Earlier this year, a certain CNN employee specializing in international news was caught red-handed plagiarizing dozens of instances of reporting. What did the network do? The answer depends on which CNN staff member we’re talking about. If it was Marie Louise Gumuchian, whose “repeated plagiarism offenses” were discovered this May, the network fired her and issued an apology. If it was Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s “flagship foreign affairs show” Fareed Zakaria GPS, then CNN sat on its hands. Last month, when we found that the outlets who ran his work failed to properly review his previous writing for plagiarism, the network immediately said it had “the highest confidence in the excellence and integrity” in his work at Fareed Zakaria GPS.
It’s not surprising that CNN would stand behind Zakaria. What was curious about their statement was the claim that “In the years since [his 2012 scandal] we have found nothing that gives us cause for concern.” It was a response that seemed to imply that CNN has continued to review Zakaria’s show and other content for “lapses.”
After our own review of Fareed Zakaria GPS from 2011 to the present, we’ve found CNN’s claim is evidently false or a sign of gross incompetence at the network. Two dozen episodes of Fareed Zakaria GPS contain content that has been lifted without proper attribution or sourcing – including one he earned a Peabody for. One episode on vacation time was broadcast just two weeks ago. In other words, after having issued his only denial on the issue, Fareed Zakaria went back to plagiarizing while we were writing this blog post about him plagiarizing. It’s possible he’s plagiarizing right now.
Before we list these, we’re going to quote CNN’s editors note on standards following Gumuchian’s firing:
“Trust, integrity and simply giving credit where it’s due are among the tenets of journalism we hold dear, and we regret that we published material that did not reflect those essential standards.”
The content lifted in the examples below come from a wide range of outlets and writers, from The New York Times to The Economist to the National Review. In many instances, Zakaria will simply recite numbers and facts without any attribution. In others, he’ll cite a study or paper when he really only lifted someone else’s reporting on it. In all of them, Zakaria fails to give credit where it’s due, either on the show itself or the blog posts that accompany most segments on CNN’s website (text of show transcripts seen below are all from the GPS blog).
And, for those wondering – Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon has yet to hear back from Norton, Newsweek, Foreign Affairs, or Atlantic Media on Zakaria’s wrongdoing.
#1. Zakaria copied the introduction to an obscure documentary on Sergei Magnitsky word-for-word
In January 2012, Fareed Zakaria GPS ran a segment on plagiarism. Australian politician Anthony Albanese had made news for giving a speech that had very obviously ripped off Aaron Sorkin’s “The American President.” Zakaria, possibly self-conscious about his own “borrowing” over the years, never actually labels Albanese’s speech as the theft it is. Instead, he labels the speech “remarkable” before playing side-by-sides of Sorkin’s movie and Albanese’s stolen quotes. “Coincidence?” he asks about nothing in particular. “I’ll let you be the judge.”
In 2010, Dutch filmmakers Hans Hermans and Martin Maat released “Justice for Sergei,” a documentary on the imprisonment and death of Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnistky. The film opens with narration discussing Magnitsky’s death and the events that led to it. In November 2011, Zakaria decided to run a “What in the World?” segment on Russia that focused on Magnitsky. It’s obvious that he’s seen the film – a visual from the movie appears behind him for a second during the broadcast. But what isn’t obvious is that Zakaria is literally repeating the film’s introduction, word-for-word. We’ve edited the documentary and the episode side-by-side in the video below, with credit to Fareed Zakaria for the idea.
Apparently, one theft wasn’t enough for that particular “What in the World?” segment. Zakaria continues by stealing the words and reporting of a Financial Times piece by Charles Clover on Vladimir Putin being booed at what looks like a Rocky IV reshoot, even citing the same anonymous Twitter account.
#2. Zakaria forgets to check his sources while plagiarizing from The Economist
In an April 2012 segment, Zakaria discusses the drop of Mexican immigration to the U.S. Like an Economist article on the Mexican economy, Zakaria credits NAFTA for benefiting Mexico’s competitiveness and cites the two same countries, Argentina and Brazil, that ranked behind Mexico in trade with the U.S. He also mentions the $400 billion in annual trade between the U.S. and Mexico, showing the number on screen with no source.
That’s where Zakaria sloppily gives his game away. The Economist article, written in 2011, cites the $400 billion Mexico did in trade with the U.S. “last year” – that is, 2010. Zakaria, apparently forgetting that The Economist article was written the previous August, also says “last year.” According to government statistics, the U.S. and Mexico did just short of $400 billion in trade in 2010. But in 2011, they did $461 billion in trade. So either Zakaria lifted this passage from The Economist, or he was off by the GDP of Luxembourg.
