Wooster: Perlstein in his Nixon-Reagan book 'The Invisible Bridge' plagarized Shirley

Liberal historian Rick Pearlstein stands accused of plagiarizing swaths of phrasing and analysis from Craig Shirley’s book “Reagan’s Revolution” for his own book about the political transition from Richard M. Nixon to Ronald W. Reagan, “The Invisible Bridge.”

A Sept. 16 report by Martin W. Wooster, a journalist and former editor of Harper’s Weekly, detailing the places where Wooster found Perlstein plagiarized Shirley.

“Based upon my analysis—which found unattributed direct uses of Mr. Shirley’s words, phrases, original expression and research, as well as evidence of substantial uncredited reliance upon Reagan’s Revolution and the underlying research—it is my opinion that Mr. Perlstein plagiarized Mr. Shirley’s work,” Wooster wrote in his opening summary.

In the course of my analysis, I saw several instances in which Mr. Perlstein used Mr. Shirley’s words, phrases and original expression directly, without attributing them to Mr. Shirley in the text or citing Reagan’s Revolution in the online notes. For example:

Reagan’s Revolution:

“All the major Presidential candidates released their medical records in January… While arguably unnecessary for the American people to also know that Ford had hemorrhoid surgery or that Democratic contender Senator Frank Church had a testicle removed, in post-Watergate America ‘full disclosure’ and ‘candor’ had become the watchwords—even if it meant knowing the tiniest, seamiest and most personal details of a politician’s life.” (p. 111)

The Invisible Bridge:

“Came the news on the last Wednesday in January that all major presidential candidates had released their medical records, the world apparently needing to know, for instance, about President Ford’s hemorrhoid surgery and Senator Church’s single testicle and Mo Udall’s glass eye (a Washington joke suggested a Church/Udall ticket with the slogan ‘Keep your eye on the ball’).” (p. 601)

Reagan’s Revolution:

“After several uncomfortable seconds passed, Reagan walked away from the microphones.” (p. 161)

The Invisible Bridge:

“There followed several seconds of awkward silence, before Ronald Reagan walked away.” (p. 638)

Reagan’s Revolution:

“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.” (p. 297)

The Invisible Bridge:

“The city’s anemic red-light district was several of the smut peddlers featured dancers in elephant costume in their windows.” (p. 771)

Reagan’s Revolution:

About the only person in Kansas City who was keeping cool was Reagan himself . . . Reagan, watching on television, dissolved in laughter.” (p. 322)

The Invisible Bridge:

“Just about the only person who was calm through the entire thing was Ronald Reagan. He watched it on television in his hotel suite, dissolving in laughter.” (p. 785)

In August, upon the release of Invisible Bridge, Shirley called out Perlstein for his lifting from Shirley’s 2005 book and demanded $25 million, the destruction of unsold copies of the book and an apology.

At the time, the liberal media rallied around Perlstein, who also writes for The Nation. Shirley was ridiculed and dismissed and the controversy gave liberals one more chance to heap praise upon one of the men they have come to rely on to explain conservatives and conservatism to the rest of the tribe.

The Left is at a loss to understand or explain conservative and conservatism. Too often, commentators like “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd talk about conservatives as if they were animals he saw at the zoo during a custody weekend with his dad.

This gulf in understanding has resulted in a cottage industry among the punditry, where clever liberals step up to explain the Right to the rest of them. In the past, apostates like Kevin Phillips and Garry Wills filled the bill, pretty much inventing the “evolved conservative” role played so well by David Brooks at The New York Times.

What makes Perlstein and his fellow tradesman Frank Thomas of “What’s the Matter with Kansas” fame different is that they are organic liberals, who profess to have broken the code.

For a start, it is useful to go back to Shirley’s to see what it was all about. The book’s full title is “Reagan’s Revolution: The untold story of the campaign that started it all.” In the book, Shirley, who was for many years an aide to Reagan, makes the case that the Reagan Revolution was fought and won in 1975 to 1976, when the former California governor ran a losing campaign for president.

The book demonstrates that Reagan’s refusal to join the liberal consensus that had taken hold among the political elites set the stage for his White House victory in 1980.

Going back to Perlstein’s “The Invisible Bridge: The fall of Nixon and the rise of Reagan,” we see him lay down a similar narrative.

In his July 31 review of “Invisible Bridge,” in The New York Times, Frank Rich wrote that he liked the book, but he was put off by Perlstein’s habit of falling in love with his research. Now, it needs to be determined if Perlstein would steal for love.