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 war—duty, honor, glory—swiftly 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 approach—you 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.