WHEN AN “ISOLATED” INCIDENT ISN’T
Following our reports on Benny Johnson and plagiarism last month, a number of news outlets ran articles analyzing the future of journalism in the Buzzfeed age. Politico’s Dylan Byers, discussing the lack of journalistic training among newer digital outlets, interviewed several journalists and experts on what constituted aggregation versus plagiarism. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple contrasted some of the more blatant plagiarism with the efforts of “Web journos everywhere who fiddle to no end with their copy to guarantee originality[.]” And the New York Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan warned of “the realities of journalism in the digital age” that made plagiarism so easy to find. “There’s no cover of darkness anymore for plagiarists,” she wrote. “These days, they’re always working under a searchlight.”
Who exactly has been operating that searchlight is unclear. An investigation by Our Bad Media has found that one of the nation’s most prominent journalists has a history of lifting material in his work across several major publications – despite public assurances from his employers that a previous plagiarism scandal was only an isolated incident.
As “the most influential foreign policy adviser of his generation,” Fareed Zakaria is a busy man—not just as the host of CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” but also as an editor-at-large at TIME, and a columnist at the Washington Post. Since his post-9/11 famous (or infamous) Newsweek story, “Why Do They Hate Us?” Zakaria has made the list of Foreign Policy’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers,” alongside modern-day Aristotles like Thomas Friedman and Malcolm Gladwell. “My friends all say I’m going to be Secretary of State, [but] I don’t see how that would be much different from the job I have now” he allegedly told New York Magazine in a 2003 profile (a quote he later disputed). More importantly, Zakaria is a decorated journalist, having won a Peabody for his work on CNN, a Deadline Club Award for his “Why Do They Hate Us?” column, a National Magazine Award for his Newsweek work, two Overseas Press Club Awards, and an accolade from the Indian government for his contributions to journalism.
Despite these accolades, it was just two years ago this month that Zakaria was facing the fallout from a plagiarism scandal. Newsbusters’ Tim Graham and NRANews’ Cam Edwards had highlighted one of his columns for TIME that had lifted passages on gun control from a New Yorker article by Jill Lepore. They also noted that in 2009, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg had complained about Zakaria lifting quotes from his own interviews with notable subjects, without attribution. In the days that followed, Zakaria would end up issuing an apology over what he called a “terrible mistake,” and both TIME and CNN would suspend him for a month.
ZAKARIA’S 2012 PLAGIARISM SCANDAL AND ENSUING “REVIEWS”
When Buzzfeed conducted an “exhaustive review” of Benny Johnson’s works last month, they found dozens of additional examples of plagiarism. When Zakaria’s plagiarism story broke in 2012, TIME, CNN, and the Washington Post seemed to respond in similar fashion, reportedly conducting reviews of his past work to determine if he had lifted elsewhere without attribution. The results in this case were vastly different:
- TIME cleared Zakaria of any additional plagiarism, with Managing Editor Richard Stengel telling the New York Times that Zakaria would recover as “one of the premier global intellectuals.” A official statement from TIME appeared to go even further, saying the column was an “unintentional error and an isolated incident.”
- In a statement from CNN, the network claimed that after a “rigorous” review of Zakaria’s work for the network, they found “nothing that merited continuing the suspension.” Writing the incident off as a “journalistic lapse,” the statement went on the praise his work as “quality journalism.” But as Poynter’s Craig Silverman pointed out, it wasn’t entirely clear what sort of review was undertaken, and a CNN spokesperson refused to detail “the internal process” any further.
- In a Washington Post article on the plagiarism charges and the ensuing reviews, the Post’s editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, stated that the paper “never had any reason to doubt the integrity” of Zakaria’s work. While it’s not clear what the result of the review was at the Post, the fact that Zakaria still writes for them appears to speak for itself.
In short, Zakaria was in the clear after what three of the biggest news outlets in America wrote off as an isolated, one-time mistake. Even the shame in Zakaria’s initial apology seemed to quickly dissipate. Here’s Zakaria in an apology sent to The Wire when the story first broke:
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 23rd 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.
And here’s Zakaria in the New York Times a week later, blaming the mistake on a mix-up of research notes:
The mistake, he said, occurred when he confused the notes he had taken about Ms. Lepore’s article — he said he often writes his research in longhand — with notes taken from “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” by Adam Winkler (W.W. Norton, 2011), a copy of which was on his desk at his CNN office.
