Fake Roots

Story in the New York Post opens with this lede:

ON Friday, NBC will air a special commemorating the 25th anniversary of the landmark miniseries based on Alex Haley’s book “Roots.” Ironically, the original series aired on ABC – but officials at that network took a pass on broadcasting the tribute.

What’s truly amazing, however, is that “Roots” is receiving a reverential tribute at all. For while the miniseries was a remarkable – and important – piece of television, the book on which it was based has now been widely exposed as a historical hoax.

Unfortunately, the general public is largely unaware of how Haley’s monumental family autobiography, stretching back to 18th-century Africa, has been discredited.

Indeed, a 1997 BBC documentary expose of Haley’s work has been banned by U.S. television networks – especially PBS, which would normally welcome such a program.

Coincidentally, the “Roots” anniversary comes amid the growing scandal over disclosures of historian Stephen Ambrose’s multiple incidents of plagiarism. Because as Haley himself was forced to acknowledge, a large section of his book – including the plot, main character and scores of whole passages – was lifted from “The African,” a 1967 novel by white author Hal Courlander.

(Hattip to Vox Popoli.)


  1. Comment by meunke:

    So let me guess: it’s going to be defended as ‘fake, but accurate.’

  2. Comment by Sean Michael:

    Dear Mr. Wright:

    I too have long known Alex Haley’s infamous book ROOTS was a lie and a fraud. Indeed, that it was shamelessly plagiarized from another man’s work. And, even more, that Haley ghosted the so called AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X. So, I refuse to read either of those two lying, dishonest books. I will be taking great care NOT to watch NBC’s fawning and slobbering over that plagiarized book!

    Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

  3. Comment by Stephen J.:

    As a Canadian for whom ROOTS was never either culturally or academically browbeaten into me, and who was too young to watch the miniseries when it was on and too disinterested in “the boring stuff” (i.e. actual history) to read the book as a teenager or young man, exactly how big of a bombshell is this? Is ROOTS as a work that important to the cause of Black Americans?

    • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

      Images are very important to the post-literate. For example, you can find many examples of people who get their understanding of the “Plame” affair from the “Based on real events!” (But not, you notice, the real events) movie.

    • Comment by Fail Burton:

      Haley’s a huge icon for black Americans and Roots was a big deal when it came out as a mini-series. Even had it not been plagiarized, the scenes showing white guys scooping up Africans in nets is about as real as Charlton Heston being scooped up in nets by apes riding horses.

      Since no Europeans had ever penetrated the interior of Africa where slaves came from, that right there tells you some fantasy story had been made up.

      The bottom line is no one really cares if Haley phonied it all up. It’s affirmative action literature so he gets points shaved for effort.

  4. Comment by Mrs. Wright:

    This reminds me of the incident with my friend the anthropologist and the American Indian epic which he, sadly, had to discredit.

  5. Comment by vanderleun:

    It doesn’t matter what people know isn’t true, it only matters what those “lo-info” Obamadroids believe should be true.

    • Comment by Tom Simon:

      Well, the king he talked him blind; so at last he give in, and said all right, but said he believed it was blamed foolishness to stay, and that doctor hanging over them. But the king says:

      “Cuss the doctor! What do we k’yer for him? Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”

      (Huckleberry Finn, chapter 26.)

  6. Comment by R.Carter:

    I worked as a janitor in college. One day I was reading a large collection of primary documents pertaining to Pearl Harbor, and I was approached by a co-worker. He informed me that there was already a movie about Pearl Harbor. I replied that I was sure there was, cautiously hoping that this was leading up to a joke of some kind. He then told me that this movie had Ben Afleck in it, related many of the action sequences, and told me that I should just watch the movie instead of reading a book.

    The lesson I learned was this: there are Americans who will believe anything if you put it on a screen with a “Based on a True Story” caption underneath the title.

    • Comment by Suburbanbanshee:

      There were a fair number of people who didn’t understand that The Hunt for Red October wasn’t a historical movie. (When the next Clancy movie came out, I think it clued these people that anything Jack Ryan was fiction.)

      • Comment by Mary:

        Though I still remember the time I was having lunch with a friend and a friend of his at a con, and grumbling about sages in fantasy, and how most would be improved by the author’s ripping off Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations — and the friend of his was startled to realize that Marcus Aurelius really existed.

  7. Comment by The Next-to-Last Samurai:

    That’s an old article; has Haley been exposed again, more recently? The one John quotes is about ten years old (I remember it well).

  8. Comment by RedJack:

    There are those who will defend it to the death, because it tells them what they want to hear.

    The older I get, the sadder I become about our educational system. I often wonder if the so called “Dark Ages” was because the majority of people studied plays and races rather than the issues of the day.

  9. Comment by TJIC:

    How can a novel be a hoax?

    (serious question)

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