In the same segment, Zakaria goes on to discuss the increasing median age in China. Here he appears to be lifting from another Economist article written earlier that month, rephrasing the same statistics The Economist pulled to make the same points. Both The Economist and Zakaria cite the United Nations as their source, without specifying an exact office or report, and what follows indicates that Zakaria lifted from the magazine and confused his statistics in the process.
The UN report The Economist pulls its data from appears to be the 2010 UN World Population Prospects, which was released in 2011 and features the same statistics the Economist uses–mostly. In what was either a typo or a revised statistic, the report lists the median age in China as 34.9 in 2011, whereas The Economist states it was 34.5.
That discrepancy would explain why Zakaria rounded down The Economist’s number of 34.5 to 34 years. If he’d looked at the UN report, he would have realized that not only was the number almost 35, but that the statistic applied to 2011, not 2010.
#3. Someone in TIME Magazine wrote a piece on Belgium and Zakaria lifted it like a bird of prey carrying off a baby lamb
Here is a February 2011 article by Time’s Leo Cendrowicz on Belgium’s lack of a government and its citizens have reacted by holding “celebrations.” For example, Cendrowicz writes, “in Dutch-speaking Flanders, locals handed out free French fries, while in Louvain-la-Neuve, in French-speaking Wallonia, free beer was on offer.”
Here is a WITW segment a month later on Belgium’s lack of a government. In it, Zakaria also notes that “in Dutch-speaking Flanders, locals handed out free French fries while in French-speaking Wallonia, you could swig some free beer.” Coincidence? We’ll let you be the judge. Just kidding, he stole it.
#4. Zakaria plagiarized from an economic think tank days after claiming he hadn’t plagiarized
Folks, it’s not often that we’re flabbergasted, but this example prompted a particularly flabbery gastation. Here is a May 2013 report on the U.S. as “No-Vacation Nation” by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. And here is a Fareed Zakaria WITW segment that aired only a couple of weeks ago on Americans’ lack of vacation. This would be days after Zakaria denied to Politico that he’d lifted any content.
Despite the fact the two mirror each other, Zakaria never mentions the CEPR. The closest he musters to citing a source is passively claiming “it’s said” that nearly a quarter of Americans don’t take vacation, as if it’s a common expression you might find sewn on sweatshirts sold at mall kiosks.
#5. Zakaria goes back to the well and rips off the same China article
In a July 2012 segment, Zakaria again rips off the same April 2012 China article in The Economist. This time, the onscreen graphic credits the UN World Population Prospects report. But Zakaria then goes on to repeat The Economist article nearly verbatim, including the claim that China will be “old before it gets rich.” The only number Zakaria changes is the percentage of Chinese over the age of 65, which despite its attribution to the UN report appears to come from China’s national census. The UN report on page 103 breaks down China’s population in percentages of those 60+ and 80+.
#6. Zakaria re-revisits China’s aging population and gets the numbers wrong, again
For the umpteenth time in November of 2012, Zakaria revisited China’s aging population for another WITW segment, using statistics he originally pulled from The Economist in April. Only this time he also discussed a Chinese population “completely imbalanced by gender,” calling it a “social tinderbox.” For every 100 girls in China, there were 117 boys.
The problem with the statistic is that it was dated. According to available data at the time, the number was up to 118 boys for every 100 girls. But the 117/100 ratio does appear in a 2004 Christian Science Monitor article by Robert Marquand—one that like Zakaria, discussed a “dramatic gender imbalance” in China that could bring “a tinderbox of social tension.”
#7. Zakaria copy-and-pastes from The New Yorker and Al-Jazeera on prisons & education
In 2012, Zakaria ran a special on America’s prison system titled “Incarceration Nation.” One segment compared state and federal prison spending to education spending, opening with a quote from Adam Gopnik’s “The Caging of America.” But later on in the segment, Zakaria lifts another line from the Gopnik post entirely unattributed into his piece, right before he cribs statistics and words from an Al-Jazeera piece by Rose Aguilar. Maybe Fareed should have titled his piece… “The Stealing of Zakaria.” If he does this, he should cite to us to avoid the appearance of plagiarism.
It should also be noted that much of the episode – including the lifted text – appears in Zakaria’s similarly named April 2012 piece in TIME Magazine. Not that we’re expecting TIME to do much about it – it’s been nearly a month since they were informed of other extensive plagiarism in his columns. They have yet to issue a single correction.