Unless Adam Winkler’s book on gun rights detoured into issues like the Chinese movie industry and corporate tax rates, the examples below seem unlikely to have been the result of another notes mix-up by Zakaria.
12 PASSAGES TIME, CNN, & THE WASHINGTON POST WOULD HAVE REVIEWED IN 2012
These are all articles that were written before the plagiarism scandal in August of 2012. In other words, these passages ostensibly would have been part of the reviews conducted by CNN, TIME and the Washington Post. Unless otherwise noted, none of the examples listed here have any kind of citation (hyperlink or otherwise) to the sources Zakaria lifted from.
1. Zakaria didn’t just lift any statistics from a New York Times article on corporate tax rates, he lifted them from a Times commissioned report
In a February 2011 article on corporate taxes by the New York Times, David Leonhardt cited research firm Capital IQ in an analysis commissioned by the Times. In an October 2011 TIME column on then-presidential candidate Herman Cain, Zakaria cited those same Capital IQ statistics nearly word-for-word—with no mention of the New York Times or the Capital IQ report they paid for.
2. Zakaria appeared to lift from The Telegraph in an article on the Chinese movie industry, including a section on piracy
In a July 11th, 2011 article for the Telegraph, Shanghai correspondent Malcolm Moore penned an article on the Chinese government’s manipulation of the box office, using some very specific examples. Only several days later, Zakaria posted a TIME column on “China’s New Parochialism,” a piece highlighting the very same examples as Moore’s article in the very same sequence, including the delay of Transformers and Harry Potter, reports of empty cinema houses, and, without any apparent sense of irony, the comments section of the Chinese piracy website “VeryCD”:
3. Zakaria appears to have copied the contents of a Bloomberg report on Chinese windmills for an article on U.S. manufacturing
In February 2012, Zakaria wrote a TIME article titled, “The Case for Making It in the USA,” which argues for state supported manufacturing programs. As support for his position, Zakaria cites the case of Chinese backing of two windmill producers, lifting from an October 2011 Bloomberg report by Natalie Obiko Pearson.
CNN published a similar version of Zakaria’s column, which includes a condensed version of Pearson’s material.
4 & 5. Zakaria appears to have cribbed from both Vanity Fair and Forbes for an article on pension reform.
In June 2012, Zakaria published an article in TIME titled, “Why We Need Pension Reform.” To bolster his argument, Zakaria spends a paragraph pointing to the fiscal turmoil in both California and San Jose. This section plagiarizes from both a November 2011 Michael Lewis piece in Vanity Fair, titled “California and Bust,” and a November 2011 Forbes article that builds on Lewis’s reporting.
6. Zakaria re-posted the summary of a Russian think tank survey from The Nation
Writing for The Nation in a July 2011 article on Russian civil society, journalist Vadim Nikitin cites a Levada Center poll on public corruption under President Vladimir Putin. The question and results, which can be seen here on page 118, were represented in this table:
In December 2011, Zakaria wrote a TIME article titled, “The People Vs. Putin,” in which he summarizes the results of a Levada Center survey on Russia’s political mood. Zakaria’s summary of the poll is nearly identical to the one written by Nikitin:
CNN published the same paragraph (as well as a link to the TIME article) on Zakaria’s GPS blog the same month.
7. Zakaria began an article on the Greek debt crisis in an identical way to a similar article by Businessweek
In June of 2011, Businessweek economics editor Peter Coy began his piece on Greece’s debt crisis, “How to Save Greece,” by putting Greece’s fiscal struggles into historical context. In May 2012, Zakaria wrote a TIME article titled, “Time for Greece to Say Danke to Germany” that begins with the same contextualization.
CNN published the offending paragraph (as well as a link to the TIME article) on Zakaria’s GPS blog the same month.
8. Zakaria pulled material from a Center for American Progress report for a column on cutting defense spending
In August 2011, Zakaria wrote a Washington Post column titled, “Why defense spending should be cut,” which attacked the growth of the Pentagon budget. Zakaria’s piece lifts text extensively from a July 2011 Center for American Progress report, “A Return to Responsibility,” written by Lawrence J. Korb, Laura Conley, and Alex Rothman.
NOTE: Zakaria does cite Korb later in the article, but just support of a $1 trillion cut to defense spending:
Lawrence Korb, who worked at the Pentagon for Ronald Reagan, believes that a $1 trillion cut over 10 to 12 years is feasible without compromising national security.
