What a schmuck! Chris Hedges is a plagiarist.

It turns out that Chris Hedges is a plagiarist.  Christopher Ketcham assembles a very damning dossier demonstrating that it’s serial, not incidental, plagiarism that he has committed.

It doesn’t exactly surprise me, given his logorhheac output, which is a typical tell in the case of other plagiarists (Stephen Ambrose, for example.)  It’s disappointing, however, because for the past several years, I have assigned chapters from his 2003 book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning in my survey class, which I’ve organized around a consideration of warfare in early America.  It’s also embarrassing for me as a professor, doubly embarrassing because not only have I assigned portions of this book for a decade to students who flunked my classes when they plagiarized, but also because the news of his plagiarism in this book is more than a decade old!

The horror, the horror~!  (See Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness–I’m not plagiarizing Conrad, I’m evoking him here):

Hedges made his name on the left with his book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning,considered a classic about the psychological effects of combat. When a University of Texas classics professor named Thomas Palaima read the book, he was initially enthused. Palaima teaches a course on the human experience of war and wanted to include Hedges as required reading in his syllabus. “I read War from a sympathetic progressive standpoint,” Palaima said. “I admired his courage as a reporter and his general moral stance against, to my mind, morally unjustifiable wars.”

But in poring over the book, he had come across a passage that sounded disturbingly familiar. On page 40 of the hardcover first edition, Hedges writes:

In combat the abstract words glory, honor, courage often become obscene and empty. They are replaced by the tangible images of war, the names of villages, mountains, roads, dates, and battalions.

The rhythm of the language, the ideas, and the sentiment, Palaima concluded, were from Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. The passage in A Farewell to Arms reads:

Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and dates.

No citation to Hemingway or acknowlegement of A Farewell to Arms!  So, Palamina contacts the publisher in June 2003 to alert them to this instance of what he hopes is “inadvertent plagiarism,” and he receives a promise that the passage will be “changed” in current and future editions of the book.  The “change?”

Thus, on page 40 of the paperback edition, the text now reads:

“The lofty words that inspire people to warduty, honor, gloryswiftly become repugnant and hollow. They are replaced by the hard, specific images of war, by the prosaic names of villages and roads. “

Yet the new edition still did not credit Hemingway. “The wording was changed to throw camouflage over the plagiarism,” Palaima said. “It was a cuttlefish approachyou spray ink into the water so no one can really see what’s going on. The original idea is Hemingway’s.” 

In response, Hedges told me that PublicAffairs representative Gene Taft was in error and that the passage “was noticed and corrected by me after the first edition was published. This was several months before the e-mail from Palaima.” And: “The passage, when it was corrected, was sufficiently different from the Hemingway not to warrant attribution.”

Palaima followed up with several more e-mails to PublicAffairs during June 2003 noting his concern, as he told me, that the publishing house was engaged in a “cover-up” that was “just dishonest.” He got on the phone with the founder and CEO of PublicAffairs, Peter Osnos, who, according to Palaima, dismissed his argument as “that of a pedant’s pedantry.” Palaima left the conversation believing that Osnos thought it was important to protect Hedges.

The professor was undeterred, and took to the local newspapers to make his case:

In September 2003, Palaima published a piece on the Hemingway plagiarism in the Austin American-Statesman, in which he noted that plagiarists “are not merely stunting their own intellectual development or disappointing their professors. By disguising the fact that they are not speaking in their own voices, [they] diminish our belief that their voices are original and worth listening to.” According to Palaima, when he and Hedges spoke on the phone prior to publication of the American-Statesman piece, Hedges suggested that Palaima was not competent to question his work. Palaima, a MacArthur Fellow and veteran classicist, replied that he was adhering to the basic rules of scholarship in which proper citation is given. 

“It was a very strange conversation,” says Palaima. “He kept saying that essentially what he had done was trivial. He was dismissive and belittling.” Palaima replied that as author of more than a hundred scholarly articles, reviews, and op-eds, and as an editor of a scholarly monograph series, a scholarly journal, and several books, he had “never encountered a case where an unattributed use of another intellectual’s ideas and wording was solved by altering the wording in a subsequent printing without attribution.”

According to Palaima, Hedges claimed by way of explanation that he had copied the Hemingway text into his notes and later used it, mistakenly thinking it was his own. As for not crediting Hemingway once the plagiarism had been discovered, Hedges stated that it would have been prohibitively costly for the publisher to add a credit, because the text would have to be repaginated.

