New twist in plagiarism saga involving Oliver North

June 13, 2012

Oliver North wrote last month that he asked “a dear friend”--Medal of Honor recipient Sammy L. Davis-- for his thoughts about Memorial Day. North included a long and eloquent quote he attributed to Davis in a column he wrote about the holiday.

Except, as disclosed last week, the comment wasn’t Davis’ at all. It came from a 1990 book written by another Vietnam veteran named Michael Norman. When he found this out, North said he “took steps” to scrub his column.

It turns out the quote wasn’t the only thing wrong with North’s story.

Davis told Norman earlier this week that North never asked him for the comment, despite what North wrote in his column. Davis also said he never intended or authorized North to publish the quote. What’s more, the comment wasn’t even about Memorial Day, despite North’s characterization.

As he told Norman in an email, Davis said he regularly emails quotes and comments to friends “that are patriotic in nature or reflect on our experiences in combat.” One of those quotes was from Norman’s book, “These Good Men: Friendships Forged in War.” Davis said he received the quote from a friend and didn’t realize its source. He passed it to North in an unsolicited email.

“It was NEVER my intention to have it published and certainly not to have it attributed to me,” Davis wrote to Norman this week. Davis confirmed his exchange with Norman but had no further comment.

North, however, told a different story in his May 18 column, which was syndicated by Creators Syndicate and widely published.

He wrote that, “I asked my dear friend Sammy Davis why it is important for Vietnam veterans to gather” for a Memorial Day commemoration in Washington. He then quoted Norman’s words about “men who suffered and sacrified,” incorrectly attributing them to Davis.

North did indeed take steps to alter the column after Norman raised objections to Fox News, which had published it on its Foxnewsinder.com site (North also hosts a Fox News program, “War Stories with Oliver North”). The disputed quote was removed from the column and Foxnewsinsider reposted it with an editor’s note saying North had included it “through no fault of his own.” The site later removed the column altogether.

Creators Syndicate said it notified all of its clients to remove North’s column when the dispute over the quote came to light last week, said David Yontz, North’s editor and managing editor of the company.

North declined comment , through his attorney.

Norman, a journalism professor at NYU, says he’s angry that “one veteran [North] threw another veteran [Davis] under the bus” to cover up his actions. “What he [North] put in his column is a lie,” he said.

North, a retired Marine, is a former Senate candidate, author and columnist. He was convicted in 1989 of three felony counts stemming from his role in the Iran-Contra affair, but the convictions were later overturned by an appeals court.

Paul Farhi is The Washington Post's media reporter.
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