Humbug Square - The Baby Jesus vs. Gandhi

Ralph Reed bashed Indian with another writer's words

In the beginning, the Baby Jesus wasn't the Baby Jesus at all. He was just a mean college Republican. This was in the days when Ralph Reed was a conservative student contributing clumsy columns to the Red & Black newspaper at the University of Georgia.

I also got my start contributing clumsy columns to the Red & Black, a few years before Reed did. But I didn't become a born-again Christian. I became a trashy newspaper writer. Reed became a multimillionaire religious, political and corporate operative and, now, a candidate for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor of Georgia - his first giant step toward the White House.

Perhaps our column content sent us down separate paths. I wrote an advice column called "Captain Hygiene," with which I attacked student senators and fraternity people.

Reed, on the other hand, used his column to attack an Indian.

Now, I'm not talking about the kind of Indian that has gotten Reed into such hot water lately - the Native American tribes that make vast fortunes from casino gambling and funneled millions of dollars through Reed's company to stir up his Christian brethren to shut down or block competing casinos.

No, it wasn't an American Indian that Reed chose to ridicule. Instead, on April 14, 1983, Reed attacked an Indian from India, Mohandas K. Gandhi.

Reed's column carried an unforgettable headline: "Gandhi: Ninny of the 20th century."

Reed was reacting to the Best Picture Oscar awarded the movie Gandhi. He started off by saying Gandhi, among other things, had urged the Jewish race to commit collective suicide and had rolled around in bed with naked teenage girls to test his celibacy.

Reed asked readers what they would say about such a man and then answered: "You'd probably say that such a man was a quack, a fake, an eccentric and an immoral and manifestly colossal boob whose basic teachings posed a threat to the survival of the human race."

He said the Indian government helped finance the movie, which he contended should have had the disclaimer, "The following is a paid political announcement by the Indian government."

Reed's column might have read like a well-researched piece with deeply held opinions, until a graduate student noticed that the words had a familiar ring.

William Reid Jr., a graduate student in political science, wrote a letter to the Red & Black pointing out the similarities between Reed's column and "The Gandhi Nobody Knows" by Richard Grenier in the March 1983 issue of Commentary, a conservative Jewish intellectual magazine."Every assertion of, every quote and several seemingly original Reed phrases may be found directly or in slightly modified form in Richard Grenier's long review," Reid wrote.

The claims about Gandhi urging Jews to kill themselves and about rolling around in bed with teenagers came from Grenier's piece, Reid charged, as did the phrase about "a paid political announcement."

The grad student compared a Reed statement about Jewish collective suicide with Grenier's words.

Ralph Reed wrote, "By cutting their own throats or hurling themselves from cliffs, Gandhi asserted, millions of dead Jews would 'arouse public opinion' against Hitler." On the same subject, Grenier wrote, "If only the Jews of Germany had the good sense to offer their throats willingly to the Nazi butchers' knives and throw themselves into the sea from cliffs would they arouse world public opinion."

Reid's letter landed on the desk of the Red & Black's editor, a student named Chuck Reece.

Like Ralph Reed, Reece came out of North Georgia. Reece is from Ellijay and Reed, who grew up in Miami, lived in Toccoa before heading off to college. Reece also would go into politics, but as a Democrat. In the early 1990s, he was press secretary to then-Gov. Zell Miller, long before Miller went around the bend. Miller, who's more Republican than Democrat these days, is hosting a fundraiser for Reed on Friday.

Today, Reece is an Atlanta-based corporate communications consultant. Reed, of course, has made vast amounts of money from Enron and Microsoft, which recently dumped him, in addition to helping evangelical Christians take over the Republican Party and much of the government.

At the Red & Black, Reece enjoyed arguing with Reed about the columns the young conservative contributed. This was at a time when most students were liberal.

"It was always entertaining to have Ralph writing for us," Reece says. "Even though I didn't agree with Ralph's politics or his political views generally, I did not believe he would do something like this."

After receiving Reid's letter, Reece walked from the newspaper office to the UGA library, where he found the March 1983 issue of Commentary.

"I looked it up and, sure enough, it was distressingly similar," Reece says. "It was clearly, in my view and in the view of other people who held positions of responsibility on the Red & Black staff, enough to be considered plagiarism. Ralph argued that. We printed Ralph's response. We had to discontinue his column. We never ran another one by him."

Not all of the piece was plagiarized, however. The words "ninny," "quack" and "boob" were Reed's.

Reed's response in the Red & Black was a harbinger of things to come from a new generation of Republicans. He attacked the student who exposed his plagiarism."I sincerely apologize for not citing my sources, including the article in Commentary mentioned by Mr. Reid, in my column of April 14. However, my failure to cite fully each and every source was merely an oversight, not a deliberate attempt to deceive, as Mr. Reid implies," Reed wrote in his response. "Mr. William Reid's thinly veiled personal attacks on my character are a poor substitute for the truth." To imply that he committed plagiarism, Reed wrote, "is the most shocking, profane form of personal attack I can imagine."

Looking back at Reed's response, Reece says, "I thought it was disingenuous at best. Honestly, I didn't understand why Ralph wouldn't admit that he was wrong. I didn't think he would actually plagiarize somebody. I was surprised. I was absolutely surprised. I just wanted him to fess up. I never understood why he wouldn't and that said something about his character."

UGA is a much more conservative place today. The Red & Black interviewed Reed two months ago and didn't mention the plagiarism scandal until the next to last paragraph, which said Reed "was banned from writing after not citing his sources in a column about the movie Gandhi."

"It was a valuable learning experience," Reed told the paper. "I became a better person because of it."

Reed's spokeswoman, Lisa Baron, did not return an e-mail or phone call from CL to discuss the plagiarism incident.

Reed was born again in 1983, according to Time magazine. But Reece never had a discussion with Reed that involved religion - "To my recollection, his politics were not at the time driven by religion."

Reece, who knows his way around the state Capitol, is concerned about Reed's ascendancy, not because of his former columnist's plagiarism nearly a quarter-century ago, but because of Reed's politics today.

"I consider Ralph to be a member of the radical end of the Christian right," Reece says. "I think Ralph's political ideas and the political ideas of those like him are dangerous. I don't think they're good for America and I don't think they're good for the state of Georgia."

Senior Editor Doug Monroe discloses that Chuck Reece is a friend, former colleague and fellow songwriter. You can reach Doug at doug.monroe@creativeloafing.com.