USA First Look

Amid plagiarism scandal, Monica Crowley bows out of national security job

The political commentator and foreign policy adviser had been picked by President-elect Donald Trump to serve as senior director of strategic communications for the National Security Council.

Monica Crowley smiles in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York in December 2016. The publisher of Crowley's 'What the (Bleep) Just Happened?' said early this month that it is halting sales of the book after evidence surfaced that she had plagiarized parts of it.
Evan Vucci/AP/File | Caption

The woman poised to become the senior communications director for the White House’s National Security Council has relinquished the post, after reports this month that she plagiarized sections of both her 2012 bestselling book and her doctoral dissertation at Columbia University.

Monica Crowley, a syndicated talk show host, former Fox News commentator, and longtime supporter of President-elect Donald Trump, announced her decision in a statement Monday.

“After much reflection I have decided to remain in New York to pursue other opportunities and will not be taking a position in the incoming administration,” she said in a statement quoted by The Washington Times. “I greatly appreciate being asked to be part of President-elect Trump’s team and I will continue to enthusiastically support him and his agenda for American renewal.”

Ms. Crowley is far from the first in influential political circles to have accusations of plagiarism dash career aspirations. Doris Kearns Goodwin, a respected historian, biographer, and political commentator, came under fire in 2002 for her book "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys," which contained phrases and sentences without attribution from three other books by different authors. Ms. Kearns Goodwin reached a large, private settlement with one of the authors before the news broke and left her position as a regular guest on "PBS NewsHour." But the plagiarism scandal proved to be a momentary stumble for Ms. Kearns Goodwin who continues to be received and lauded as a political historian and publish new works.

Crowley would have replaced Ben Rhodes, a speechwriter and long-time adviser to President Obama. Mr. Rhodes is the "single most influential voice shaping American foreign policy aside from POTUS himself," wrote The New York Times. The Daily Beast said that Crowley’s predecessor had "a critical hand in shaping the administration’s global security policies and then selling those policies to the world.

But shortly after she was named to the post, CNN reported upward of 50 examples of plagiarism in her 2012 book critical of Mr. Obama, “What the (Bleep) Just Happened.” CNN KFile, the network’s investigative team led by Andrew Kaczynski, reported Crowley lifted whole passages from other sources that included news articles, columnists, research institutes, and Wikipedia. According to CNN, sections of Crowley’s book are repeatedly lifted from articles by National Review columnist Andrew McCarthy, a friend of Crowley’s. Other sources plagiarized from include the Associated Press, The New York Times, Politico, The Wall Street Journal, the BBC, and Yahoo News. The book contains no notes or bibliography.

Politico and CNN then reported finding other examples of plagiarism in her writing, including her 2000 dissertation to complete her PhD in international relations.

“An examination of the dissertation and the sources it cites identified more than a dozen sections of text that have been lifted, with little to no changes, from other scholarly works without proper attribution,” wrote Politico. “In some instances, Crowley footnoted her source but did not identify with quotation marks the text she was copying directly. In other instances, she copied text or heavily paraphrased with no attribution at all.”

Michael Flynn, the retired Army lieutenant general the Trump team tapped for national security adviser and the person to whom Crowley would have reported in her job with the Trump administration, wished Crowley “all the best” in a statement.

The Trump transition team had previously defended Crowley, dismissing the allegations as “nothing more than a politically motivated attack that seeks to distract from the real issues facing this country.”

“HarperCollins – one of the largest and most respected publishers in the world – published her book, which has become a national best-seller,” the Trump team added in a statement.

But HarperCollins announced last week it was stopping its sales of her book, pending an “opportunity” for her to revise her text.

The book, the publisher said in a statement, “will no longer be offered for purchase until such time as the author has the opportunity to source and revise the material.”

Crowley, who was an assistant to former President Richard Nixon from 1990 to his death in 1994, was also accused of plagiarism for a 1998 column that compared the Watergate scandal to the Clintons. The column appeared on an editorial page of The Wall Street Journal on the 25th anniversary of Mr. Nixon’s resignation (and it also appeared on The Christian Science Monitor’s website).

Four days later, the Journal published an editor’s note reading: “There are striking similarities in phraseology between 'The Day Richard Nixon Said Goodbye,' an editorial feature Monday by Monica Crowley, and a 1988 article by Paul Johnson in Commentary magazine.”

Among the numerous other politicians and political hopefuls to be accused of plagiarism, the example of Vice President Joe Biden is perhaps one of the most famous. Then-Senator Biden withdrew from the 1988 presidential race after he was accused of lifting the “phrases, gestures, and Welsh syntax” from a commercial by British Labour Party member Neil Kinnock just four months prior.

This summer, Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland included two passages that contained words and thoughts very similar to those from a 2008 speech delivered by Michelle Obama. As Max Lewontin reported for The Christian Science Monitor at the time, the plagiarism allegations renewed questions about whether it’s unethical in politics to borrow words, phrases, and sections from other speeches.

“In politics, it’s not clear that we have an agreed-upon code of conduct, so the ethics almost blend sort of directly into the politics,” Michael Carroll, a law professor at American University, told the Monitor. “If the people don't have a problem with it, is there some other reason to think it's a problem?” 

When it comes to plagiarizing written text, however, publishers and universities clearly do have a problem with the practice.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.