Zakaria critics turn their attention to Malcolm Gladwell

Our Bad Media

Delphic media bloggers @crushingbort and @blippoblappo say New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell "lifted quotes and other material without attribution" in his work for the magazine.

Among their examples: a 2011 story that doesn't cite quotes that appear to be taken from Jeffrey S. Young; a 2013 story that draws heavily from a 1952 article by John Sawyer; a 2010 article that uses stuff from "Miles Wolff’s authoritative but obscure 1970 book, Lunch at the Five and Ten."

@crushingbort and @blippoblappo recently addressed Bill Adair's class at Duke and said that after spending much of the year haunting Fareed Zakaria they had found another target, but didn't provide a name.

Speaking of that person, @crushingbort told the class they'd "found other instances (that) could kindly be called questionable attribution, yet no reporters have pushed for more information" and were "deciding at the moment whether or not to send that information to the outlet in question."

Reached by email, blappo and bort told Poynter Gladwell came to their attention after that statement. "We're still not quite settled on the other one yet but we didn't reach out to the New Yorker for this one."

Reached by email, New Yorker Editor David Remnick said, "The issue is not really about Malcolm. And, to be clear, it isn't about plagiarism." He continued:

The issue is an ongoing editorial challenge known to writers and editors everywhere -- to what extent should a piece of journalism, which doesn't have the apparatus of academic footnotes, credit secondary sources? It's an issue that can get complicated when there are many sources with overlapping information. There are cases where the details of an episode have passed into history and are widespread in the literature. There are cases that involve a unique source. We try to make judgments about source attribution with fairness and in good faith. But we don't always get it right. In retrospect, for example, we should have credited Miles Wolff's 1970 book about Greensboro, because it's central to our understanding of those events. We sometimes fall short, but our hope is always to give readers and sources the consideration they deserve.

Related: Is it original? An editor’s guide to identifying plagiarism

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.

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