Fareed Zakakria made a mistake in his recent Time Magazine article “The Case for Gun Control” in the inadvertent usage of a paragraph similar to what Jill Lepore had in her piece in The New Yorker earlier on April 23rd.
It is my belief that it was an honest mistake and not a devious case of plagiarism, since the reference was to Adam Winkler and there was an attribution made to him. The author, whether Zakaria or an intern, probably believed that it was not necessary to include credit to Jill Lepore, too.
The whole campaign against Zakaria was politically motivated. A conservative website NewsBusters whose declared mission is “exposing and combating liberal media bias” published the similarity in the articles, accused Zakaria of plagiarism and went on to attack him for his comments on gun control. I believe there was a special effort made to publicize this mistake in order to silence an opposing viewpoint. Zakaria immediately issued an apology, and both CNN and Time took the extreme step of suspending Zakaria for a month, while they investigated the plagiarism charge. Both media outlets have since rescinded their suspension with Time stating that it was an “unitentional error and an isolated incident.” That should have been the end of this story.
However, pro-gun groups who had been belittling Zakaria’s data in his advocacy of sensible gun control seized on this error to smear Zakaria and undo his lifetime of credible journalistic achievements. The same Newsbusters.org website went on to derisively call him “‘Xerox Zakaria” for giving similar convocation speeches at Duke and Harvard Universities. According to The Boston Globe, Zakaria wanted to limit his commencement speaking engagements to only one University this year and had agreed to do so at Duke. Later, none less than the Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust called and asked that he must come to theirs as well to which he clearly set expectations and indicated that “the themes would be similar.”
We all agree that plagiarism is to be frowned upon and looked on very seriously in academic circles, even at the middle school level. However, as Bret Stephens opined in the WSJ, the bastion of conservatism and gun rights—“But I will give Mr. Zakaria this: He anchors one of the few shows that treats foreign policy seriously, that aims for an honest balance of views, and that doesn’t treat its panelists as props for an egomaniacal host. He’s also one of the few prominent liberals I know who’s capable of treating an opposing point of view as something other than a slur on human decency.”
I can understand the frustration of the NRA and the right wing groups that we have repeated instances of mass senseless killings, yes, caused by guns, that undermines their cause, and with Zakaria for making an articulate case for gun control, but to use an innocent mistake to revile him is despicable. After all, we must have a battle of ideas without making it personal—just as Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil did in the 80s.
Rameysh Ramdas, an SF Bay Area professional, writes as a hobby.
No, it doesn’t matter who was behind the revelation.
Fareed Zakaria is an accomplished columnist and television anchor who got caught plagiarizing and he was outed by the gun lobby who’s objective it is to stamp out any form of sensible gun control. But does it really matter who caught him?
In this era of connectedness and information availability, setting the bar high for credit and attribution for written works is especially critical. After all, it can be looked as thought theft. There is no need to defend Zakaria’s article from claims of plagiarism just because it was the gun lobby that pointed it out.
Both Jill Lepore and Fareed Zakaria started their paragraphs citing Adam Winkler. Here is Zakaria’s version: “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 …” while The New Yorker’s Jill Lepore had—“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 …”
When you examine the paragraphs in question, it is clear that Zakaria cited Adam Winkler in his article, but failed to credit Jill Lepore, whose article on April 23 preceded his own piece published in the Aug 20 issue of Time magazine. Jill Lepore deserved credit as the secondary source, especially since both paragraphs seem a bit too similar in content. But for a few prepositions and minor substitutions, (like “documents” for “demonstrates”) the phrasing in both articles is too close to excuse as inadvertent. Fareed Zakaria’s quick apology attests to the fact that he too believed that there had been an error.
It can be argued that it is generally true that the left leaning pay a stiffer price for infractions compared to conservatives. For example Martha Stewart spent jail time for insider trading.
However, none of the Wall Street executives will ever see the insides of a jail cell. But, that is no reason to excuse blatant errors. Cops do not stop handing out tickets for minor traffic infractions because bigger crimes sometimes go unpunished. Uniform application of the rule of ethics is essential.
I have enormous respect for Fareed Zakaria for taking full ownership for the mistake. This incident can now be held up as an example of what happens to people who commit plagiarism even if they are accomplished writers. Zakaria is a good journalist and through his writings and the television show, he makes an effort to educate the public with his honest and balanced approach. CNN and Time suspended his column while they investigated it further and lifted the suspension once they found that it was an isolated mistake. It is now time to move on. Zakaria has.
Mani Subramani works in the semi-conductor industry in Silicon Valley.