#8. Zakaria lifts from the Washington Post’s Volokh Conspiracy and the University of Pennsylvania Law Review to discuss teeth whitening
This past January, Washington Post blogger Sasha Volokh wrote on a court case bound for the Supreme Court that involved North Carolina’s state dentistry board and potential violations of federal antitrust law. He begins by citing a Fourth Circuit opinion on teeth whitening, then moves on to summarize the case. Later in June in a WITW segment, Zakaria gave a rundown of the North Carolina case using the same phrasing as Volokh, with no credit given on-screen to his fellow Washington Post writer.
Zakaria goes on to explain that only 5% of American workers were subject to licensing requirements in the 1950s, compared to nearly one third of workers today. This, says Zakaria, includes fortune tellers, shampooers, and florists. The numbers appear on screen without a source, failing to mention or credit the 2013 U Penn Law Review article using the exact same statistics and professions in one sole paragraph that itself cited from several different sources. Only later does Zakaria cite the article, and then only to note “occupational licensing can raise wages by as much as 18 percent.”
#9. Zakaria rips off Paul Krugman and The Economist to discuss Japan’s sagging economy
In addition to appearing sad and frustrated on ABC’s “This Week,” Paul Krugman is also a Nobel Prize-winning economist who’s been on Zakaria’s show. When he wrote in a January 2012 blog post on the issues facing Japan’s economy, he not only cited his numbers but crunched them further to get an even bigger picture of the country’s challenges. Which is why it’s unfortunate that Zakaria lifted his words a few days later, as well as an earlier November 2011 article in The Economist:
#10. Zakaria plagiarized a graf on Shay’s Rebellion from Niall Ferguson’s 2011 book, Civilization: The West and the Rest
Look at this paragraph from Niall Ferguson’s book and Fareed Zakaria’s WITW segment a couple of months later and again ask yourself what the odds are:
#11. Zakaria borrows entirely from the New York Times’ report on Armenians’ rejection of Eurovision
In March 2012, the New York Times’ Andrew E. Kramer reported on Armenia’s boycott of Eurovision due to it being held in “neighbor and enemy” Azerbaijan. Days later, Zakaria would do his own WITW segment on Eurovision. His comments on Armenia are pulled entirely from Kramer’s report:
#12. Zakaria again takes from the New York Times in a segment on tax flight
Below are side-by-side comparisons of a February 2013 article on tax flight in the New York Times by James B. Stewart and a March 2013 WITW segment on the same subject. Zakaria uses the same anecdotes as Stewart’s reporting, the same statistics, the same economists, and all in the same sequences, without credit to the Times.
#13. Fareed Zakaria Purloins a Piece on Putin’s Plutocracy from the Pfinancial Ptimes
Once again, Zakaria fails to cite any source as he throws statistics on the screen as his reporting tracks a Financial Times report on Russian billionaires from earlier that month. The slight discrepancy in Russian income between the two articles indicate the number comes from OECD statistics – apparently Zakaria thought it was appropriate to update numbers, but not cite his original source.
#14. Fareed Zakaria lifts a fracking article nearly verbatim from The Economist…or someone else
Take a look at the eerie similarities between a June 2012 Economist article on fracking and a WITW segment that aired a week later:
We’ve noticed that Zakaria has talked a lot about fracking in recent years. The columns and segments could be mistaken for pro-fracking ad inserts and infomercials, which gave us the idea of investigating whether Zakaria had any conflicts of interest he wasn’t disclosing. As it turns out, Boston Review’s David V. Johnson already wrote that article two years ago. In it, he found potential conflicts of interest, along with error-ridden reporting by Zakaria in his “strikingly optimistic endorsement” of fracking. In a response that gave us déjà vu, CNN and the Washington Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt brushed off concerns. It’s a lengthy piece worth reading and why we’re not as sure here where Zakaria got his talking points from.
#15. Zakaria lifts another Financial Times article on Mexico’s economy
In an April 2012 Financial Times article, John Paul Rathbone wrote on the ups and downs of the Mexican and Brazilian economies. Zakaria liked the idea so much he did a similar segment two months later that drew largely from Rathbone’s piece. If you watch the video, which appears to be down on CNN’s website but can be viewed here, you’ll see Zakaria discussing how Brazil’s GDP has rocketed past Mexico’s. “If I had to cite one main reason for this,” says Zakaria, apparently for comic relief, “it would be China.” He then proceeds to paraphrase Rathbone’s article, stopping briefly to thumb through a well-worn thesaurus to change China’s “voracious demand for commodities” to a “growing appetite for commodities.”
