Fareed Zakaria: ‘People are piling on with every grudge or vendetta’

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Fareed Zakaria’s Washington Post column has been suspended for a month. He tells Paul Farhi, “People are piling on with every grudge or vendetta” now that Time and CNN have suspended him for plagiarism.

Example: Clyde V. Prestowitz charged that Zakaria didn’t correctly attribute a quote in the 2008 edition of “The Post-American World” that came from Prestowitz’s book. Zakaria tpld Farhi that charge was “totally bogus.” And on Wednesday, Zakaria was proven correct on this point; David Frum posted images and PDFs from the book that show Zakaria cited Prestowitz. The Post appended a correction to its piece and apologized for the error. We regret repeating the error.

Farhi spoke to Zakaria, who said not attributing quotes was standard in such works:

Zakaria, in an interview Monday, defended the practice of not attributing quotes in a popular book. “As I write explicitly [in the book], this is not an academic work where everything has to be acknowledged and footnoted,” he said. The book contains “hundreds” of comments and quotes that aren’t attributed because doing so, in context, would “interrupt the flow for the reader,” he said.


To use Zakaria’s term, is that attitude bogus? Compare Prestowitz’s charge to Edward Jay Epstein’s defense. He writes Zakaria can’t be held accountable for plagiarism because he didn’t steal from Adam Winkler, he simply stole most of Jill Lepore’s paragraph about Adam Winkler’s ideas.

Zakaria’s crime was not plagiarism. He embarrassed his employer, Time, by not sufficiently juggling the words around or employing the thesaurus to camouflage the sorry fact that instead of going to the ultimate source, the book Gunfight, he (or his assistants) used the electronic clip file.

Actually, that sort of thing is called plagiarism, Seth Mnookin writes in response.

If copying multiple sentences, word for word, doesn’t count as “the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own,” then what does?

Defense: If you redefine plagiarism, Zakaria didn’t plagiarize.
Ruling: Bogus!

An even stranger defense comes from Delia Lloyd:

To be fair, I’ve looked at the two passages – which you can see laid out side by each, here – and on journalistic grounds, I don’t think this is such a huge deal. As my colleague Melinda Henneberger pointed out, what he’s really guilty of is re-writing a paragraph summarizing a book about gun control. When you compare that to, say, the Jonah Lehrer affair at the New Yorker – Lehrer was fired after admitting that he fabricated entire quotes for an article – Zakaria’s deeds don’t seem hugely horrible.

“I think Zakaria can be forgiven for cutting a few corners,” Lloyd writes, before torpedoing her argument with a story of how, as a professor at the University of Chicago, she and colleagues booted a plagiarizer from a degree program, “Because if we’d let him coast, we were basically saying that it’s OK to steal other people’s ideas and get away with it.”

Defense: Zakaria’s plagiarism isn’t the bad kind of plagiarism.
Ruling: Bogus!

Steve Ross commented on Poynter’s first story about Zakaria’s plagiarism, writing, “Some of my students and former students have been interns for Zakaria, and he has quite a few at one time.”

It seems obvious to me that the interns almost certainly did the deed and that Zakaria has taken responsibility, as he should. … I’m usually forced to do my own work, thank you (!), so I don’t have a lot of sympathy — these folks are brands, not authors. But I’m somewhat forgiving on the plagiarizer accusation.

Jack Cashill wedges Zakaria into a narrative about assistant-assisted plagiarism at Harvard, where Zakaria earned a Ph.D.

If he understands that tradition, Zakaria knows too that he will likely get away with his mischief. Others most certainly have.

Cashill then gives his take on a series of plagiarism scandals that rocked Harvard Law School earlier in this century after Professors Charles Ogletree and Laurence Tribe plagiarized in books.

Ogletree, Sarah Rimer wrote in The New York Times at the time, said the error occurred “in his rush to meet a final deadline, when a pair of research assistants inserted the material into a draft of his manuscript and accidentally dropped the quotation marks and attribution.” Tribe said his “well-meaning effort to write a book accessible to a lay audience through the omission of any footnotes or endnotes – in contrast to the practice I have always followed in my scholarly writing – came at an unacceptable cost.” (Do you hear echoes of Zakaria saying that attribution would “interrupt the flow for the reader”?)

