Zakaria a plagiarist? You be the judge

Back in 2012 when Fareed Zakaria was caught quoting another author’s work without attribution (commonly referred to as plagiarism), his employers investigated and, for the most part, let him off the hook. After all, he did apologize.

Now it seems those determined investigators over at Our Bad Media, @blippoblappo and @crushingbort, have dug up some more Zakaria “oversights.” Their three reports* make interesting reading, and while you might disagree with them about exactly what constitutes plagiarism, you come away with the unshakeable conviction that Zakaria, prior to 2012, took far more liberties with the work of others than one might expect. In a letter to Politico, he defended his work, but in somewhat convoluted and unconvincing fashion, as noted in the response from Our Bad Media.

Of the many examples cited by Our Bad Media, the following is perhaps the easiest to quickly assess. Is Zakaria a plagiarist? You be the judge:

 

Zakariaplagiarism2

 

 

*From Our Bad Media:



Categories: Media, personalities, Writing

19 replies

  1. Looks to be a fast draw with the copy & paste

    Probably automatic tools now to check for plagiarism – but would a news org run all their writing through a checker for their regular writers?

    But what about the people that read something then just change the words enough to not be caught by any auto checker?

    • That’s why the articles are so interesting. Plagiarism is apparently a very gray area these days, with some claiming that if it’s not verbatim, it’s not plagiarism. Zakaria was arguing that he was citing facts and statistics that were available from numerous sources, so didn’t have to be attributed. Some think paraphrasing too closely is plagiarism, but how close is too close? Why wouldn’t you cite a source, just to be cautious? Better to be accused of too many citations, or citing secondary sources, than to be accused of plagiarism for not citing at all.

      Time, CNN, and the Washington Post have said, I think, that in light of these new examples, they will run new checks on Zakaria’s work. Had they done a thorough job the first time (in 2012), they probably would have found many of these examples.

      • To me, there is a difference between public info you got, but from a news article and not looking at the original source and slurping the entire sentence or paragraph.

        While we are on the public and well known “facts” – if my memory is correct – an often cited stat is that the US Coast Guard had the highest causality rate of any service branch in WWII – that is false but was put out in a book maybe 50 years ago and has been repeated ever since by people that are too lazy to do the research – got that from a Museum Director

        So the search for truth goes on and on

        • Unfortunately, almost anything, if repeated often enough, can become widely accepted as “common knowledge” and no one thinks to question it. That’s why attribution is important. Either an author, in researching the source, will discover the error, or readers checking the author’s citation will discover it. At least we can hope it works that way. Most of the time.

  2. This is a subject I and a lot of editors have to deal with most every day, and I often find myself inserting attribution while editing. It drives me crazy that I have to do that at all, but the truth is, there are too many lazy writers out there. There are lots of very good, conscientious ones too, but they’re becoming a rare breed.

    My favorite columnist to edit is my favorite not just because he’s a nice guy and a really good writer/reporter, but because he worries enough to quadruple-check himself. He always apologizes when he sends me corrections, but there’s really no need; if you really care about your writing, you want to make sure it’s right. I’d much rather have 10 people like that than than one person who doesn’t even care enough to spell-check.

    • I hated term papers in school, mostly because of the hassle, with only pen and paper, of keeping track of and citing my sources. It was terribly tedious. These days, with computers, it’s almost automatic; you enter the text and source at the same time and they stay together, right there in the document.

      Aside from the ethical and professional reasons for citing sources, there’s the fact that doing so supports and backs up what you’re saying. It’s not just a wild idea you dreamed up; someone else thinks so too. I just can’t imagine why one wouldn’t cite one’s sources. If you have to look up the information somewhere, or double check something to make sure you’re correct, what’s so hard about noting that source at the same time?

      Some of Zakaria’s explanation sound to me like laziness or lack of respect for the reader. For example, he didn’t attribute statistics from the government because they’re “in the public domain.” Yes, that means the information isn’t copyrighted, but what if a reader wants to know where he got his figures, perhaps so they can double check them? It’s a simple courtesy, especially with the mountains of information the government generates, to let readers know where they can find the information for themselves. Sometimes it sounded like arrogance. He didn’t include a source because he, being the The Great Zakaria, simply didn’t think it was necessary. And Time magazine “did not always allow for links”? Okay, so put it in the text. Or add a footnote.

      I think of the many forums I visit, with comments and discussions on current events. Someone will make an assertion of some kind and very often a reply will come: “Source?” As a reader, that’s really all I expect anymore. If you make an assertion of fact, back it up with something, just so I’ll know you didn’t pull it out of thin air. Unless you’re Fareed Zakaria, of course. Then I’ll take your every word as gospel.

