ANALYSIS: Media Watch - Opinions on Ambrose may vary, but scrutinyis far from over

A month ago, it was discovered that Stephen Ambrose, "the most

popular historian of the last decade" (USA Today, January 14), had been

caught lifting full sentences without proper attribution to the original

author in his recent book The Wild Blue.



Ambrose addressed the matter with a few statements to The New York

Times, apologizing for the oversight. He explained that the material had

been cited using footnotes rather than quotation marks. Ambrose also

indicated that too many quotations and citations would interrupt the

flow of his storytelling. However, this reasoning seemed flimsy to some,

including Time magazine (January 21), which labeled Ambrose's

explanation "a defense a shoplifter might use when explaining he would

have paid for his stolen items, but that would have broken his stride on

the way out of the store."



To make matters worse, a second wave of coverage alleging that Ambrose's

plagiarism was not isolated to one incident began receiving widespread

attention. Recent reports allege that at least five of his books bear

the same crime, with the earliest infraction dating back to 1975.



A number of these reports suggested that the prolific historian was

sloppy in his work, too busy trying to meet his deadlines for the nine

books he has written in the past seven years. An op-ed in the Los

Angeles Times (January 13) acknowledged Ambrose's hectic pace as a

factor: "This prolific, best-selling and widely celebrated author of

about 30 history books seems to have been guilty of more instances of

sloppy note-taking than would be even tolerated from a college

freshman."



Ambrose had his fair share of supporters, several of whom countered that

the plagiarism allegations were motivated by the jealousy of others. In

the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (January 20), a columnist suggested, "I

suspect that much of this plagiarism fuss is being covertly kicked up by

other historian-writers who envy Ambrose's mega-sales and easy access to

Presidents and talk-show panels." A number of other reports voiced

similar sentiments, adding that Ambrose's plight was certainly not the

result of a malicious intent.



But there appeared to be a consensus in that media that Ambrose's

reputation has indeed been tarnished by the revelations of the past

month. A columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (January 20) assessed

the damage, and wrote, "Accusations of plagiarism threaten to turn a

respected historian's reputation for crafting crisp narratives about war

into the academic equivalent of Waterloo." The only debate seemed to be

for how long Ambrose's reputation would be stained, and whether the

public would forgive him.



There were a few reports that noted the poor example that America's most

celebrated history professor was setting for students. Several reports

suggested that a college student would need to be disciplined for a

similar transgression. A Vanderbilt professor told The New York Times

(January 15), "What Ambrose did is something I could haul students

before the honor council for."



The incidents cited in the media appear so blatant that Ambrose has

definitely shot himself in the foot through his questionable citation

process. While Ambrose has promised that future editions of his work

will carry the appropriate citations, the word is already out that his

entire body of work is being scoured for further evidence against

him.



Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found

at www.carma.com.



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