Shadow-Editing and Plagiarism Go Hand-in-Hand in Service of Identity Politics
After Harvard President Claudine Gay was forced to resign for copying other’s words without attribution, the Associated Press was forced to edit its erroneous spin — which it did without acknowledging any error. Both lead in fields where truthfulness is essential, yet both displayed callous intellectual dishonesty. The reason why neither seems to care is that they are pursuing an incompatible agenda: Marxist usurpation.
Let’s rewind and review the facts in order.
In early December, the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hemmed and hawed over vile, anti-Semitic protests that have taken place on the campuses they run. Gay in particular, when asked whether “calling for the genocide of Jews violate[s] Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment,” replied that it depends “on the context” and dug herself in on that answer. The context that provoked this equivocal response is Hamas’s October 7 surprise attack, which resulted in the deaths of more Jews than any event since the Holocaust.
Soon afterward, UPenn President Liz Magill resigned after a donor canceled a $100 million gift to the university over her testimony. Harvard’s Gay and MIT President Sally Kornbluth did not.
At first, Harvard’s Board issued a statement to “reaffirm our support for President Gay’s continued leadership of Harvard University.” The board declared this despite the fact that they admitted, “the University’s initial statement [on Hamas’s terrorist attack] should have been an immediate, direct, and unequivocal condemnation.”
The board’s statement also included a paragraph on plagiarism allegations against Gay. They set forth the following facts: the first plagiarism allegations were made against Gay in “late October,” but an “independent review” wrapped up before December 9, only days after her infamous performance before Congress. (A typical plagiarism review runs six to 12 months, reported the Free Beacon.) That review “revealed a few instances of inadequate citation,” which were serious enough that Gay requested “four corrections in two articles [published years earlier] to insert citations and quotation marks.”
Harvard faculty and students are supposed to adhere to an Honor Code, which requires “transparent acknowledgement of the contribution of others.” The Code explicitly acknowledges “plagiarizing or misrepresenting the ideas or language of someone else as one’s own … violates the standards of our community.” Furthermore, the Harvard Plagiarism Policy stipulates that “[q]uotations must be placed properly within quotation marks and must be cited fully. In addition, all paraphrased material must be acknowledged completely.” The policy warns that students who violate these rules “will be subject to disciplinary action.” A voting student member of the Harvard Honor Council wrote that any student would be suspended for doing what Gay had done.
In the face of this record, the Harvard board asserted that these instances of Gay presenting others’ words as her own did not violate “Harvard’s standards for research misconduct.”
Unfortunately for the board, and for Gay, more allegations of plagiarism continued to surface. As of January 1, Gay faced nearly 50 plagiarism allegations spanning eight of her 17 published works, according to the Free Beacon. (Even this number of published works is pitifully thin; for comparison, when Larry Summers became president of Harvard in 2001, he had published 150 papers and multiple books and served as U.S. Treasury Secretary.) Gay even lifted sentences from Dr. Carol Swain’s award-winning book, “Black Faces, Black Interests: The Representation of African Americans in Congress,” which has been cited in opinions by Supreme Court justices.
For the board, standing by Gay was growing more embarrassing by the day. “Keeping Gay would require hand-waving away her cases of plagiarism while disciplining students for the same offenses,” wrote National Review’s Jim Geraghty. “An institution as powerful as Harvard can withstand a certain amount of embarrassing hypocrisy, but not that much.”
On Tuesday, the board accepted Gay’s resignation, but the New York Post reported she is expected to remain on the faculty and draw an annual salary of nearly $900,000.
The usual suspects reacted to Gay’s ouster with dismay. “President Gay’s resignation is about more than a person or a single incident. This is an attack on every Black woman in this country who’s put a crack in the glass ceiling,” huffed National Action Network Founder Reverend Al Sharpton. “Racist mobs won’t stop until they topple all Black people from positions of power and influence who are not reinforcing the structure of racism,” responded Ibram X. Kendi, prominent critical theorist and director of Boston University’s flailing Center for Antiracist Research. These activists demand that Gay be judged solely by the color of her skin, not the content of her character (to paraphrase MLK, Jr.).
An even more dramatic outburst escaped from the keyboard of Daily Beast columnist and Deep State Radio host David Rothkopf. “The lynch mob that came for Claudine Gay will not be satisfied with her resignation,” he declared. “They will come for others. The faux rationales they may offer for their attacks may change, but their goal will remain the same: to stifle discourse and leaders who do not conform to their views.” No, that’s the goal of the radical Left, one which they have largely achieved on university campuses.
On Wednesday, the nation’s most prominent journalism outfit, the Associated Press, copied the homework of the anti-racist ideologues. “Harvard president’s resignation highlights new conservative weapon against colleges: plagiarism,” they tweeted, along with an article that originally bore that as its headline. The article insinuated that Gay faced a higher standard because she is black, citing at second-hand a black woman who graduated from UC Berkeley in the 1950s, “As a Black person in academia, ‘you always have to be twice, three times as good.’”