Edward Tenner writes in The Atlantic that Zakaria is a product of an environment (“Davos-grade mentorships,” Tenner calls them) where few stars can get by on their work alone:

He had become a journalist who didn’t report, a scholar with no time for extended reading, and a global prophet who wasn’t sure what ideas he wanted to spread. In the midst of his triumph, he was already at risk.

And Eric Zuesse writes — without offering any evidence — that Zakaria “cannot possibly actually write all that is attributed to him. He certainly cannot research it all.

Like many “writing” stars, he has a staff perform much of the research and maybe even actual writing for him, and many in his situation are actually more editors than they are writers; but, regardless, he cannot let the public know that this is the way things are, because this is simply the way that the star system works in the “writing” fields, and because the public is supposed to think that these stars in the writing fields are writers, more than editors.

Defense: Zakaria may have taken the fall because he’d put his name atop someone else’s sloppy work.
Ruling: Not totally bogus!

I can’t stress enough this defense is predicated on speculation: Zakaria, the theory goes, couldn’t have made such a boneheaded mistake on his own. But how is using a researcher’s work under your name different from a journalist’s editor directing a story, changing its lede, inserting a new ending or making any of the other changes that happen in editorial meat grinders every day?

The only thing I can find admirable in this whole dismal tale is the possibility that Zakaria held up his end of the bargain and apologized for an error he didn’t make. “It is a full apology — no hedging, no excuses,” Mark Leccese writes.

Is it possible Zakaria observed a kind of omerta because he, like almost every writer who’s worked with an editor, OK’d the use of his name on work that was only partially his?

Related: Newsroom responses to Zakaria plagiarism reveal lack of consistency, transparencyFareed Zakaria says many journalists don’t attribute quotations

Correction: Based on The Washington Post’s reporting, which we did not verify, this post originally repeated Prestowitz’s claim that Zakaria had failed to attribute a quote that came from Prestowitz’s book. Zakaria did attribute the quote.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=749911534 Anonymous

    coomments at NYT comment board reFareed Zakaria today are running 50 5o pro and con re — ”He may have won his job back but he’s lost his credibility, forever”
    VS ”Good to have him back. He’s one smart dude.”

  • Anonymous

    Is it possible to dig up at least a second example (if not more) before headlining the report

    ‘PEOPLE ARE piling on with every grudge or vendetta’.

    And just because Mr. Zakaria said it, doesn’t excuse the headline. The implication of using the headline is that there ARE more examples.

    And if there are, they should have been cited.

  • Anonymous

    Put another way, which revelation is more likely to tarnish Mr. Zakaria’s reputation as a star?
    That he plagiarized a little bit?
    Or that he doesn’t do much of the work himself?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Egg-Man/681171228 Egg Man

    Actually, Allahpundit was linking to John Podhorest on the farming out theory, which I also posted on the other day here at Poynter: re ”Exit question via John Podhoretz: Could Zakaria maybe have been farming his columns out to an intern or assistant? That would be ethically problematic in its own right, but it might help explain this incident. A young ghostwriter has much less to lose in taking a risk like this and might well be more naive than Zakaria would be about the probability of being caught. Neither J-Pod nor I are trying to make excuses for him, mind you, just spitballing on how to account for something this bizarre.” re And now we turn to why. Allahpundit tries to account for Zakaria’s “bizarre” actions:

  • Julien Gorbach

    Zakaria isn’t worth defending because of his generally sloppy sourcing, which leaves all of his work open to question. The use of assistants is yet another concern. But it’s plagiarism now if you repeat that someone is a scholar of ”constitutional law at UCLA”? Or that laws “banning concealed weapons” (how dare he steal such an apt and original phrase!) were passed in such-and-such years in such-and-such states? Okay, I’ll concede that following this up with the same partial quote from the Texas governor was bad judgment, but give me a break! If that alone is plagiarism worthy of disgrace and exile, how is anyone supposed to pass along basic facts, never mind the gist of insights or arguments, gleaned from one source or another? To put it another way, how would Beaujon, Mnookin et al advise writers to convey this argument and the facts that support it (the specific laws and years they were passed) in an ethical and concise manner? Just how much phrase-twisting and synonym-hunting is really necessary to make such a simple point? And if this is indeed plagiarism, how many others are we going to find out there who have committed the same offense? Many of the people who are wagging their fingers right now live in glass houses. This hypocrisy is disgusting.
    One final point: guides to historical methods argue that good history is built upon primary sources and that secondary sources may be useful in helping a researcher identify primary ones. James D. Startt and William David Sloan’s Historical Methods in Mass Communication, for example, further advises that “researchers should always track down the original secondary source.” (See Chapter 7, “Historical Sources and Their Evaluation,” p. 162-163 in the 2003 edition.) In the case we are discussing, none of the sources are primary, but at least both journalists, Lepore and Zakaria, attribute their information to Winkler, the scholar who conducted the original research. That to me seems appropriate.

