Media Monitor

THE KING PLAGIARISM STORY

By Reed Irvine and Cliff Kincaid

5/11/98


Theodore Pappas has written a piece for Chronicles magazine that should be required reading for every journalism student and journalist. It tells the story of how the media, including book publishers, tried to suppress the story of how famed civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King committed plagiarism - stealing material from other people and claiming it as his own. For his role in bringing this to the public's attention, Pappas says he received three death threats, one left hook to the jaw and 40 rejections from 40 publishers in 40 months. This is quite a record. When he finally found a publisher, the book's first edition was sold out. It carried the title, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Plagiarism Story.

Pappas recounts his effort in publicizing the story in the May issue of Chronicles magazine, where he serves as managing editor. Pappas was the first journalist who exposed, with parallel quotations, how segments of King's Ph.D dissertation had been copied from a previous work. He estimates that 66 percent of King's dissertation was plagiarized. On top of revelations about King's womanizing, the plagiarism allegations served to demonstrate that while King postured as a paragon of moral virtue, he was in reality a scoundrel. This is not something that a lot of people wanted to hear.

The Wall Street Journal, considered by some a conservative newspaper, heard the story was breaking and ran its own piece - a whitewash of the charges against King. Even the Journal's editorial page tried to suppress the significance of the story by insisting that it had to be covered in a "carefully modulated" manner.

Writing in the New Republic magazine, Charles Babington would later reveal that the Washington Post, the New York Times and the New Republic itself all had known the facts about King's plagiarism but refused to publish them. The Times eventually did cover the issue but in a subsequent editorial suggested that the plagiarism was somehow comparable to a politician using a ghost writer for speeches.

Pappas's expanded version of the King Plagiarism Story has now been published by Hallberg Publishing Corporation under the title "Plagiarism and the Culture War." Regarding the publishers who rejected his original book and the new edition, Pappas says three of them said any criticism of King would be in "bad taste" because "King isn't around to defend himself." Pappas notes that such an approach would mean the end of historical studies and scholarship in general. He points out that such an attitude hasn't stopped various so-called "scholars" and academics from defaming one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson. Apparently it's all right to bad-mouth Jefferson; after all, he was a white European male. But King, a black civil rights leader, has to be spared any criticism. This is the double-standard that infects the media today.

Ted Pappas is a serious scholar who had shown bravery and courage. By the way, that left hook that almost hit his jaw was thrown in a bar by an inebriated critic who recognized him from an interview on the barroom TV. The punch missed.


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