All Such Filthy Cheats

When Vice Admiral Bobby Ray Inman announced on January 18 his decision not to pursue confirmation as Secretary of Defense, he repeated Robert Massie's old charge that William Safire is a plagiarist, saying this "does not, in my judgment, put [Safire] in a position to frame moral judgment on any of us, in or out of public service." The battle that ensued between Safire and Inman on the one hand and between Safire and Massie on the other dragged on for months and included ad hominem attacks launched from Nightline, the Nation, and the New York Times. And though the real issue was not whether Safire is a plagiarist—but whether he had aided and abetted one by distributing an unpublished manuscript by Massie to another writer who ravaged it for an article in Esquire—this high-profile caterwauling made one thing clear: plagiarism has become one of the nagging issues of our day.

"If you pillage someone else's memoir for your source material, it tends to indicate a thinness of literary imagination," said an anonymous New York editor to the Washington Post. What this Valachi of Grub Street was too cowardly to say is that plagiarists are often untalented louts, and that the lout in question was the ballyhooed young novelist David Leavitt. Last September Bernard Knox pointed out in the Washington Post Book World that Leavitt's new novel. While England Sleeps,...

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