  • Michael T Lyster

    Even if I write an educational medical piece for our local newspaper, I credit my sources, even if not by letter and verse (e.g. ‘This article was written with substantial reference to ACS.org, Susan G Komen.com, and…”, or some such). It’s not the law; it’s not hard to omit: it’s the RIGHT THING. A concept clearly foreign to the journalistic intelligentsia within which Fareed lives. For now.

  • Michael T Lyster

    “Piling on”? Oh, boo hoo.

    Perhaps you’re not from around these parts, Fareed old boy, but we once had something in our dull, provincial nation that we called ‘personal responsibility’. Another, even more archaic custom we had was called ‘ethics’. Both, clearly alien to your more refined sensibilities, and both clearly outgrown in the oh-so-advanced liberal intelligentsia. But not among the rest of us simple, clinging Neanderthals in the flyover states.

    You got caught with your pants down, sport. Grab your belt, and shuffle offstage onto the dust pile of journalistic history. You’re done.

  • http://twitter.com/mewcomm mike whatley wa4d

    Is this not the juiciest Ethical/Journalism SmackDown we’ve seen in a long time? Oh the drama!

    For you old timers recall the Washington Post’s Janet Cook who famously made up the subject of her Pulitzer winning series on 8 year old “Jimmy” a kid with a heroin addiction? Or the NY Times’ Jayson Blair who fabricated stories where he didn’t even go to the scene!? Of course he “smoked” cigarettes with senior editors outside the Times building on the sidewalk!

    Ah but these people are are so passe’ compared to the electrifiying/ubiquitious Fareed!

    Zakaria is charged with being an “aristocrat”! One of Journalism’s most “overrated” thinkers. No real ideas! He is said to be the establishment’s foreign policy oracle! A “Rock Star” in India! A “trustee” at Yale. A darling of Davos! “Old school” gray haired reporters weighing in with indignation and apologists like Edward J Epstein declaring that Fareed, “didn’t commit plagiarism”. Yet others snort of Harvard’s corruption and Zakaria’s sense of “entitlement”.

    It couldn’t be more fun!

  • Anonymous

    –But how is using a researcher’s work under your name different from a journalist’s editor directing a story, changing its lede, inserting a new ending or making any of the other changes that happen in editorial meat grinders every day? [...]
    Is it possible Zakaria observed a kind of omerta because he, like almost every writer who’s worked with an editor, OK’d the use of his name on work that was only partially his?–
    I do not agree with this logic. A writer producing work for an editor who edits it is not guilty of plagiarism. Nor is the editor guilty of plagiarism.
    Not much is coming forward to indicate that Zakaria is a systematic plagiarist.
    Time, CNN, and Washington Post should put it to him that he has to change his habits.
    Making excuses will just compound matters.
    One month suspension is a reasonable punishment, if not much else comes to light.
    There are worse cases that do not get dealt with. Noel Polk, the devious Faulkner editor, comes to mind. How anyone could let the mutilated Modern Library “Absalom, Absalom!” sit around for 20 years with his name on it is a mystery. This text was published in 1993 with 20 major errors.
    Noel Polk is as slippery as an eel in the Mississippi, if they have them there.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry, but if you don’t have time to review everything that goes out under your name – drop some of your commitments. There’s no excuse for doing otherwise.
    Ron Paul has rightfully been denounced for the racist screeds that went out under his name in years of newsletters. I didn’t believe his excuse – that he hadn’t actually read them – and I’m not cutting Zakaria any slack on the same claim.
    I’ve been a Zakaria fan for some years, but some of his defense is nonsense, such as his claim that he didn’t have to attribute everything because it wasn’t an “academic” work.I’m a newspaper reporter. I don’t write “academic” works either – but everything I do write is sourced. And nobody complains that attribution “interrupts the flow.”