#16. Zakaria plagiarizes in a 2012 segment on Borat boosting tourism in Kazakhstan
In April of 2012, the BBC and Radio Free Europe ran articles on the government of Kazakhstan thanking Borat for boosting tourism, a turnaround from their reaction to the film’s initial release. A few days later, Zakaria went on to cover the same story. Paraphrasing much of the BBC article, he then goes on to lift the story of a 67-minute tourism video and statistics from various reports compiled by Radio Free Europe.
#17. Zakaria rips off his own network and The Economist in a segment on China
In an April 2012 segment on China’s international relations, Zakaria lifts from one of his own network’s correspondents. Zakaria’s report mirrors the language of a February 2012 article by CNN correspondent Sara Sidner. He also very blatantly rips off a February 2012 Economist article on relations between Norway and China, right down to a dispute involving salmon imports.
#18. We’re running out of ways to say Zakaria stole work, but this one involves grain and incorrect statistics from the National Review Online
In early October 2011, Peter Thiel penned a piece in the National Review on how we’d arrived at a future that’d fallen short of expectations when it came to advancements in science and technology. One example of society’s shortfalls was the inability to improve our grain yields at the same rate as what Thiel called the true “Green Revolution,” where he claims grain yields increased 126% from 1950 to 1980. Days later, Zakaria used the same statistic on his show, with no mention of where the number came from.
We can be certain that Zakaria pulled from Thiel, rather than looking up the numbers on his own, because we actually pulled the numbers from the USDA’s Production, Supply and Distribution database (the contents of which are easily viewable here). Grain yields, measured in tons per hectare, rose from 1.06 in 1950 to 1.98 – that’s only an increase of about 86%. Yields as of 2008 stood at 3.22 tons per hectare – an increase of 62%. Thiel likely mixed up grain yields with grain production, which (measured in millions of tons) rose from 631 in 1950 to 1,429 in 1980 (126% increase) to 2,213 in 2008 (48% increase). So perhaps we can give Thiel the benefit of the doubt. But what are the odds that Zakaria happened to make the exact same error using the exact same obscure data? Let’s say zero, considering David Brooks also used the factoid and decided to properly cite Thiel.
#19. In lifting the Wall Street Journal’s reporting on cities going bankrupt, Zakaria reveals a bankruptcy of the personal sort
Weeks before his 2012 suspension, Zakaria lifted reporting and anecdotes from a Wall Street Journal report in July of 2012.
#20. Zakaria rips from The Washington Post’s Wonkblog on America’s prison system
In 2013, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas of Wonkblog wrote a piece contextualizing a recent speech by Attorney General Eric Holder on America’s prison population. Less than a week later, Zakaria used the same statistics, in the same order, using the same language – “the group Holder is talking about” transforms to the vastly different “the group Holder was referring to.”
#21. Zakaria was definitely reading The Economist on October 22nd, 2011
Here’s The Economist in two separate articles on Argentina’s presidential election and economic troubles being used without attribution by Zakaria in one segment a week later:
#22. Zakaria lifts from Reuters in a 2011 report on India’s lack of foreign direct investment
#23. Zakaria again lifts from Reuters in a 2014 report on economic reforms in China
When Zakaria emphasizes with lines like “and here’s the key part” it’s hard to not get the impression that he wants you to know that this is his analysis and not something Reuters had noted Chinese officials had stressed.
#24. Zakaria steals 24 words verbatim from an AP report without attribution
This one needs no explanation. AP, November 2011. Zakaria, one week later. Remember, it’s generally OK to incorporate wire reporting into a story, so long as you properly attribute. Zakaria doesn’t on air, and he doesn’t in his blog post.
#25. Zakaria tries very hard to avoid giving any credit on a fable involving mountains of rice grain
In a March 2014 segment on the possibilities of computing power, Zakaria mentions a book published earlier this year by Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee entitled The Second Machine Age. The book notes that computers are getting smarter, Zakaria sagely notes.
What follows is a pretty slick move by Zakaria—he goes on to give a lengthy recounting of the rice and chessboard problem where a king is tricked by a man into owing a multiplying and increasingly infeasible amount of rice that started out as one grain on the first of 64 chessboard squares. The segment is complete with a computer-generated animation showing said multiplied rice. What Zakaria doesn’t say, and what most viewers wouldn’t reasonably infer, is that his telling of the story, right down to the Mount Everest comparison, comes from The Second Machine Age, the book he briefly cited at the top of the segment.
