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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.
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.
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?
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.