Professor Tribe vs. Sheriff Clarke: Who’s the more careful scholar?

(5/25, 4:30 p.m. update: Thanks to law professor Glenn Reynolds for promoting this post yesterday with a tweet and, this morning, with a link, bringing thousands of additional readers to this blog just in the last 24 hours. Thanks also for the mention on, with this clever summary of the Professor Tribe’s student ghostwriting operation: “It Takes a Tribe.” (end update)

If you pay attention only to liberal-slanted mass media outlets, you’d assume the answer is easy.

Surely Professor Laurence H. Tribe of the prestigious Harvard Law School must be a much more careful scholar than Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke, who has recently been branded, in what we view as a political hit job, as a “plagiarist” — not just by CNN (which made the initial charge), but also by the Washington Post, USA Today, NY Daily NewsABC, and Slate, among other mass-media outlets.

But he’s not. Sheriff Clarke, a part-time scholar, is vastly more careful (not to mention honest) than Professor Tribe. In this post we boil down the factual comparison, concisely, in one place.

As we detailed in yesterday’s post (many thanks to law professor Glenn Reynolds (“Instapundit”) for this morning’s post promoting both it and John Hinderaker‘s commentary on our earlier post), well-documented charges of scholarly misconduct have been leveled against Tribe in connection with six of his published works (five books and one essay), published over a period of more than two decades.

(1) The 1978 1st edition of Tribe’s treatise plagiarized from the 1976 Harvard Law Review.

(2) Tribe’s 1985 God Save book plagiarized from historian Henry Abraham; further, Tribe apparently used a first-year law student as a ghostwriter on the book.

On (3) Tribe’s 1985 Constitutional Choices book, and also on (4) the 1988 2nd edition of Tribe’s treatise, Tribe used at least one ghostwriter, who later listed on her resume her work drafting sections of both books. (Of course, Tribe’s use of ghostwriters on his treatise is confirmed by Dean Velvel’s 2006 statement, libelous if untrue, and never contested by Tribe, that several students “had written large tracts of Tribe’s treatise”).

(5) The 2000 3rd edition of Tribe’s treatise, in a section advancing a supposedly novel view of the Seventh Amendment, reprinted verbatim hundreds of words of analysis from a 1996 U.S. Supreme Court amicus brief signed by eleven lawyers and law professors (but not Tribe), without citing the brief even once.

(6) In 2003 Tribe published a demonstrably false account of his first U.S. Supreme Court case, in which he stole credit from other lawyers for a novel Ninth Amendment argument which he claimed he’d championed, but which they in fact argued much more extensively than did he.

When Tribe was appointed to a high-level post in the Obama Administration in 2010, the mainstream media mentioned none of this. Yet now numerous mainstream media outlets seek to derail the appointment of a black conservative, Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., on the basis of one piece of work (not six), Clarke’s master’s thesis.

Do they claim that Clarke (like Tribe) lifted passages from multiple published works, without giving any credit to the authors who wrote the passages? No. Do they claim that Clarke (like Tribe) employed ghostwriters? No. Do they claim that Clarke (like Tribe) made up stuff to make himself look better? No.

They complain only about one publication — Clarke’s lengthy, heavily researched, master’s thesis. And here their only complaint is that, although Clarke cited each and every source relied on (unlike Tribe), and thus there was no attempt to deceive the reader and take credit for the work of others (unlike Tribe), Clarke should have included more quotation marks.

Sure, Sheriff Clarke made some technical mistakes in formatting his master’s thesis — exactly the kind of formatting mistakes it’s not surprising might be made by someone who’s a full-time law enforcement official and not a Harvard Law School professor, who nonetheless researched and wrote a scholarly paper himself rather than relying on a ghostwriter who would be more familiar with proper formatting.

Unless and until the liberal media give the scholarly practices of liberal scholar Laurence Tribe at least the same scrutiny they’ve given the scholarly practices of non-scholar Sheriff David Clarke, the bottom line will remain clear: liberal media outlets are judging Sheriff Clarke by standards they would never apply to a liberal, because Sheriff Clarke is a black conservative who refuses to remain on the plantation.

Professor Tribe has been caught engaging in major scholarly misconduct with respect to at least six publications. Yet the liberal media fixate on one comparatively minor defect in the formatting of Sheriff Clarke’s master’s thesis. By excoriating Sheriff Clarke based on standards they have not, and presumably never will, apply to Professor Tribe, they hope to further interrupt the ability of the President Trump and Secretary Kelly to run the Department of Homeland Security as they deem appropriate. Political. Hit. Job.

10 thoughts on “Professor Tribe vs. Sheriff Clarke: Who’s the more careful scholar?