#26. Zakaria’s Peabody-award winning special on education lifts from the Washington Post, CNN, and McKinsey
In November 2011, GPS ran a special titled, “Saving the American Dream: Fixing Education.” For the most part, the episode toed the party line on corporate education reform, showcasing glowing interviews with Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee while quoting Malcolm Gladwell’s widely debunked “10,000 hour” rule to justify harshing on teachers. So it’s not surprising that the episode, like the reforms it touts, has won plaudits from the establishment – including a Peabody. We wonder if the episode would have earned the award had its board members known that Zakaria had stolen so much of its content.
In April 2011, the Washington Post reported on South Korea’s “cram schools,” noting its enrollment numbers and how much the average family spends on tuition. Zakaria uses nearly identical language in his recitation of the same facts. He goes on clip together various bits from an August 2011 CNN report on Finland’s education system, using similar language and statistics in the same order. Finally, Zakaria decides to “cite” an April 2009 McKinsey report on education by saying, “McKinsey estimates…” While it’s clear he’s using data from McKinsey, you would never know that he spends the next 30 seconds on air reading verbatim from the report itself. Watch for yourself – here’s a link to the full episode.
To Conclude: On Looking Closely
This latest installment shows the consistent, widespread practice of plagiarism by Fareed Zakaria extends to television. Rather than being an isolated mixup or lapse that happened a couple of years ago, Zakaria has unapologetically continued to appropriate others’ work to this day. Even putting aside the ethics of the issue, the examples above show how his practice of copying and pasting has resulted in significant factual errors on the show that would have been easily avoided had actual reporting taken place.
We can’t read Fareed Zakaria’s mind but we can reasonably draw the conclusion that ethics are secondary to his need to be perceived as a “thought leader.” We can also infer that he thinks his viewers and the reporters who cover him are idiots, lazy, or both. After getting caught the first time in 2012, Zakaria apologized and, as we can now see, quickly resumed his bad habits. After being caught last month, he flat out lied about any wrongdoing before immediately doing wrong again.
Some might take issue with our “anonymity.” It’s a complaint that doesn’t hold water. Reporters rely heavily on “tips” forwarded to their inbox from advocacy groups, press flacks, government officials, and other organizations whose contributions are never disclosed to readers, to say nothing of their interests. These sources are often downplayed with euphemisms like “tipster,” or a reader sharing “insights.” It’s the kind of practice that goes unnoticed until it doesn’t. We’re not a shadowy astroturf group or campaign or sentient computer program that scans the news for plagiarism in a desperate attempt to understand the emotion humans call “love.” But let’s say we were: how does that make Zakaria’s plagiarism any less substantive?
The answer is that it doesn’t. Crimes aren’t ignored on the basis that the person who reported them was anonymous. But it’s a common result when the suspect in question has enough influence. Had CNN done the review of his show they claimed to have done, this would have been avoided. Instead, they reinstated him a week after his suspension, because standards on trust and proper sourcing only apply to relatively unknown news editors. Brian Stelter, CNN’s media reporter, is the host of Reliable Sources, a show that touts itself as “one of television’s only regular programs to examine how journalists do their jobs.” Stelter also doesn’t appear to have commented on the situation despite having written on Benny Johnson as well as having tweeted about the CNN news editor fired for plagiarism. He was promoting Zakaria’s “must-see” work as recently as yesterday.
Likewise, whereas Benny Johnson merited a relatively lengthy article by Politico’s media reporter Dylan Byers, our last post laying out Zakaria’s plagiarism had been online maybe an hour before he declared it “[didn’t] seem to be gaining nearly as much steam.” Maybe, Byers mused, it’s because “we don’t want to look too closely” at someone the media had deemed “one of its elder statesmen.”
Well, we did. And to those who would blame this on staff or interns or anyone else but Fareed Zakaria, we leave you with the first article he wrote for The New Republic way back in 1987. At the time, Zakaria was a 23-year-old graduate of Yale with a bright future ahead of him. He didn’t have his Washington Post column, his CNN show, or his doctorate from Harvard. All he had was an opportunity to write a column on Oliver North and the National Security Council for The New Republic. And he totally blew it by plagiarizing over and over from The New York Times. The New Republic article is behind a paywall, but the Times articles are available here and here.
Correction: we misspelled the acronym for the Center for Economic Policy & Research as “CEBR” instead of “CEPR.” Thanks to @samknight1 for pointing it out.