Palaima was stunned. “All he had to do was add ‘As Hemingway wrote,’ and the problem would have been addressed,” Palaima told me. “Plutarch said that little details reveal the character of the man. If Hedges was found in a small matter to have further compounded his dishonesty, it makes you wonder about more important matters.”

This is what plagiarists do!  Stephen Ambrose too scoffed at the so-called “pedants” and “professional historians” (always an insult from Ambrose, who couldn’t understand why everyone wouldn’t sell out plagiarized macho bull$hit) who caught him.  Expecting intellectual honesty from them is like expecting sobriety from a drunk.  Read Ketchum’s whole article.  Hedges’ dishonesty goes back more than a decade.  How much more do we need to know before we eject him from the ranks of the writers worth reading?

Ketcham’s account also says that he initially wrote about Hedges’ plagiarism in essays for Salon and The American Prospect, both of which outlets declined to publish the essay.  He adds a note at the end of his article stating that in publishing his account of Hedges’ intellectual dishonesty, he may have kissed good-bye ever to publishing in these and other progressive intellectual outlets again:

As an authorial aside from the perspective of over 15 years of freelance journalism, . . . I should note that a possible result of this piece will be the burning of my bridges at the Nation, where I know the editors and have been published; the Nation Institute, from which I have received funding for investigative journalism published in Harper’s and elsewhere; Truthdig, where I have published half-a-dozen columns and have been proud of my work; and Nation Books, Hedges’s current publisher, a house I have always respected and admired.

It will be interesting to see what happens next, but I don’t understand why Salon, TAP, The Nation, Harper’s, et. al. would find any room for plagiarism in their pages and on their websites.

26 thoughts on “What a schmuck! Chris Hedges is a plagiarist.

  1. My handful of experiences–once reporting plagiarism that I just happened to notice as an outsider, once bureaucratically when colleagues and I had to do something, once reporting a student who wrote a seminar paper for me–suggests that people with authority in the academy tend to respond defensively and when they hear a complaint, no matter how well documented. Their default is to hear the story as, at worst, a mild and inattentive instance of plagiarism, not the bad intentional kind. Reminiscent, to me anyway, of “rape-rape” and “legitimate rape.”

    Many academic decisionmakers identify with plagiarists rather than scholar-authors who get their work stolen.


  2. I think you’re right, LadyProf, that it’s difficult to get institutions to reckon with misconduct of any kind. It’s so much easier to just pretend that nothing happened! Nothing to see here, folks–move along. We don’t need to reconsider our hiring or promotion practices, our tenure standards, or our curriculum, or anything like that!!!

    I think victims always have a hard time in our culture, because identifying with them means identifying with a loser in the current system. Who wants to identify with a victim? Who wants to admit that the same crime could happen to them?


    • The fear of plagiarism is another frontier of capitalism’s divorce from any ancient culture of telling and retelling society’s history and it’s archive. Someone has to protect the cause of publishers’ pecuniary rights of ownership, so Hedges can’t be allowed to give us the full flavour of Hemingway’s capture of a particular thought about war.
      Not only are many facts about modern war war actually locked away in the head of a man dying In a British prison, but anyone repeating the known facts is to be excoriated. As someone said, (and I think it was me, please God), society has become a larger fractal of a person without a memory. The inability to repeat something said adds to the culture of secrecy. It’s even like this in the modern church. Someone rewrites the wording of the hymns in the name of staying in with the kids, which is in fact a front for copywriting the hymn in their version to make a buck, and now no two Christians know the same words to a famous hymn. In addition to which the art and the cadence of the original is lost.


  3. When the legend (in his own mind) becomes fact, print the legend(‘s narcissism). Or something like that.

    I found interesting that Truthdig’s response to Ketcham’s and Salon’s inquiries about Hedges’ plagiarism received an accusation based with competition, citing the “relative positions in the journalistic community” of the accused, the accuser, and others. Sometimes I think the same applies in academe–who you know and where you are in the research/reputation hierarchy.

    This also reminded me of the many journalism and mass communication students I’ve taught in my History courses. What they considered research was cutting and pasting from sources without discrimination and with an eye towards the memorably evocative utterance. But historical research isn’t an interview. And the understanding of what is contextualization is quite thin.

    One journalism student in a colleague’s course called the History department and asked to interview another professor. The secretary directed him to me, as undergraduate adviser, and he began to ask me pointed questions about the gold standard. By the second question I realized what was going on: he was writing a paper. When I said I was ending the call, he yelled “Don’t you want me to learn?!” Easy to search the student’s name and find his major.


