Several recent events brought key components of information literacy into sharp focus for the American public. Author and historian Stephen Ambrose was accused of, and later admitted to, using the prose of others without proper attribution in several of his published books. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, author, and television commentator Doris Kearns Goodwin suffered similar damage to her reputation.
As these stories broke in early 2002, the New York Times ran a headline on the front page of its January 11, 2002 edition, titled, "As Historian's Fame Grows, So Do Questions on Methods." The reporter, David D. Kirkpatrick, quoted author Ambrose as stating that he "inappropriately borrowed the words and phrases" from numerous passages written by several other authors. As the facts unfolded in the nations' newspapers and magazines, author Goodwin felt compelled to publish a full-page "Viewpoint" in the February 4, 2002 issue of Time, acknowledging that she had not properly "attributed" her sources.
Neither Ambrose nor Goodwin used the word "plagiarism" or the phrase "legal and ethical use of information," both key components of information literacy. Yet, as academic role models, their illegal borrowing of the words of others and their subsequent explanations of such behavior leave much to be desired as models for scholars and students.
Posted May 13, 2002
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©2002 by Ilene F. Rockman.