In my grand total of two public speeches to Civil War audiences, I attributed each unique insight presented to the author who originated it, with recommendations that listeners seek out that author. The speeches were entirely about "new thinking" in ACW literature, so I was locked into an attributory mode whether I wanted to give credit or steal it.
Likewise, Scott Hartwig (top, right) faces a similar situation tonight when he does a compare/contrast talk matching Gettysburg history against the novel Killer Angels. Virtue is mandated, otherwise the talk is senseless.
The question that nags me lies outside of the framework where one has to attribute. It is about plagiarism in public speaking when the format of the talk is wide open.
The issue first arose for me when I noticed Doris K. Goodwin talking up "her" insights into Lincoln's leadership when, as Brian Dirck explains, these insights are all taken from Lincoln scholars. Even if Goodwin had attributed justly in Team of Rivals - she did not - on her speaking tour she is forever in position to convey her "authority" as source of her insights.
The issue has arisen again in a report on James McPherson's grand tour of speeches promoting a new Lincoln book. McPherson, as I have explained endlessly here, is a compiler and synthesizer but (unlike Goodwin) one who properly attributes in print. A good McPherson book would be one in which he seamlessly and elegantly lays out the current state of knowledge in some field, generalizing it for the reader. If the underlying material is good, McPherson will shine. If the source material is compromised, as it was when he wrote Battle Cry, the project is ruined.
Only a fool would trust a news report and I don't trust this one to represent exactly what McPherson said recently. I did cry out when reading it. Where the charmingly naive, star-struck reporter wrote the words (paraphrasing McPherson), "Key to this success was Lincoln's grasp of what is called 'concentration in time,'" I shouted "Archer Jones and Herman Hattaway!"
Hattaway and Jones took this concept and made something of a big deal of it vis a vis Lincoln in How the North Won the War. Jones (pictured right) also developed it in his solo books. They credited Lincoln for grasping (via Halleck and reading) this Jominian paradigm and for trying to leverage it in different phases of the war.
Can a speaker (hypothetically) explain Hattaway and Jones's point in a talk without mentioning them? Do plagiarism norms apply to orals? I ask this in general, not to embarass McPherson particularly - in this case he may even have mentioned them without the reference making it to print.
I would say that there is a general difficulty in reading news reports of McPherson's speeches because the reporters deliver one borrowed insight after another without attribution and indeed, in their slack-jawed awe of McPherson, they tend to imply attribution to him where he is intentionally recapping synthesized sources.
Jones was quite acerbic and I appreciate his evaluation of Stephen Sears as "more flash than substance." The same could be said of anyone on the speaker's circuit collecting laurels for others' ideas.