  4. Read some Hedges and heard/watched interviews with him. Found him shallow, too standard and very mainstream US/Europe left. Sad to see someone fall, but intellectually the loss is zilch.


  5. It’s unfortunate the comments over there have been hijacked by a Hedges’ apologist/Ketcham’s-hater.

    The extent to which he has plagiarized is astounding. What saddens me even more is how defiant and unapologetic plagiarists often can be. I have shared this article with Chris to share with his students.


  6. Whilst this dude has clearly been doing some major plaigerism, I was kind of sympathetic on the Hemmingway story. I’ve heard a story – can’t remember the source now – of someone who got their book proofs back from an academic press with several footnotes amalgamated and some even removed altogether for reasons of space or formatting or some such. When s/he complained, the press said they couldn’t make changes to the footnotes as it would mean repaginating the whole book. I remember the consensus was as it was the press’s fault, this author should insist on them being put back in – but I don’t know the outcome and it makes you wonder what happened. So I could see that if it was one instance, it could have been a mistake that the press made difficult to resolve,as much as some evil intent.

    More broadly, I’ve read several books and articles where there is clearly a missing reference or foonote, which is usually apparently a mistake (this has included people citing the author’s name in-text). I usually read such things as a mistake – maybe I’m naive! I found it really odd that the person who noticed this error pursued it so vigorously – it would have been different if it had been big swathes of the book. That Hedges turned out to be a hardcore plaigerist seems to have been a fortunate coincidence. What was the agenda going on there?


  7. difficult to get institutions to reckon with misconduct

    I would assume that this is quite variable. My current institution has a very low tolerance and a rich system for tracking and handling academic dishonesty. We have a central registry against which we check for repeat offences. Some first time offences and nearly all repeats lead automatically to a conversation with a dean. We also work to educate students about plagiarism and help them avoid it.

    I have over the last semester spent a total of perhaps three work days dealing with various forms of academic dishonesty in my unit. I review the facts with faculty, interview students to find out “what happened” and discuss the short and long term implications of their poor choices, adjudicate penalties in consultation with faculty, write a report, and when appropriate send the report on up the chain. If I can work with a student to improve their behavior, I want to do that, but I also want hir to comprehend the gravity of the situation. This is among the worst parts of my job but it’s important to do it as well as I can.

    At a workshop on this topic last week, a teacher from Sociology suggested lack of basic writing skills as a root cause for many of our plagiarism cases. Several folks in the room had noted that problems are most common in introductions and topic sentences and after that, in conclusions. When you ask students about it, they can often tell you a lot about what they wanted to write, about what was interesting in the material, and so on. They did the intellectual work but struggled with the writing and so looked to some source for a “start.” The start sometimes leads to a bad end. Poor time management is of course also an important root cause. And some students are just lazy or bad actors. I like to think that our process sorts these out by type and handles them all appropriately.

    All of this seems fundamentally different from the Hedges situation, not just because he ought to know better, but because what he lifted was an analytical result. It wasn’t just a way to express the idea but the idea itself. In that circumstance, “I jotted it down and then thought the idea was mine” seems awfully embarrassing.


  8. I agree with Truffula one this point:

    “All of this seems fundamentally different from the Hedges situation, not just because he ought to know better, but because what he lifted was an analytical result. It wasn’t just a way to express the idea but the idea itself. In that circumstance, “I jotted it down and then thought the idea was mine” seems awfully embarrassing.”

    This is exactly right. I hadn’t recognized it before, but the Hemingway sentence is an original analytic insight. And that makes the it all the worse.

    Plus, the Hemingway passage is beautiful as it stands. What would have Hedges lost by including the direct quotation? Or as Palaima said, acknowledging Hemingway at the start of a slightly less artful paraphrase? Nothing. It would have cost Hedges nothing and even showed off his literary knowledge. Bah. Pure ego.


  9. What’s the most damming was using plagarism in his attempts to keep in the public eye the banksters, shills and con artists who have created so much misery, through their thieving and proud defiance of criticism and judgment.

    In short, he met the enemy, and he is him.


  10. At least as far as the Hemingway quote goes, I can easily believe that was a genuine mistake. Nobody older than sixth grade level would expect to get away with that for a microsecond. If Hedges did, then he needs a Stupid Prize.

    (The academic plagiarism I’ve seen has been honchos stealing non-obvious ideas from female graduate students. They’ve always gotten away with it and had zero repercussions. Hedges needs to ask science faculty how to do this garbage right.)