      • I hated hated HATED doing footnotes in high school … it was a total pain in the ass and frustrating as hell.

        Unfortunately it seems the ranks of Zakarias are growing. Some are newish writers, but unfortunately many are people who just should have hung it up if they aren’t going to put any effort out. You can’t use the “I haven’t been sued yet” or “I’ve been in this business umpteen years” saws to excuse laziness or failure to follow even basic journalistic tenets.

        I think the current atmosphere fostered by the 24/7 news cycle and outrageously partisan “news” has contributed as well. Too many consumers aren’t questioning what they’re told, so the media just keep churning it out … and of course claiming that everything is ABSOLUTELY TRUE!!!!!! We even have video that we cobbled together from various speeches to prove that Obama admits he eats babies!

        Sheesh.

  3. Plagiarism it is, no doubt about it. Is it rendered worthless as a result? No, I think not. Zakaria is a gifted and intelligent journalist and if he chooses to lift some well-expressed thoughts of others to craft a viewpoint that is his and different, then the product has value. But, the value and the respect of his readership are diminished accordingly. He yielded to the pressure of deadlines.

    Since the advent of the internet and the ease of copy and paste, the nature of writing as a profession has ineluctably changed. Zakaria’s temptation is epidemic, not just in journalism but in education. I understand there are web sites that make a good living by delivering plagiarized product. What’s the solution? Well, one is to call out the fault when it’s found, and PT deserves credit for that here. Also, the software to find plagiarism, as capnmike mentioned. The penalty is diminished reputation for the likes of Zakaria. But I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater either. I will continue to read him occasionally, but his cheat will now be on my mind. Those who abuse the seriously will be off my read-list.

    I like Capnmike’s story of the urban legend about the Coast Guard. It’s a perfect example of how the basic problem has always been with us. It’s just that with computers and the internet, it’s much easier. As in all consumerism, it’s a case of buyer beware. I use Snopes.com all the time. Bless ’em.

    • No, Zakaria’s work isn’t necessarily rendered worthless. But his standing as a journalist has been greatly diminished, as you note. I crossed him off my list after the 2012 incident. I couldn’t see his name or face without remembering the incident. I no longer value his opinion as I once did, and frankly, I just don’t like him anymore.

      Yes, copy and paste has made it so much easier to compile a paper, article, or book. But it also makes it easier to copy and paste the information necessary for proper attribution. So why wouldn’t you?

    • You say his finished product has value, even if part of it is “borrowed”. Okay, are you aware that “borrowing without asking” could easily be a definition of “theft”? If his product has value to him (i.e., his paycheck) Then doesn’t he owe some of that money to the person whose product he took?

      When I was a newspaper editor, I would have come down hard on any reporter under me that did the same. I don’t think any amount of talent or fame can excuse such actions. I’m retired now, so perhaps times have changed. But I hope not.

      • I assume his work probably has some value to some people as a compilation of information they would otherwise have to compile themselves. Its value as an original work is nil if most of the content was written by others. Maybe people are more interested in his opinions and interpretations than in the sources of his information, although I think everything about him is now suspect. There’s this little thing called “integrity” …

        I’m not sure at what point “plagiarism” becomes “theft of intellectual property,” nor do I know what current law says is the penalty for such deeds. Certainly the aggrieved authors are free to sue him if they think they have a case; it may be enough that he has been exposed and his reputation sullied.

        I’m a retired textbook and medical editor myself and would never have tolerated even the appearance of plagiarism or theft of intellectual property. I don’t know what the standards are today, but my impression is that journalism, much like society as a whole, is far more lax in its standards than it used to be.

  4. I was a Zakaria fan until 2012. He also has been off my reading list since. Clearly, he is a plagiarist. To me, that is an unforgivable sin for someone representing himself as a journalism. I don’t think the fact that technology makes it easier or that he has apologized for some of his actions mitigates the gravity of what he did.

    • Yep. You’d think writers, especially professional journalists, would understand that while technology has made it much easier to steal someone else’s work, it’s also made it much easier to discover that theft.

  5. Oh for god sake… have done better plagiarism with my essays *cough* but at least tried some different wordings but this is just ridiculous. Now back to my essay copy pasting 🙂

  6. I’m not smart enough to be a plagiarist 😦

“I cannot be an optimist but I am a prisoner of hope.” ~ Cornel West

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