Tribe's Portrait of Goodwin Misleading

Letter to the Editors

To the editors:

In his letter “Misjudging Doris Kearns Goodwin” (March 18), Tyler Professor of Constitutional Law Laurence H. Tribe says in reference to Overseer Goodwin’s plagiarism: “I do not minimize that error; it was one no scholar should make, and one Doris Kearns Goodwin would be the first to admit she should not have made.” I don’t agree that Goodwin would be “the first” to admit what Tribe calls her “error,” something most recognize as plagiarism.

Goodwin passed up a chance to be the “first to admit” to her “error” when it was called to her attention back in 1988. Instead, she worked with her attorneys to develop a confidential arrangement in which the author whose work Goodwin had plagiarized was paid a substantial sum upon agreement to remain hush.

Subsequently, Goodwin remained silent for almost 15 years until disclosures by the Weekly Standard and subsequent coverage by other publications, notably Slate.com, forced her to speak up.

Given Goodwin’s silence from 1988 until recently, how can Tribe say that she would “be the first to admit” her “error”? The facts prove otherwise.

Goodwin’s fellow Overseer Richard H. Jenrette dismissed her plagiarism as “small potatoes.” He is wrong. The Crimson rightly recognizes that Goodwin’s conduct concerns what Harvard must always be about: veritas. And that’s no small potatoes.

John W. Matthews

Chapel Hill, N.C.

March 19, 2002

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