University racial standards have clearly changed over the past 70 years. Last June, the Supreme Court ruled against Harvard’s admissions practices under which “[a]n African American student in the fourth lowest academic decile has a higher chance of admission (12.8%) than an Asian American in the top decile (12.7%)” (internal brackets removed). Gay’s career also demonstrates the new trend, as she waltzed to the top of America’s leading university with only a tenth of the academic output of the white man who took the post 23 years earlier — and now at least half of her output might not have even been her own work.
These facts did not deter the AP from manufacturing outrage over the messenger, rather than the crime. “Outrage [against Gay’s plagiarism] came not from her academic peers but her political foes, led by conservatives who put her career under intense scrutiny,” the AP complained. “Many academics were troubled with how the plagiarism came to light: as part of a coordinated campaign to discredit Gay and force her from office, in part because of her involvement in efforts for racial justice on campus.”
It’s not just academics; this episode should trouble everyday people, too — but for entirely different reasons. How come the extensive, decades-long pattern of plagiarism in Gay’s academic work was never detected until some journalists went sleuthing? Did the journal editors who published her work not check it first? Did no one at Harvard review her C.V. before appointing her to lead the institution? “Clearly nobody had actually read anything Gay had written in the 1990s as she completed her graduate work,” interpreted Christian Schneider in National Review. “In fact, Gay was probably so convinced nobody was ever going to read her papers that she actually stole from an award-winning book.”
Universities have long been left to police their own. Have they abandoned this responsibility? If so, the insular institutions known for jealously guarding their reputations will suddenly have to reckon with an uncomfortable degree of public scrutiny. Yet, according to the AP’s framing, academics are most concerned that some unfriendly members of the public went snooping.
Speaking of those members, the AP article devoted considerable attention to Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute, a leading anti-wokeness activist who broke news about Gay’s plagiarism scandal and, by his own account, “adopted the unorthodox approach of narrating the strategy in real time.” The AP attempted to dunk on Rufo’s unwise and vindictive response to Gay’s ouster, imputing motives while botching their facts. “He wrote ‘SCALPED,’” recorded the AP, “as if Gay was a trophy of violence, invoking a gruesome practice taken up by white colonists who sought to eradicate Native Americans.”
Or, at least, that’s how the sentence read when it was first published. In the current version of the article, the AP amended their analysis, “as if Gay was a trophy of violence, invoking a gruesome practice taken up by white colonists who sought to eradicate Native Americans and also used by some tribes against their enemies” (emphasis added). (They also rewrote the headline to read, “Plagiarism charges downed Harvard’s president. A conservative attack helped to fan the outrage.”) If accuracy was their aim (not to mention that other journalistic ideal, brevity), the clause would read thus: “invoking a gruesome, Native American practice, imitated by some European woodsmen, of taking trophies from slain enemies.” In any event, the article does not include an editor’s note to alert readers to any changes.
The original version was written “to demonstrate how racist the aims of those who uncovered Gay’s plagiarism were,” remarked National Review’s Zach Kessel. But “The AP stealth-edited its story to admit that scalping was a Native American practice, not an inherently racist act of violence the mention of which shows that Rufo is a racist himself.” That’s an embarrassing body-blow to their narrative. No wonder they didn’t want to draw attention to it.
In fact, there was no need to draw attention to the scandal at all. “This should have been a short news cycle. Upon the surfacing of so much borrowed work in her meager academic product, President Gay should have been quietly let go, immediately,” NRO’s Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote. “The reason this is a drawn-out story is that she wasn’t, which means something is going on at Harvard besides upholding the high academic standards on which its reputation depends.”
In addition, the gradual discovery of more instances of plagiarism gave time for Gay’s ideological allies to jump on-board her sinking ship. The Harvard Board, prominent academics in other universities, and even the national media were all willing to go to bat for her. As a result, the casualty list for this titanic calamity is much longer than it had to be.
According to ordinary standards by which a university president would be judged, Gay’s sparse academic accomplishments were under fire, and her time as president was too short (six months) to have accomplished anything of note. But according to a different set of standards, Gay had already accomplished the most important achievement: being born a black woman — and to Haitian immigrants at that (never mind their being Haiti’s elites). “It represents the logical endpoint of identity politics,” said Jack Butler in National Review.
Once Gay plays intersectional victimhood card, adherents of identity politics believe her actual behavior is irrelevant to the outcome. “The question to assess whether this was a racist attack isn’t whether Dr. Gay engaged in any misconduct, wrote Kendi. “The question is whether all these people would have investigated, surveilled, harassed, written about, and attacked her in the same way if the Harvard president in this case would have been White.”
That is the worldview of an ideology obsessed with power, not truth. For them, universities are not the center for education and the advancement of knowledge, but weapons of privilege to be captured and trained on their former controllers. If truth doesn’t matter, then neither plagiarism nor gross journalistic malpractice matter either. Both can be ignored so long as people with the right identity credentials hold the right office.
But not everything can be ignored all the time. Harvard has a tremendous reputation at stake, and even its own students were calling out the hypocrisy. As to the mud-slinging at those who uncovered her wrongdoing, “Nobody believed that Gay’s plagiarism was the fault of those who had noticed, and nor did they much care that the usual crew called them names,” said National Review editor Charlie Cooke. Ordinary Americans are tired of adoring the emperor’s beautiful attire.
Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.