    As for it being an analytical result, well, yes. But I’ve seen that idea in other places. Tolstoy? Dostoevsky? I have no idea at this point. It’s a fairly obvious idea if you’ve so much as spoken with people who’ve been in wars, so I can understand the idea appearing in many people independently. I’ve thought it myself, I’ve never read Hemingway (can’t stand his full-of-himself style), but presumably I was channeling Hemingway the whole time? Admittedly, I didn’t think it in precisely Hemingway’s clear and well-written words. Hedges contribution was to mangle a brilliant sentence.

    The other example I saw elsewhere of his plagiarism was attribution of a quote to someone he’d spoken with directly, except that apparently he hadn’t actually spoken with the person. The attribution was there, though.

    So, anyway, to me the Hemingway matter skirts plagiarism. The other is a tempest in a teapot. I don’t know Hedges work particularly. I may have read an article or two of his. Is there evidence that he actually took other people’s work and passed it off as his own in large enough chunks to be more than sloppiness?


  11. n&m: I’m not sure I’ll be any good at articulating this. It feels to me that there’s a big enough difference in degree that it becomes a difference in kind. The plagiarism I’ve seen has done major damage to people’s careers, affected their lifetime earnings a lot, that kind of thing.

    The injustice is the real point, I know, but a stabbing isn’t murder unless the victim dies. What I’m trying to say is that some of the sloppy-type plagiarism should be pointed out and should stop, but it doesn’t materially change much. There’s no need to worry about it except for instance in Hedges case, that he gets the close factchecker treatment for all his writing from here on out.

    But that statement assumes he’s just got nits that we’re picking. I don’t know. That’s why I ask whether he’s actually guilty of “large chunk plagiarism.” Has Hedges gotten exposure / kudos / promotions / whatever for work that was someone else’s? The Hemingway thing approaches that, but is minor by itself. People know Hemingway’s writing, which makes it hard to effectively steal. Or did Hedges do that kind of thing as a pattern of practice? Then, yes, he’s passing himself off as a better writer than he is, which is major.

    I’m not (at all!) saying that students shouldn’t be shown the difference between plagiarism and their own writing. Or that sloppiness shouldn’t be called out. I guess I’m saying that ineffective sloppiness isn’t worthy of career-ending sanctions, whereas Real Plagiarism is.


  12. That article at TNR is damning. I hadn’t heard of Hedges before but he fits the profile of some loosy-goosy plagiarists I’ve seen pass across my radar such as Stephen Ambrise. What’s there in the article shows it’s not a one-off mistake or lapse but a consistent pattern of taking from others any and everything he needs to put into his pieces.

    At the end, one of the journalism and ethics profs, McBride, who weighs in on the material, said it best that what she saw constituted “carefully thought out plagiarism meant to skirt the most liberal definition of plagiarism.” I’d have to agree. Disturbing!


  13. Why does it matter if plagiarism is intentional or sloppy? The result is still the same. Should we reward laziness?

    I’m the dean of a professional school, which means when students end up in my office for a conversation about plagiarism, or cheating on an exam, or whatever it is they have been caught doing, I spend a good bit of our time together talking about integrity. The degrees we award are not, in fact, tickets to jobs, they are statements that the recipient has certain knowledge, skills, and professional attributes. I suggest to students that the tools in their toolkit are all important, but that the most valuable thing they have to offer their future employer or client is their integrity–the client must be able to trust the quality and correctness of their work. Once you damage your reputation as a professional, it can be hard to get it back. And once you create a bad pattern for yourself, it can be hard to stop. We strive to catch the (hopefully) small things early so they don’t turn into big things later.

    I don’t think it matters if a thousand people a day think the very same thought as the one this fellow appears to have plagiarized. Copying something from a source in research notes, failing to cite the source in those notes, and then rediscovering it as one’s own is just awful professional practice. And in this context, it certainly does seem like lifting an analytical result (even if a thousand other people have performed the same experiment).

    Of course, the linked article points to much larger problems than the Hemingway passage. I would assume society takes a dim view of stabbing in general at least in part because some stabbings do result in murder.


  14. “carefully thought out plagiarism meant to skirt the most liberal definition of plagiarism.”

    Ah. Well, in that case, cast him into the outer darkness.

    What’s the pattern with plagiarists. Do they do this stuff through their whole careers and use it to get ahead? In which case why isn’t it noticed early on? Or do they start once they’re powerful? In which case I know how impunity works.


  15. I completely agree with your opening paragraph (also, the entire piece) describing your frustration with Hedges’ plagiarism. As you say, these offenses are ones that would see a university student fail the assignment at the very least, and perhaps fail the entire course.