Importantly, Zakaria’s link does not go back to the Korb et. al. CAP study, but rather a CNNMoney op-ed by Korb that has none of the information Zakaria appeared to lift from the CAP report.
Shortly after the Washington Post column was published, CNN ran a similar piece by Zakaria on his GPS blog that also uses the CAP report without credit. Again, Zakaria cites a Korb op-ed for an unrelated factoid:
A recent report by Lawrence Korb, who worked at the Pentagon for Ronald Reagan, posits that a $1 trillion cut over 10 to 12 years is feasible without compromising national security.
9. Zakaria’s column on health insurance has striking similarities to a Washington Post analysis of an IFHP report.
On March 26, 2012, Zakaria published a TIME piece titled, “Health Insurance Is For Everyone.” In it, Zakaria plagiarizes the title and content of an article by Ezra Klein that summarizes an International Federation of Health Plans report.
In can be reasonably inferred that Zakaria was plagiarizing Klein’s interpretation of the study, rather than reading the study himself and coming to similar conclusions. Klein’s citation of the “22 of 23 cases,” “doctor’s visit to a dose of Lipitor” and specific citation of the MRI figure were all unique to his piece at the time. IFHP’s press release on the report, as well as the report itself, do not use Klein’s language.
CNN published the offending paragraph (as well as a link to the TIME article) on Zakaria’s GPS blog the same month.
10. Zakaria appeared to lift an anecdote about Richard Holbrooke from the New Yorker’s George Packer
In a 2009 New Yorker profile of the late Richard Holbrooke, George Packer recounted the ambassador’s response to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telling him he would be Gen. David Petraeus’ “civilian counterpart.” Zakaria, in a 2011 Washington Post column, “Why defense spending should be cut,” appears to recount Holbrooke’s response in the same manner Jeffrey Goldberg found so annoying in 2009. Note Zakaria attributing the “civilian counterpart” comment to “media accounts” and leaving the reader unclear as to whether or not Holbrooke’s quote was directly to him (although he does seem to suggest a personal familiarity with the ambassador’s many cellphones):
Some might wonder if maybe the “civilian counterpart” comment was one Holbrooke faced on a regular basis, each occasion met with laughter and the same reply about phones and planes. In that case, it’s worth noting that Zakaria’s direct quote of Holbrooke, slightly different from Packer’s, doesn’t appear to exist in the public record outside of Zakaria’s column.
11. Zakaria used text in a column on the 2011 debt deal that is nearly identical to that in a Wikipedia article
In August 2011, Zakaria wrote a TIME article titled “The Debt Deal’s Failure,” taking much of the nation’s leadership to task for which plagiarizes text from the summary of the Wikipedia article for Reaganomics.
12. Zakaria copy-and-pasted a line from a TIME article by Peter Beinart into his piece on the debt deal.
In the same August 2011 TIME article he used Wikipedia in, Zakaria lifts a string of text verbatim from a February 2010 article in TIME by Peter Beinart.
The CNN reproduction of the article on Zakaria’s GPS blog includes the same language.
A QUESTION FOR TIME, CNN, AND THE WASHINGTON POST
Fareed Zakaria is not a twenty-something digital media blogger charged with putting together Jurassic Park listicles. Fareed Zakaria is a news editor and a New York Times bestselling author who holds a B.A. from Yale and a Ph.D. from Harvard. In other words, someone who should be more than familiar with proper citation by now. The above examples are from a span of less than two years and do not include his work since, his columns at Newsweek from 2001-2010, or the books he wrote before 2012.
As we mentioned before, Buzzfeed’s in-house review of Benny Johnson’s work last month turned up numerous more examples of plagiarism. It’s not unreasonable to conclude that a thorough review took place. But the same can’t be said for the outlets that ran Zakaria’s work. These examples raise far more serious questions about the integrity of Zakaria’s editors at CNN, TIME, and the Washington Post, all of whom claimed to have conducted similar reviews and found nothing. In the light of our findings, we have to call bullshit. It took less than an hour and a few Google searches for us at Our Bad Media to find an example of lifting in Zakaria’s columns written before the 2012 plagiarism scandal. So we’re left to wonder: did TIME, CNN, or the Washington Post actually conduct good faith reviews of Zakaria’s work? Have they since?