Conservative pundit and author Monica Crowley, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for a top job on the National Security Council, doesn’t need Senate confirmation for access to the nation’s most sensitive military, diplomatic, and intelligence secrets.
Yet she has already been confirmed as a plagiarist by her own book publisher.
On Tuesday, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. publishing subsidiary, HarperCollins, announced that it is withdrawing Crowley’s 2012 book, What the (Bleep) Just Happened?, in response to a weekend report by CNN investigative journalist Andrew Kaczynski that Crowley extensively lifted the work of other authors without credit in her harsh critique of President Obama.
Harper Collins’s action comes the day after Politico reported that Crowley, who insisted on being identified as “Monica Crowley, Ph.D.” during her frequent appearances on Fox News—where she was a longtime paid contributor until mid-December, when she accepted the White House job—also plagiarized portions of her 2000 Columbia University doctoral dissertation, a study of U.S. policy toward China under Harry Truman and Richard Nixon.
A Columbia University spokesperson declined to comment on Crowley’s dissertation or whether the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, which awarded her degree, will investigate the allegations.
“The university’s process for addressing concerns raised about university research preserves the confidentiality of any review, and even the fact of a review’s existence is confidential while it is underway,” the spokesperson emailed. “Columbia is committed to upholding the very highest standards of integrity and credibility in academic research.”
It was unclear if the Council on Foreign Relations, of which Crowley is a member, will review her status with the prestigious organization. Editors of the Washington Times, the right-leaning newspaper where Crowley wrote more than 100 articles in recent years and was listed until Tuesday as “online opinion editor,” didn’t respond to messages asking whether they would review her published pieces for potential problems.
Late Monday, CNN reported that at least seven of those columns—based on an examination of 50—contained material lifted without credit from other news sources, occasionally verbatim.
Crowley is no stranger to accusations of plagiarism: In 1999, as Slate’s Timothy Noah reported, The Wall Street Journal publicly regretted printing her Nixon-celebrating op-ed that borrowed heavily from a 1988 Commentary magazine article. “There are striking similarities in phraseology between ‘The Day Richard Nixon Said Goodbye,’ an editorial feature Monday by Monica Crowley, and a 1988 article by Paul Johnson in Commentary magazine,” read the editor’s note. “Had we known of the parallels, we would not have published the article.”
Yet several observers said this fresh controversy is unlikely to hurt Crowley with the president-elect or his team. “They will double down,” predicted a longtime Washington hand who knows Crowley well, and asked for anonymity so as not to be drawn into a “catfight” with her.
“I have no sense that the Trump folks give a fuck,” agreed Poynter Institute media critic James Warren, a former Chicago Tribune editor who frequently appeared on television opposite Crowley a decade ago to discuss Washington politics. “But I think it [the plagiarism charge] is really significant.
“Do I want someone who is an intellectual fabricator there in the room when the most sensitive American intelligence is being discussed, and then being a conduit to her boss? You know that the way actions are taken by executives has to do with what underlings are telling them. And should that person be someone who has an almost compulsive tendency to fabricate, if these stories are true?”
Former NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor, who toiled in the Obama White House during the president’s first term, said Crowley will inevitably start her White House job “hobbled.”
“I think credibility and veracity matter more for a spokesperson than for most jobs you’ll ever have,” Vietor told The Daily Beast. “In a parallel reality, where people still cared about things like vetting and honesty, this would be a problem that would probably sink her ability to work in the White House. But Trump is a serial liar, so he doesn’t care. The man pretended to be his own spokesman.”
Vietor added: “The irony in all of this is that Republicans loved to attack Ben Rhodes”—the person who holds the NSC post for which Crowley has been tapped—“for being an ‘inspiring novelist.’ But at least he wrote the fucking thing himself.”
A second ex-NSC aide, who emailed on condition of anonymity, observed: “The West Wing is the ultimate arbiter of fitness for NSC staff jobs. The job of strategic communications director is to transform the president’s foreign-policy instincts into rhetoric for media consumption. This West Wing might regard a plagiarist as especially well qualified.
“The future first lady, after all, plagiarized Michelle Obama, so they probably think, not unreasonably, why reinvent the wheel? Just wait for the State of the Union: ‘…a new nation conceived in liberty…’”
A spokesperson for the Trump transition office, who had dismissed CNN’s initial report as a “politically motivated attack that seeks to distract from the real issues facing this country,” and continued to back Crowley for the prestigious White House post of senior communications strategist for the NSC, had no immediate comment on the latest damaging developments.
Ironically, the Trump spokesperson had lauded HarperCollins, whose actions Tuesday will surely harm Crowley’s credibility, as “one of the largest and most respected publishers in the world.”
“The book, which has reached the end of its natural sales cycle, will no longer be offered for purchase until such time as the author has the opportunity to source and revise the material,” HarperCollins publicity director Tina Andreadis emailed The Daily Beast.
Andreadis added that Crowley’s book, a heavily promoted bestseller when it was published in June 2012, is being removed from bookstore shelves and no more copies will be printed, presumably pending the author’s attempts, if any, to correct the widespread plagiarism problems.
Former Harper Collins executive Adam Bellow, who published Crowley’s book under the conservative imprint Broadside, didn’t respond to a voicemail message seeking comment.
Crowley likewise didn’t respond to emails from The Daily Beast.
Nixon, the disgraced ex-president, had hired Crowley in 1990, when she was a Colgate University undergrad, as his personal assistant and researcher. Crowley stepped into the media spotlight in the late 1990s, after Nixon’s April 1994 death, with two gossipy books chronicling her close relationship with the embittered, resentful president, who was forced to resign amid the Watergate scandal.
“Court fools were supposed to have been employed in the past to give kings a daily reminder of their flaws. Crowley was a fool in reverse,” Garry Wills wrote in his withering New York Times review of Nixon in Winter, Crowley’s second 1998 homage to her late mentor.
“She was there to tell Nixon, constantly, what a great man he was. Her real role in preparing his books was to say that the world cried out for insights that only he could supply. Time and again Nixon fishes for compliments. Can he really bring off such a daunting task as adding another to his long list of unread books? ‘I gave him my usual reassurances that the country and the world needed to hear from him,’ she tells us.”
Crowley, now 48, parlayed her sudden celebrity into regular appearances on syndicated television’s The McLaughlin Group—the Beltway’s version of extreme combat presided over by prickly former Jesuit priest John McLaughlin—and eventually on Fox News, where she was a regular on The O’Reilly Factor and other programs, while also hosting her own radio show.
It’s an open question whether all of above is adequate preparation for a high-profile berth in the White House.
“You can argue that it [plagiarism] doesn’t matter at all—it might actually help her do her job,” said Daniel Drezner, a former Treasury Department staffer and professor of international politics at Tuft University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. “Basically, when you’re in government, a lot of what you have to do is craft words for the public, and a lot of your job consists of cutting and pasting other people’s words that have already been issued to the public. She might be really good at that.”
This story was updated to add new information.