TV commentator Oliver North addresses the Conservative Political Action… (J. Scott Applewhite/AP )
For his column about Memorial Day, Oliver North turned to a “dear friend” — an Army vet and Medal of Honor recipient named Sammy L. Davis. North asked Davis to explain why it was important for veterans to travel to Washington to honor those who died in the Vietnam War.
Davis, according to North, responded thusly: “Comrades gather because they long to be with the men who once acted their best, men who suffered and sacrificed, who were stripped raw, right down to their humanity.”
Davis went on, wrote North, adding: “I did not pick these men. They were delivered by fate. But I know them in a way I know no other men. I have never given anyone such trust. They were willing to guard something more precious than my life. They would have carried my reputation, the memory of me. It was part of the bargain we all made, the reason we were so willing to die for one another.”
An eloquent thought. Except it has been expressed before. And not by Davis or North.
The comments in question are a verbatim copy of a first-person passage written by another Vietnam War veteran, Michael Norman, about his own experiences. The lines appear in Norman’s 1990 memoir, “These Good Men: Friendships Forged in War.” The two paragraphs were Norman’s reflection on his fellow soldiers.
How did Norman’s words end up attributed to a man who never said them? A mistake? Or a case of plagiarism?
The question continues to rile Norman. He said he was still waiting for an explanation from North, Davis and Fox News, which employs North as a program host and published his Memorial Day column on its Fox News Insider Web site. The site promotes Fox’s programs and news personalities.
“I’d just like them to give a clear account of how this happened,” said Norman, a former New York Times reporter who is a journalism professor at New York University. “So far, they’ve been anything but clear.”
After a reporter brought the 1990 passage to Fox’s attention last week, the company took the unorthodox step of scrubbing the quotation and reposting North’s column, which is syndicated by Creators Syndicate. It appended an editor’s note that mentioned, without explanation, that the paragraphs had been removed and that North had included them “through no fault of his own.” The note also credited Norman.
Early this week, the company removed the column from the Web site altogether, also without explanation. It also no longer appears in Fox’s online archive of North’s work.
However, the uncorrected column, with the quote attributed to Davis, remains widely available on the Internet, including at GOPUSA.com and townhall.com, which North links to on his Web site, OliverNorth.com.
Norman calls Fox’s actions “a non-correction correction and a non-apology apology,” he said. “From a journalism professor’s perspective, it’s one of the more bizarre handling of a plagiarism accusation that I’ve ever seen.”
Dianne Brandi, executive vice president of business affairs and legal at Fox, declined to comment, saying she would not elaborate on the network’s internal editorial decisions. But people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it freely, said Davis sent the quote to North via e-mail without attributing it to Norman. North assumed the words were Davis’s and quoted Davis as such, they said.
In a statement, North said that Davis sent him the comments he used in the column. “When I subsequently learned that the words were from a book by Michael Norman, I took steps to have the column taken down,” he said.
Davis could not be reached for comment. He received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award for valor, while serving in Vietnam in 1966. Wounded during a firefight with a Viet Cong battalion, he was able to return fire and guided an air mattress across a river to rescue three comrades.
Norman laments that his objections about the column have “put one Vietnam vet in contention with another Vietnam vet. I don’t want to be in contention with Sammy Davis, whose courage and bravery are without question. At the same time, I’m a professional writer. This is my work. You have to fight for your work.”
North is a decorated Marine Corps veteran who retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1990. He was the Reagan administration’s counterterrorism coordinator in the mid-1980s and was a key figure in the Iran-contra scandal that beset the White House during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. He later became an unsuccessful Republican senate candidate from Virginia, a best-selling author, a radio host and a columnist. He hosts a documentary series on Fox News called “War Stories With Oliver North.”