  1. Did Tribe get a pass? Did Clarke get harsher treatment? Let’s stipulate yes to both. But I must conclude your analysis is partisan as well.

    Clarke’s thesis isn’t just missing some punctuation here and there. This is not credibly a case of a busy writer intending to attribute but inadvertently neglecting to do so. The fact that footnotes are present is hardly exculpatory. Indeed it is damning. Why? Because when you read the actual passages you find that Clarke did not include the quote verbatim. Rather he often trimmed and amended the words of others to have them fit the flow of his paper.

    There seems to be no other conclusion but that the plagiarism consisted of a series of conscious acts in which passages from other authors were amended to create the illusion of narrative flow. That process is capped with a footnote that gives a nod to respectability, as though the preceding language was a restatement in Clarke’s own words. It is a serious case of plagiarism not only because of the multiple instances in the thesis but also because of the apparent intent to deceive.

    And if you want to get formalistic about it take a look at the School’s policy on academic integrity.

    Decry the leniency for Tribe all you want. He gets no sympathy from me. But enough of minimizing Clarke’s plagiarism.


    1. Because when you read the actual passages you find that Clarke did not include the quote verbatim. Rather he often trimmed and amended the words of others to have them fit the flow of his paper.

      Then, by definition, it is not plagiarism, which is just a fancy word for “copy”, which you state this is not. The point of footnotes without quotation marks is “I got the idea from here”, which you say is what he did.

      Note that I’m going off what you’ve said; I have not, nor do I intend, to investigate for myself.


    2. I find Clarke’s approach to be both honest and reasonable.

      I have no idea how Fenster and the academic elites perform the mental gymnastics to both complain that the cited quotes are not verbatim samples and then charge that they’re plagiarism. Let’s be strictly objective. Did you actually read that Academic Integrity policy?

      The policy states, “Plagiarism in its most basic form means the use of someone else’s words, without quotation marks or citation….” Do you also see the “or” there, or am I imagining it? Objectively, that means absent quotation marks are not plagiarism if there’s a citation.

      He cited each instance where he used someone else’s words. Earlier in the context of assigned credit, it says, “The practice of citation via foot- or endnotes exists to satisfy these two most basic norms of academic life. [show your evidence and credit your sources]” He footnoted these items, showing the evidence and crediting the sources.

      Moreover, what do quotation marks mean to you? If I put something in quotes, I’m saying the entity I’m quoting actually said that thing, word-for-word. Churchill said, “We shalll fight on the beaches.” If I say “Churchill said Britain will fight on the beaches,” that’s not a quote.

      Or let’s think about it in terms of injury. Did he present someone else’s work as his own? No, he cited each instance to show it was not his own work. Did he decline to credit his sources? No, he cited each instance and gave credit.

      You’re being fatuous and irresponsible. Clarke did not plagiarize, and only someone carrying an overwhelming ideological bias would twist something so objective and obvious into a calumny.



      Tribe trimmed and amended language, though on a larger scale than Clarke. The difference is that the language was trimmed and amended not by Tribe himself, but by a GHOSTWRITER, and Tribe’s book DID NOT GIVE ANY CREDIT to the scholar from whom language was borrowed. So Tribe committed what Joseph Bottum has called “double plagiarism” — stealing the words of another scholar without giving that scholar ANY credit (not even a citation), and then misrepresenting as his own writing the writing of his ghostwriter. In other words, Tribe plagiarized from his ghostwriter, who had plagiarized from an actual scholar. Scholarly misconduct doesn’t get worse than that.

      We’ve conceded that Clarke violated technical rules for formatting his paper. Our main point is that what Tribe did on the 1985 book, and on other published writings, is way worse than what Clarke did on this one master’s thesis, yet the liberal mass media never gave any of it attention when Tribe was appointed to a high government office. The mass media only gets excited over this sort of thing when a liberal is appointed to high office.


    4. If you want to get formalistic, read what you cite before you cite it. It will help you retain your integrity. That policy says plagiarism is to use text without quotation marks OR citation. Note that “OR”, it’s in the policy, it cannot be ignored.

      So you are being either ignorant or utterly dishonest. Clarke gave citations for every use. That qualifies.

      Your criticism is pure partisan hackery and spite.



        We admit to partisan bias. Just read a few posts on our blog to confirm it. And we concede Clarke violated the rules in place for the preparation of his paper. For the best analysis, refer to this blog post by a Wisconsin conservative talk-show host who apparently is a lawyer:

        Our bottom line is that Tribe’s scholarly offenses are at least 10 times worse than Clarke’s offense, yet the same liberal mass-media outlets who are attacking Clarke right now were silent when Tribe was appointed to a high government post in 2010. We appreciate your pushback, and view your comment as made in good faith, but we’d appreciate a response to our main point. Thank you.


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