By Michael Abramowitz and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 1, 2008
WACO, Tex, Feb. 29 -- An aide to President Bush responsible for outreach to conservative and Christian groups resigned Friday after acknowledging that he had plagiarized material for a column he wrote for his hometown paper in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Special assistant Tim Goeglein admitted lifting material from an essay about college education by former Dartmouth professor Jeffrey L. Hart and presenting it as his own in a guest column Thursday for the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. Other allegations of plagiarism quickly surfaced after Goeglein informed White House officials of the situation Friday morning, and by day's end he said he would step down.
On its Web site Friday, the newspaper said 20 of 38 Goeglein columns between 2000 and 2008 contained "portions copied from other sources without attribution." News-Sentinel Editor Kerry Hubartt said Goeglein had written 80 or 90 columns for the newspaper in a relationship that began more than 20 years ago.
Among the writers whose work was allegedly plagiarized were Washington Post book critic Jonathan Yardley, Wall Street Journal Deputy Editor George Melloan and New York Times reporter James Sterngold, according to Hubartt.
"Today, Tim accepted responsibility for the columns published under his name in his local newspaper, and has apologized for not upholding the standards expected by the President," White House press secretary Dana Perino said in a statement. "The President was disappointed to learn of the matter, and he was saddened for Tim and his family. He has long appreciated Tim's service, and he knows him to be a good person who is committed to his country."
Goeglein declined to discuss the matter. He referred questions to the White House press office, which released copies of apologetic e-mails he had sent to Hubartt and Hart.
"There are no excuses. I am entirely at fault, and you have my sincerest apology. I pray you will forgive me," Goeglein, 44, said in the e-mail to Hart. Neither e-mail alluded to other cases of plagiarism or offered an explanation for the use of the plagiarized material.
Goeglein's actions were discovered by Nancy Nall, a Michigan-based blogger who formerly worked as a columnist for the News-Sentinel. She said Friday in her blog that an unusual name in Goeglein's guest column for the newspaper Thursday prompted her to conduct a Google search. She found that eight paragraphs of Goeglein's column about college education had been taken almost verbatim from an article by Hart in the Dartmouth Review a decade ago.
White House officials said they were unaware that Goeglein had been writing newspaper columns. He told officials Friday that he had received permission to write the columns, but White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said no one on the current staff appeared to be aware of the arrangement.
Current and former administration officials described Goeglein as a well-liked, mid-level staffer at the White House who worked closely with former top aide Karl Rove and other key officials in outreach to conservatives, especially evangelicals and other Christians.
A past aide to former Republican senator Daniel R. Coats of Indiana and to onetime presidential hopeful Gary L. Bauer, Goeglein regularly kept in touch with conservative activists and religious leaders, helping promote Bush's agenda and fielding complaints or concerns. He regularly attended the Wednesday Group, a weekly meeting of top Washington conservatives organized by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, often bringing senior officials and Cabinet officers with him, Norquist said.
Peter Wehner, a former Bush aide, said Goeglein was regarded as "a person of sterling character" who was Bush's "eyes and ears" in the conservative world. "It is an important job, and he really developed a bond of trust with the conservative world," Wehner said.
In her statement, Perino said Goeglein worked to promote Bush's Supreme Court nominees and to advance his "faith-based initiative," among other matters.
Hubartt said in an interview that he learned of the plagiarism when the paper's editorial page editor read Nall's blog and brought it to his attention. He said Goeglein's guest columns generally did not focus on news or politics but on "things he was interested in," such as music, the arts and reminiscences. He said Goeglein was not paid for his columns and did not have any obvious political agenda in writing them.
"He likes to write," Hubartt said. "He likes to express himself." He described Goeglein as a "flowery writer" who liked to contribute to the News-Sentinel "because we're the conservative newspaper in town" and because he enjoyed reading it when he was growing up.
Yardley was identified in Nall's blog as the source of material that Goeglein lifted for a November 2007 essay about Hoagy Carmichael, the renowned composer from Bloomington, Ind. Yardley wrote about Carmichael's 1946 memoir, "The Stardust Road," in The Post's Style section in September 2007.
Yardley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and author of six books, said he learned of the plagiarism Friday from a reporter in Indiana. "The old saying is that plagiarism is the highest form of flattery," he said in summarizing his reaction.
He said he has noticed that "there's been a lot more of this stuff" in recent years. The Internet has made it easy to gain "access to material from around the world" and to "match up passages from one piece and another," he said.
Hubartt said he will have a column in the Saturday edition of the afternoon newspaper explaining the matter to readers and underscoring the paper's commitment to honesty and integrity. In an article posted on the newspaper's Web site, he said that "we will not publish writings by Goeglein in the future."
Branigin reported from Washington.