Rick Perlstein of 'The Invisible Bridge' faces plagiarism charges from another Reagan biographer

Author Craig Shirley of 'Reagan's Revolution' is accusing Perlstein of using the same language in 'The Invisible Bridge' as in 'Reagan's Revolution' and in using Shirley's findings without properly citing them.

By , Staff Writer

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    'The Invisible Bridge' is by Rick Perlstein.
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Another Reagan biographer is claiming that author Rick Perlstein, who recently published the critically acclaimed Ronald Reagan biography “The Invisible Bridge,” plagiarized.

According to The New York Times, a lawyer for “Reagan’s Revolution” author Craig Shirley, Chris Ashby, sent letters to Perlstein’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, demonstrating what Ashby said are 19 sections of Perlstein’s book in which either the language is the same as in Shirley’s book or Shirley’s findings are used in Perlstein’s book but not properly cited.

Since Ashby sent the letter, Shirley said he has found even more sections in which his own findings were used in Perlstein’s book without attributing Shirley, according to the NYT.

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Simon & Schuster president and publisher Jonathan Karp said “Bridge” is “a meticulously researched work of scholarship” and that the accusations are “ludicrous.”

Perlstein says he put his endnotes on his author’s website because his book – already more than 800 pages – would have been more than a thousand if he had included all his citations, according to the NYT. Shirley is mentioned in the endnotes more than 100 times.

“The claim of plagiarism doesn’t fly; these are paraphrases,” Perlstein told the NYT. “I’m reverent toward my sources. History is a team sport, and references are how you support your teammates.”

Perlstein told the NYT the charges could be motivated by the way in which he depicts Reagan in the book, which some conservatives might find unflattering. Shirley’s company Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, of which he is chief executive and president, has clients such as Ann Coulter.

Ashby is asking for $25 million in damages, the destruction of all physical copies of “The Invisible Bridge,” an apology, and that revisions be made to all electronic versions of Perlstein’s book. “The rephrasing of words without proper attribution is still plagiarism,” Shirley told the NYT.

Shirley spoke more about the controversy with Slate, saying, “Not even is there plagiarism, but there are gross errors. [Perlstein] says Reagan’s appearance before the [1976] convention wasn’t spontaneous. I can show you copies of the tape, Reagan shaking his head no, he doesn’t want to go down and speak. There were 17,000 people in the arena, and none of them believed Reagan was going to make an appearance. That's just utterly and completely bad history.” 

However, according to Slate, Elizabeth A. McNamara of the law firm Davis, Wright, and Tremaine, which represents Simon & Schuster, wrote to Ashby that Perlstein “dug deeper” than Shirley had when researching the convention and that Perlstein had discovered that Reagan had been laughing as he watched the convention on TV but then stopped laughing when it came to his attention that he was being seen on TV.

Slate writer David Weigel referenced Perlstein’s claims that some conservatives didn’t like his portrayal of the president, writing, “In Shirley's version of the story, Reagan was underrated once again; in Perlstein's, he is underrated but calculating. You can understand why Shirley is so upset at the new book; you can understand, too, why there is great interest in stopping Perlstein's history from becoming the official look at Reagan's rise.” 

The Monitor had selected “The Invisible Bridge” as one of its 10 best books of August and the book had previously received many positive reviews, with Los Angeles Times reviewer David L. Ulin calling it “a magnificent and nuanced work" and Booklist finding it to be an "ambitious, wide-ranging, and superbly written account filled with wonderful insights."

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