People v. Harvard Law

People v. Harvard Law

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Our Retraction of the "I'm Larry Tribe" Song

The Harvard Law School Drama Society has today issued its first retraction of a Parody segment in its history. We are doing this to correct the record in response to an e-mail written last week by Laurence H. Tribe, one of the professors parodied in our recent production.

 In our musical segment, "I'm Larry Tribe" (using the music from "I Will Survive"), we depicted the circumstances surrounding Professor Tribe's so-called "borrowing" of material from a 1974 book by Professor Henry Abraham, in the production of his 1985 book, God Save This Honorable Court: How the Choice of Justices Shapes Our History. We depicted the borrowing as a personal act of Professor Tribe, who we dramatized as having momentarily given into temptation while afflicted by writer's block. The segment began with Professor Tribe confessing to an idolatrous student that while working on the book back in 1985, afraid his "muse had died," he copied down excerpts from Professor Abraham's book. However, the segment did not dwell on Professor Tribe's plagiarism. To the contrary, after at most a minute spent on the plagiarism, we quickly put it into perspective by devoting the rest of the musical segment to a sampling of Professor Tribe's many amazing abilities and achievements.

When we wrote and performed the Parody, we fully believed it was accurate in its depiction of the mechanics of Professor Tribe's plagiarism. The main sources on which we drew for the facts were this article by Joseph Bottum in The Weekly Standard, and Professor Tribe's statement issued shortly after that article appeared apologizing for the scholarly lapse and taking "full responsibility" for it.

After the Parody's run was finished, Professor Tribe broke the silence he has observed on this matter since September. In an e-mail [update: here], he clarified he had never admitted to personally copying from Professor Abraham without using quotes or footnotes to indicate the passages which had been copied. Professor Tribe wrote he had heard there was "some pretty funny stuff" about him in the Parody, and he simply did not understand "the business of my supposedly copying some passages from somebody's work without sufficiently crediting the original author." See
here and here.

So it appears Joseph Bottum was correct in his somewhat oblique suggestion
it was actually Ronald Klain (HLS '87), Professor Tribe's research assistant back in 1984-85 whose friends and former colleagues say drafted large sections of the book, who as Professor Tribe's ghostwriter and a first-year law student apparently made the rookie mistake of simply copying, with only minimal rewording, various chunks of Professor Abraham's book (as described in detail in Bottum's article) into the manuscript of Professor Tribe's book, without footnotes or any other specification of the material that had been copied.

We at the Harvard Law School Drama Society pride ourselves on staging each year a fair and balanced Parody, and we regret having used an inaccurate factual premise in working up our musical segment on Professor Tribe's plagiarism. To correct the record, we therefore have taken the unusual step of issuing this Parody retraction, one whose factual premise is that
Professor Tribe did not personally do the copying of material from Professor Abraham's book. We herewith substitute a new song, "Harvard Plagiarist Heaven," in place of the "I'm Larry Tribe" musical segment in the official record of the 2005 Parody.

The lyrics of the song, along with some photographs to help you visualize "Harvard Plagiarist Heaven," are set out in the next post on this blog.

The song is a parody of “Rock and Roll Heaven," a hit song from 1974 written by Alan O’Day
and Johnny Stevenson, and sung by the Righteous Brothers. For an Internet shrine to that song, including the lyrics, visit here.
Note that at various places in the lyrics, we have included hyperlinks to relevant information, to ensure Professor Tribe and everyone else will be able to understand the factual underpinnings of this parody, and appreciate its fair and balanced nature. We sincerely hope that in contrast to Professor Tribe’s
negative reaction to the joking about his Internet homepage (which fortunately someone preserved for posterity, here), Professor Tribe will be able to laugh along with everyone else on this one.

This musical segment has been specifically crafted to be in compliance with Harvard Law School's
stringent regulations on parodies, under which parodies must avoid offending anyone in any way related to gender, or they will be deemed "sexual harassment." These strict regulations, according to prominent civil liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate (HLS '67), may explain why "there has not been a truly biting parody on hot-button issues related to gender politics at the law school since" the regulations were imposed back in 1995.

Accordingly, the pantheon of plagiarists featured in "Harvard Plagiarist Heaven" has been filled out to include Doris Kearns Goodwin (who actually was the first Harvard-affiliated scholar to be unmasked as a plagiarist, see
here), so as to avoid any suggestion males are being singled out for gender-stereotyping as plagiarists. Our original musical segment violated these regulations because it included only Professors Tribe and Ogletree as Harvard plagiarists.

Also, our original musical segment on Professor Tribe carried at least the appearance of racial bias because whereas the minority professor, Charles Ogletree, was depicted as “stupid” for hiring students to ghostwrite his book, Professor Tribe was depicted as “the smartest man alive” even though he copied material straight out of another scholar’s book and did so without any meaningful attribution, only mentioning Professor Abraham's book at the very back of his book, and then merely as one of 15 very helpful additional books (including two of Professor Tribe's books) an interested reader might wish to consult.

We sincerely apologize to Professor Tribe for our unintentionally inaccurate portrayal of the circumstances leading to his plagiarism of Professor Abraham's book. We honestly did not realize
Amber Taylor was correct in her scenario of how Professor Abraham's 1974 words got into Professor Tribe's 1985 book. Our impression had been that Professor Tribe, unlike Professor Ogletree, actually wrote his own books.

As part of
Harvard Law School's speech code calculated to ensure that in dialogue within our community, no one feels disrespected and no one's feelings are ever hurt in any other way – which is what forced us to drop that foul-mouthed clown from the Parody, to help convey "a sense of humor rather than a spirit of vindictiveness" -- under Harvard Law School's "parody fairness doctrine," we are required to run on this blog any other parody treatments of the plagiarism issue at Harvard Law School readers may wish to submit which defend the plagiarism involved, which offer alternate interpretations of how the plagiarism occurred, or which bear some other relation to this year's Parody. Submissions should be sent to

This blog will only feature parodies on the subject of plagiarism by Harvard-affiliated scholars and on the related subject of why free speech has become so repressed at the Law School that the writers of this year's Parody felt obliged to write a musical segment on a professor-plagiarist which was so timid they actually ended up lionizing the subject, and why their fear of upsetting the professor with even this timid treatment was so great they shared the script with the professor in advance, thereby permitting the very subject being parodied to be in a position to censor the parody.

Please do not e-mail Harvard-related parodies on any other subject. Instead, send them to The Record, at, or to The Harvard Crimson, at

We eagerly look forward to issuing a retraction and substitute parody on "Ben-d-the-truth Berkowitz" if Mr. Berkowitz wishes to continue
complaining about how he was depicted in the Parody.

Just remember all you professors out there: according to Frumpy the HLS Clown (unless of course he plagiarized it from someone), you are not immune from being called an asshole

(This blog brought to you courtesy of Frumpy the HLS Clown, that nasty clown with a filthy mouth who lives in the tunnels under the Law School -- because especially in an age of political correctness, sometimes having only one anonymous and candidly mean-spirited character to kick people around, especially a wimpy one, is just not enough for a place as mean-spirited as Harvard Law School.)

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