster President Jonathan Karp said the charges are “ludicrous.”
He told the Times the book was “a meticulously researched work of scholarship.”
But Shirley said, according to the Times, the plagiarism charges cast “a shadow over the release of ‘The Invisible Bridge.’”