3Alex Haley's Roots Is a Cocktail of Fact, Fiction, and Thievery
For some of you, the mention of Alex Haley's Roots might trigger gruesome flashbacks of Kunta Kinte, played by LeVar Burton in the TV adaptation, getting viciously whipped by his slave owners. However, Roots was a lot more than mere nightmare fodder for Reading Rainbow enthusiasts. A gripping saga that follows seven generations of the author's ancestry from Africa into the horrors of slavery and racism, the book earned Haley a special Pulitzer award in 1977.
And, like all great historical tales, it will likely be butchered in an upcoming History Channel special.
But while the book deserves praise as a cultural phenomenon, literary feat, and sobering reminder of humanity's messed-up past, there's another side to the story ...
Roots was a curious hodgepodge of fact, fabrication, and complete thievin' dickery.
Haley was pretty open about making up parts of the book, often referring to it as a "faction." Still, the book's entire focus was the progression of a family's various generations from one bullshit event to another. Too bad Kinte, the most famous character in the book, was likely born decades later than Haley depicted and under markedly different living conditions. So different, in fact, that Kinte might not be related to the author at all. Alex Haley relied heavily on oral histories to substantiate his historical claims, which proved a problem when critics started pointing out the various inaccuracies of his story and possible gross liberties he took with the content of his research.
His family tree included Jesus and Superman up until the third draft.
But that's just general fuckery -- we're here for the plagiarism. Enter Margaret Walker Alexander, who sued the shoes off of Haley with the claim that Roots greedily gobbled passages from her book Jubilee, also a mix of historical fact and fiction documenting its author's ancestry. The court found clear evidence that Haley had been influenced by Alexander's book, but could do nothing: Alexander, who later claimed Haley may have stolen from hundreds of books, found to her shock that the six characters, roughly 150 verbatim expressions, and countless lifted themes Roots allegedly took from Jubilee were legally unprotected.
When another legal Roots shoe dropped, this time over passages stolen from Harold Courlander's The African, Haley didn't even bother arguing the case -- he just threw money at the problem until it went away.
And that, dear reader, is how you steal your way into history.
"I prefer the term plagistory."
2A George W. Bush Liaison Ruins His Career With Utterly Pointless Plagiarism
People who don't follow politics religiously are probably unfamiliar enough with the name Timothy Goeglein that they'd probably assume we just made it up. But there was a time when he was a huge name behind the scenes. As a special assistant to George W. Bush, Goeglein helped the former president with a couple of little things, such as single-handedly orchestrating the right-wing voter surge that helped Bush get re-elected.
He could pretty much just write "Resume" at the top of this and call it a day.
As the president's public liaison, Goeglein directed political support for causes like restricting stem cell research, appointing ultra-conservative Supreme Court justices, and organizing pro-abstinence programs in Africa.
And then he went and pooped it all away in a textbook example of stupid pointlessness.
Unfortunately for Bush (and the Bible Belt), Goeglein was eventually forced to abdicate his post because was caught plagiarizing in the most baffling way possible. It turns out the man had a hobby: When he wasn't hobnobbing with ultra-conservatives, he liked to submit unsolicited columns touting his views on education and other issues to an unassuming Fort Wayne publication called The News-Sentinel. One day, a former columnist for the newspaper noticed something familiar about one of Goeglein's pieces, started sniffing around, and found that it had been largely lifted from a Dartmouth College publication.
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"Why does he keep ending editorials with 'LET'S GO BIG GREEN!!'?"
The editors then took a look at some of the other pieces Goeglein had submitted, and found that he had stolen quotes and observations from published academics and journalists in 20 of his 38 columns, which were, we remind you, unsolicited. No one had asked this hard-boiled political machine to treat the paper as his personal Tumblr account -- he asked them to publish his plagiarized brainfarts, free of charge. Goeglein did this for eight years, and never once did he realize it was probably not the smartest of moves when your day job hinges on public trust.
Plus his choice of byline photo didn't help at all.
The ensuing publicity spelled the end of Goeglein's liaising. President Bush, never one to affiliate himself with unsavory political figures, amicably accepted his resignation.