AJR  The Beat
From AJR,   October 1995

Dueling Divas   

By Suzan Revah
Suzan Revah is a former AJR associate editor.     

"America has become far too casual about plagiarism," says columnist and humorist Florence King . "Somebody has got to do something about it and it might as well be me." Why is the columnist for The American Enterprise and the author of 10 books suddenly on a mission to end plagiarism in America?

It seems that King was reviewing two of Fort Worth Star-Telegram syndicated columnist Molly Ivins ' books for her "Authors" column when she found passages that included, without attribution, some of her own language and imagery.

Ivins, who uses adjectives like "reprehensible" and "inexcusable" to describe her actions, acknowledges a moral obligation to apologize and personally sent King a letter. "At first I got real defensive, and thought to myself, 'God, I've been quoting that damn woman for years!' " says the notoriously unreserved Ivins. "Then the next morning I looked at the piece real carefully and said, 'Oh shit!' "

Ivins says the incident wounded her vanity as much as anything else. "At first I was so depressed...I thought I didn't deserve to live," she says. True to form, she then snaps back, "But King's column [with the plagiarism accusations] was so nasty in tone that frankly I felt better after reading it."

Paul Harral , editorial director at the Star-Telegram, maintains that the episode was thoroughly investigated at the paper. Ultimately, he says, Ivins' editors concluded that she did not intend to steal King's words and that the incident did not merit disciplinary action. Ivins says they "may have been overly generous" in their decision, but insists that the Star-Telegram takes plagiarism "extremely seriously." King disagrees. "The Fort Worth gang is stonewalling," she says. "I think they ought to own up, instead of all this transparent blather about 'sloppy writing' and 'careless attribution.' "