Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘Time magazine

Plagiarism, Pt. 2 — Zakaria Cleared, Reinstated by Time and CNN

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Well, folks, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised — yet I am.

It appears that Fareed Zakaria, who blatantly plagiarised from a column by the New Yorker’s Jill Lepore for his most recent column at Time magazine, then got suspended last week from both CNN and Time (my earlier blog post about this is here), will resume his jobs in September.

Here’s tonight’s article from the Huffington Post, which states:

Fareed Zakaria is off the hook at both Time magazine and CNN after he admitted plagiarizing a New Yorker column last Friday.

The upshot of the article is, Time and CNN both have agreed to let Zakaria keep his jobs even though Zakaria most definitely plagiarised from Lepore.  Zakaria’s employers view this as an “isolated” incident, even though Jeffrey Goldberg from The Atlantic pointed out back in 2009 that Zakaria had also plagiarised him without attribution.

Basically, Zakaria is getting away with doing something unconscionable, merely because he is a celebrity.  This should not be tolerated, but apparently in today’s hyper-conscious celebrity culture, the bigwigs at Time and CNN just don’t care.

And by refusing to can Zakaria due to his plagiarism, it’s obvious that journalistic ethics — writerly ethics — have gone out the window at both CNN and Time.  Despite the fact that they’re supposedly devoted to the news.  Despite the fact that they should wish those who report the news for them will be honest, fair-minded, and at least have the common courtesy to properly attribute their sources.

I’m shocked that Time and CNN have chosen this course.  They’re both news-oriented organizations.  The people who work for them should be above reproach. 

Yet Zakaria no longer can be considered above reproach, if indeed he ever was — which is why he should’ve been fired without delay no matter how high-profile he is and no matter how much of a celebrity, either.

By retaining Zakaria despite his blatant plagiarism, both of Zakaria’s employers have proven that the almighty dollar matters far more to them than the truth.  Or ethics.  Or even common sense.

Even in this day and age, wrong is wrong — and we all know that what Zakaria did is plain, flat wrong.

Usually, committing blatant acts of plagiarism is the one thing that can get a reporter, host, or “basic writer” fired without an appeal.  It’s utterly wrong that Zakaria didn’t even have to sweat a little bit before he found out that he would, indeed, keep his jobs.

Instead, it appears he got what amounts to a “get out of jail free” card from his employers.

That’s wrong.

That’s shameful.

And it should not be allowed to stand.  Period.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 18, 2012 at 12:19 am

Writer Fareed Zakaria Suspended from Time and CNN for Plagiarism

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On August 10, 2012 — two days ago, to be exact — Fareed Zakaria, a writer for Time magazine and a host at CNN, was suspended for plagiarism.  Something like this happens only rarely to top-level, nationally-known pundits, which is why I wanted to see what the fallout would be before I wrote about it.

Here’s what happened.  Zakaria wrote a column on gun control for Time that used a number of passages from a similar article by Jill Lepore that appeared in the April edition of the New Yorker.  Here’s a copy of what Lepore wrote back then:

“As Adam Winkler, a constitutional-law scholar at U.C.L.A., demonstrates in a remarkably nuanced new book, ‘Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America,’ firearms have been regulated in the United States from the start. Laws banning the carrying of concealed weapons were passed in Kentucky and Louisiana in 1813, and other states soon followed: Indiana (1820), Tennessee and Virginia (1838), Alabama (1839), and Ohio (1859). Similar laws were passed in Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma. As the governor of Texas explained in 1893, the ‘mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder. To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law-abiding man.’”

Now, see Zakaria’s version of the same thing from his recent column in Time magazine:

“Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA, documents the actual history in Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America.  “Guns were regulated in the U.S. from the earliest years of the Republic. Laws that banned the carrying of concealed weapons were passed in Kentucky and Louisiana in 1813. Other states soon followed: Indiana in 1820, Tennessee and Virginia in 1838, Alabama in 1839 and Ohio in 1859. Similar laws were passed in Texas, Florida and Oklahoma. As the governor of Texas (Texas!) explained in 1893, the ‘mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder. To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law-abiding man.’”

As you see, there’s little difference. 

What’s worse, there’s no excuse for this — none whatsoever — because Zakaria did have other options than to simply lift a passage from Lepore’s piece without proper attribution.

The first and easiest thing Zakaria could’ve done is this — give Lepore her due.  Say, “Recently, in the New Yorker, Jill Lepore wrote an excellent article on gun control.  As I cannot improve upon her words, here’s what she said back in April:” and go on from there.

But Zakaria had a second option available as well if Time wouldn’t go for that.   He could have either used a different source, or if he really liked Adam Winkler’s book, he could’ve interviewed Winkler directly, thus getting different words but getting at the same thing.  This would not have been plagiarism because Winkler, as an author, is allowed to cite his own words whenever he feels like it.  And if Winkler wanted to point out that Lepore had written an article back in April that was really good, Zakaria could’ve mentioned that without using any of Lepore’s words, too.

And do you know what else shocked me?  This isn’t even the first time Zakaria has been accused of plagiarism.  Because as an article by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic back in 2009 points out, Zakaria lifted some of his words, too!

So it appears that Zakaria has been lifting quotes from other people and not giving proper attribution for years.  However, this time, he lifted a whole paragraph, which is why he got caught.

So what did Zakaria do after he got caught?  He apologized, which is here:

Media reporters have pointed out that paragraphs in my Time column this week bear close similarities to paragraphs in Jill Lepore’s essay in the April 23 issue of The New Yorker. They are right. I made a terrible mistake. It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault. I apologize unreservedly to her, to my editors at Time, and to my readers.

The problem with the apology is, it’s too little, too late.  Zakaria knows better than this.  Writers, reporters, journalists, and even hosts — like he has been on CNN for years — know that the only thing we have going for us, ultimately, is our bare word that we’ll tell the truth as we know it.  Any writer worth his or her salt knows that.  And we know that if we plagiarise, our credibility is completely and utterly blown.  Forever!

And as I said before, Zakaria had other options.  He did not have to do this.  He should not have done this.  And he deservedly got suspended for doing it anyway.

What’s truly sad and shocking about all of this is that Zakaria still has the potential to go back to work, when so many other writers who would never have done what Zakaria just did either aren’t working at all, or are working far below their capacities.  No other writer I know would catch a break like this, yet it appears Zakaria just might due to his celebrity status.

And that’s wrong — so wrong that I do not have the words to explain just how wrong it is.

Look.  Writers write.  But we don’t crib from other writers intentionally, then refuse to give proper attribution.  Because it’s ethically utterly wrong, and we know this, so we just don’t do it.  Which is why Zakaria should not have done this, period.

So what comes next for Fareed Zakaria?  My guess is that he’s going to have far fewer speaking engagements, he’ll be closely monitored at CNN, and if Time allows him to write any more articles, they will be extensively fact-checked so that no repeat performance is possible.

That’s better than what he deserves.  Because after doing something like this, he really should be fired, celebrity or no.  Because he’s proved he has no honor.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 12, 2012 at 9:44 pm