Zakaria: The Chinese Water Torture of CNN Continues…
Drip, drip, drip on CNN…going more and more mainstream. The Week’s Ryan Cooper questions why Zakaria still has a job…
Some of the examples Our Bad Media has turned up are blatant instances of verbatim copy pasting. Others rephrase and lift ideas and original research without attribution, which is still plagiarism. Some of these may be accidental, but the weight of the evidence makes a crushing circumstantial case.
This is especially so when you consider several occasions in which he repeated facts that were out of date. During his show on April 29, 2012, he restated several facts about “last year” from this 2011 Economist piece — but didn’t update them with current data, making them inaccurate. The idea that all of this is a coincidence simply beggars belief.
The comparison with Benny Johnson, who was fired by BuzzFeed after Our Bad Media similarly nailed him on plagiarism, is highly illustrative. Johnson also lifted research and language, and did some “patch writing” to cover his tracks. But if anything, Zakaria’s sins were worse. Johnson plagiarized to create worthless and offensive listicles about obvious, widely known stories. It was highly unethical, but not particularly harmful.
Zakaria, by contrast, swiped painstaking research about obscure subjects, such as when he bogarted exact language from The New York Times (see here and here) describing an analysis the paper had personally commissioned.
Benny Johnson is a right-wing clown. Fareed Zakaria, on the other hand, is a made man, one of the most famous and widely respected journalists in America. Accordingly, Our Bad Media’s findings impugn not just him, but half the journalistic establishment. It’s fairly obvious at this point that whatever the Post and CNN did to “review” his work back in 2012 was laughably inadequate. To sack him now would be to admit serious fault.
Indeed. What gets me here is that this 2012 review took place prior to Jeff Zucker taking over CNN Worldwide. Zucker could easily and effectively spin this as Jim Walton’s error and mount a new review to answer these charges. That he has not, I find simply stunning.
Meanwhile the bloggers from Our Bad Media have taken to the pages of Esquire to criticize CNN…with a big assist coming from Esquire.com’s News Editor Ben Collins who piles on in the forward…
This leads us to one of two conclusions:
1. CNN is afraid of the Wild West of Internet journalism, and what that might mean if old media outlets are subject to the same standards they project onto others.
2. Executives are uncomfortable with the names of these journalists being withheld (on Twitter, the reporters go by Crushing Bort and Blippo Blappo, comical aliases which have seemingly applied a low ceiling to their mainstream integrity) and the company would rather ignore it than pursue legitimate malfeasance.
Either way, this has become clear: CNN would rather employ, give airtime to, and defend a plagiarist whose resumé they find easy to personally explain and understand than someone who is doing actual journalism, but who might take more work to reach out to or understand.
Then the OBM guys chime in…
That the network’s own media reporter would have to “try” to get a quote from one of its own hosts over widely-documented plagiarism says everything about the dynamic at play here. Why would CNN defer to Zakaria on answering for why he plagiarized on their network? And what could he possibly say in his defense? That stealing material is defensible if the people who publicize it go by names that sound like third-rate Pokemon? Reporters have claimed as much publicly and in requests for interviews. They’ve told us that without going public, we can’t expect Zakaria to be held to account.
That claim, frankly, is bullshit. First, let’s be honest about needing names to verify someone else’s wrongdoing. Nothing about who we are will give readers a deeper insight into the wide span of plagiarism committed by Fareed Zakaria, and nothing about them gives his massive theft a pass. Our names would be an issue if our work couldn’t be checked. But everything we’ve posted is publically available information that can be verified independently by anyone with an Internet connection. There were no inside sources, disgruntled employees, or discarded scripts recovered from garbage cans. There was no plagiarism software used here, either. Finding examples of Zakaria’s plagiarism is as easy as a simple combination of Google and asking yourself common-sense questions like “would Fareed Zakaria really have reason to know this much about the growing rates of shampooing licenses?”
Second, reporters, media experts, and journalism professors have corroborated our findings. Byers outright called Zakaria a plagiarist last week in an article citing the director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Journalism Ethics and The Poynter Institute’s VP for academic programs. LSU’s Steve Buttry has called it “high-level plagiarism.” So even if we live in a world where our journalism requires charges of plagiarism to be verified by mainstream reporters and experts, that box has been checked.
Third, even BuzzFeed eventually took action when we pointed out less than a dozen examples of plagiarism by Benny Johnson. Why should CNN—which literally bills itself as “The Most Trusted Name In News”—be able to ignore what BuzzFeed wouldn’t? Why would a press corps so eager to discuss plagiarism when it involves a relatively unknown social media editor fall largely silent on when it’s committed from one of the biggest names in journalism? If Fareed Zakaria can get away with plagiarism because we don’t name ourselves, we’re not the ones who look bad: reporters are.
CNN now faces its biggest journalistic crisis since the Operation Tailwind fiasco. It’s no longer just Zakaria’s alleged plagiarism that’s the issue. It is the network’s dogged refusal to publicly acknowledge that it even has a crisis to deal with. As I said Friday this approach is unsustainable. As more and more mainstream sites turn their attention to this story, CNN will have to do something.