Intrepid Boston Herald media reporter Jessica Heslam has more today on the burgeoning kerfuffle surrounding Jon Keller’s book “The Bluest State,” and specifically his practice of lifting passages from newspaper articles without attribution or even indication that they’re quoted from somewhere.
First, Heslam has helpfully supplied a lengthy list of passages from the book, stacked up against the newspaper articles that Keller evidently copied. It’s pretty impressive.
Second, Keller’s editor has responded to the academic criticism of the book’s non-use of footnotes or endnotes:
Keller’s editor at St. Martin’s Press, Michael Flamini, said in an e-mail that “‘The Bluest State’ is a lively and controversial work” and “more akin to an op-ed piece than to a work of historical analysis or an academic treatise.”
“It is unreasonable to expect extensive footnotes for each and every quote, or a lengthy bibliography,” Flamini wrote…. Flamini, in his e-mail, characterized Keller’s highly touted tome as a political book written by a journalist for a “trade,” or general interest audience, and said that it did not require footnotes for every quote, nor a lengthy bibliography.
“References are made in the book’s index and throughout the text to quotes and facts reported in other newspapers,” Flamini wrote. “Thus, Jon Keller discloses to his readers, throughout his book, that he has occasionally relied on others’ reporting (in addition to relying on his own prodigious reporting).”
Flamini’s whole email is reprinted here. The journo profs remain unimpressed.
Samuel Freedman, a professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, found Flamini’s defense of Keller, who is also a Herald contributor, “completely unpersuasive.”
“It’s not just books by university scholars that require accuracy and integrity in sourcing. Books by journalists require it, too,” Freedman said…. “There are many ways that this author could have indicated that he was taking material from other reporters and the fact that he does that occasionally in the course of the book doesn’t absolve him of the need to have been honest with the reader about all the occasions in which he did it, or at least have published a bibliography that cited all the articles that he used.”
The Keller/Flamini notion seems to be that “general audience” or “trade” books (which I take to mean “non-academic” books) don’t require sourcing. This sounded unlikely to me, so I went to the bookshelf looking for other “trade” or “general audience” books, published by non-academic publishing houses, about politics or other related non-fiction topics. This is a completely unscientific survey — it’s just what I could quickly put my hands on.
My little mini-survey doesn’t support the Keller/Flamini view.
- Frank Rich: “The Greatest Story Ever Sold.” Penguin Press, 2006. 18 pages of endnotes.
- Joe Conason: “Big Lies.” St. Martin’s Press, 2003. 19 pages of endnotes.
- Al Franken: “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.” Dutton, 2003. 13 pages of endnotes, plus occasional footnotes in the text.
- Kevin Phillips, “American Dynasty.” Viking, 2004. 24 pages of endnotes.
- Ann Coulter, “Slander.” I don’t actually own this book, but its endnotes are discussed in “Lying Liars.” Al Franken reports that the book has 35 pages of endnotes. Good God, even Ann Coulter uses endnotes! (Franken says she misuses them, but that’s another topic.)
These books — including Conason’s, published by the same St. Martin’s Press that issued Keller’s book — all fall roughly into the same category as Keller’s book: general audience, “trade” books that are much more commentary on current events than academic or historical analysis. They’re all, in Flamini’s words, “akin to an op-ed piece” to pretty much the same extent as Keller’s. They all use endnotes. They all identify their sources. Doesn’t seem to be too much to ask.
If you have other books like these laying about, look to see if they have endnotes, and report what you find in the comments. Also, if you happen to be in a bookstore soon, take a stroll through the politics/current events aisle and see what you can find out. I’ll try to do the same.