    I can understand the argument that this is “a pedant’s pedantry.” It’s true that there are worse things happening in the world than plagiarism, and it’s true that there are cases of plagiarism more egregious than this. Hedges’ defenders also insist that this is only a tiny fraction of his published work and that, given the value they place on his contributions in his field, these minor infractions should be ignored. I don’t buy this argument — no definition I’ve seen of plagiarism suggests that it is mitigated by the number of words a writer has published or the worthiness of their work.

    What baffles me is that many, many defenders are claiming that this isn’t plagiarism at all! Many claim to be experienced, educated professionals and insist vehemently that Hedges’ didn’t do anything wrong, this is simply a neocon smear piece, and a libel suit will surely come shortly. Insanity!


  16. What’s the pattern with plagiarists[?]

    In my observation of serial plagiarists, they start early, they issue angry denials if and when caught, and it’s who they are for their professional lives.

    I’d forgive Hedges if, when caught out by Professor Palaima in 2003, he’d have apologized and quoted and cited Hemingway appropriately, rather than going with the weasely revision he went with. But that’s not what serial plagiarists do. Instead, they deny their guilt, defend their work, and denigrate the people who call them out. Quixote is right that one or two instances of mistaken transcription or lack of scholarly generosity wouldn’t define a career. But it’s the defensive denialism and the attacks on honest scholars that seals the deal for me. That’s a character issue.

    As to why so many prog. journalism outlets are willing to defend him rather than cut him loose? I really don’t get that. That’s what Fox News does, not what responsible news outlets do. We should note well that FNC is what they see as their “peer institution.”


  17. TNR published a response yesterday to Ketcham’s article, and Ketcham’s and TNR‘s own response to his rebuttal of the charge that he is a plagiarist. It’s just more angry denials and cuttlefish behavior from Hedges.

    This was especially notable, I thought. Hedges writes:

    Given the gravity of the charges made against me by The New Republic, including an emphatic statement in the headline that I was a plagiarist, the organizations involved, as well as I, should have been allowed a fair hearing from the magazine before publication. An independent and disinterested fact checker or editor should have contacted us. I expect, at the very least, that this response will be run in full by the magazine.

    TNR responds:

    As for Hedges’s claim that the piece wasn’t edited: that’s absolutely incorrect. The New Republic also fact-checked it, thoroughly, over a long period of time. Hedges had been contacted by Ketcham and by another publication about these allegations before—he is quoted in response to them in the piece.

    Deny, delay, claim that you weren’t given due process. At some point, the deference to the miscreant has to end if one is going to proceed to publication. Hedges is a lying sack of $hit. Full stop.


  18. ” ineffective sloppiness isn’t worthy of career-ending sanctions, whereas Real Plagiarism is”

    Even when that sloppiness is a pattern and practice? Why should any of us bother doing the extra work it takes to prevent us from doing that “oops, wrote down notes verbatim and then thought they were my own” thing? Or better yet, “my RA failed to cite when I lifted hir work.”

    It’s negligent manslaughter either way.


  19. The ‘just careless note taking/failed to record the source then remembered it as mine’ argument has been used by other popular historians caught plagiarizing. We can use these examples when we teach good note taking practices. We can ask students about process as they go from research to writing. Zotero is a fun useful online tool to help take notes and track sources. And I still encourage students to have a coded index card system, show them how I take notes in archives to always be able to identify the source etc. I’ll have to read Ketchum, but I also do wonder about a passing non-cited failed quote or paraphrase (even if analytic) or a substantive content driving non-cited failed quote or paraphrase, wherein the text that precedes or follows the error follows from or springs from the stolen idea. Both are errors, but in one the theft is of a well turned phrase and in the other it’s not just research dishonesty but intellectual dishonesty. Protesting either is not mere pedantry.


  20. You know, after reading “War Is A Force” a while back, I gave no thought to Hedges whatsoever, but this unashamed plagiarism, and punching down to do it, got my goat. I wondered what real scholars would have to say about it.

    I think you’ve answered my question here. He’s more of a demagogue than a thinker, at least at this point. Grrr.

    Thanks for your oasis of rationality.


  21. I think Hedges is absorbed in his own sanctimony.
    He is well known for writing hit pieces on other writers whom he has had disagreements with, notably Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. It’s a sanctimonious attack “journalism” of the kind Glenn Greenwald does.


  22. what garbage and what horror that passes for integrity in the comments.
    is this it?
    one line where he offers a defense…though you choose not to believe it….is there ANOTHER example?
    the bias of his accusers is much more evident than the label of plagiarist.


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