In 1987, after ten years of research, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin published The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga, a 900 page books and 3,500 footnotes. That year author and historian Lynne McTaggart contacted Ms. Goodwin and pointed out that Ms. Goodwin had used Ms. McTaggart’s work extensively without proper acknowledgement. In places Ms. Goodwin used Ms. McTaggart’s work word by word without quote marks. Ms, Goodwin investigated, found that the criticism was correct. She took several steps to correct the situation.
Ms. Goodwin halted publication, publically acknowledged her errors and apologized. She examined the book carefully, and discovered other citation errors. She also reached a financial legal settlement with Ms. McTaggart who later proclaimed that she was satisfied with the results. Ms. McTaggart said Ms. Goodwin’s book incorporated new information was a valuable addition to the field of history.
Ms. Goodwin noted that her record keeping method, hand-written notes kept in cardboard cartons, was not adequate and later with help from her college-age son she improved her method. A corrected version of the book acceptable to both authors was issued.
All of that became “news” fourteen years later about the time the Stephen Ambrose was discovered to have plagiarized extensive material in at least four of his books. Even now when authors are accused of falsehood and plagiarism, she is likely to be used as an example.
As an author I know how easy it is inadvertently copy while intending only to take notes. I also know how often I get confused using notes with computer programs. I have slogged through a thesis and a dissertation using methods similar to what Ms. Goodwin’s initially used. I know that writing citations correctly often left me with an aching head and strained eyes.
Ms. Goodwin is a best-selling author, a presidential historian and a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her work. I enjoy all of her books and my favorite work of her is her memoir Wait Till Next Year.
I admire her writing abilities, her diligence as a historian and I enjoy listening to her opinions on television. Most of all I admire her response to making mistakes. I invite her critics to line up and cast stones — as long, of course, as they have been mistake-free since, oh say, 1987. For the rest of us I commend her as an example of how to handle our mistakes.
At a time when phrases like, “Mistakes were made” (Where? In a factory outside Akron, Ohio?); “I’m sorry if you felt offended”(You overly sensitive and immature twit) and “My behavior was inappropriate” (Thus labeling an error as about on a par with using the wrong fork at diner.) I believe Ms. Goodwin provided a model of responsibility and maturity by admitting her mistakes in full with detail, making good damage to those harmed, apologizing and changing the behavior that led to the error. The next time she is mentioned for making mistakes, I think the mention should include how well she corrected them.
What’s your opinion?