Dirtiest word in journalism: Plagiarist

10 thoughts on “Dirtiest word in journalism: Plagiarist”

  1. The ability to copy and paste is marvelous. When I first learned how to type it was of course on a manual typewriter and my brain consistently ran ahead of my fingers, so editing consumed a disproportionate part of my attention. I have wondered how well teachers cope with the new reality, of detecting plagiarism in the internet age. Just looking as Zakaria’s paragraphs above it is apparent that he made only a minimal effort to disguise his theft and he could have done the job better. I’ve been amazed at not just the quality of his work since discovering him this year, but its sheer volume. This would seem to explain it to some extent, but I think it was likely a rare crime.

    I have to think that Zakaria, like Doris Kernes Goodwin, is still an excellent writer. I remember the scandal involving Goodwin and being disappointed in her, but I have since appreciated her input on Meet The Press and other venues since then – she is a capable thinker despite her failing and I actually have admiration for perseverance.

    I once worked for a Marine Colonel who was unforgiving. He consciously recognized that quality in himself, that when any person or store or institution failed in any significant aspect, he wrote them off and had nothing more to do with them. By the time I knew him he had a long list and I always had the feeling that he might run out of prospects for perfection well before he died. Might it not be better if we simply recognized that people are not perfect and strive for openness as protection against the inevitable? None of us is perfect.

    1. I agree none of us is perfect. That was foremost in my mind as I wrote and I’m still struggling with it. Zakaria is an excellent writer and analyst, and one incident of plagiarism doesn’t mean his skill is any less. But it does, assuming it was intentional, call into question his work ethic and judgment. For me this will probably end up being something like DKG; eventually I’ll come around and admit I still like him and I still appreciate his understanding of the issues. But this is going to hang over him like a dark cloud for a very long time. It’s just inexplicable to me that someone at his level would plagiarize from one prominent magazine (a recent issue at that) for publication in another prominent magazine. Even a high school student would be more subtle than that!

  2. When I was an editorial intern for a well-known publication that I won’t name, while fact-checking an article, I discovered that a writer had plagiarized a great deal of his article from several different sources. When I brought my discovery to the managing editor, I was put through the ringer, made to go over the article several times both manually and electronically and highlight all the unattributed parts, and ultimately the writer got “a talking to” and still writes for the publication to this day. Of course, the plagiarized piece didn’t run, but still…

    So while I was deeply disappointed in Zakaria, and I can’t understand how professionals would do that, I’m actually not that surprised.

  3. WIth journalism, the bar is really high. People read and trust you to have things correct. Writers build audiences. True no one is perfect, but writers know what they are creating and if it is honestly done or not. This incident has damaged his reputation – it may never come back…there will always be that question lurking.

... and that's my two cents