Not Gone, Not Forgotten…

In a must read, Michael Kinsley writes in Vanity Fair about Fareed Zakaria’s plagiarism controversy…(via J$)

Somewhere between plagiarism and homage, there is a line. Fareed stepped over it. For example, way back in 1998, he wrote an article for Slate about the glories of the martini. American Heritage magazine had run an article on the same subject the previous year, by Max Rudin. Rudin wrote that the martini “had acquired formal perfection, a glamorous mystique.” He also noted that Franklin D. Roosevelt “liked his with a teaspoon of olive brine.” In his own article, Fareed wrote that the martini had “acquired an air of mystery and glamour” and then noted that F.D.R. “added to the standard recipes”—can you guess? right!—“one teaspoon of olive brine.”

In a memo to me, Fareed makes a vigorous and often persuasive defense of himself. Unfortunately, CNN won’t let it be quoted. When he acknowledged making a mistake, at the time of his suspension, he didn’t just use the classic Nixonian passive-voice evasive formula, “Mistakes were made.” However, conscious changes in wording like the ones about the martini are not “mistakes” in the sense of something inadvertent or accidental. Fareed made these little changes in order to disguise his borrowing. His pursuers cite many examples (including this one).

Ok…stop there. CNN blocked Kinsley from quoting Zakaria defending himself? Why on earth would they want to do that? Worse, why would they do that when the alternative is to have Kinsley point out that they blocked him from quoting it. If there’s no crime, why try to cover it up? CNN makes Zakaria look like they and he have something to hide. But this is par for the course for this network. Throughout the Zakaria mess CNN has made one horrendous PR move after another.

This doesn’t let Fareed off the hook. Clearly there’s a spectrum, with Fareed at one end and, oh, the Congressional Record at the other. He went too far. Far too far. I would love to be able to say that Fareed is being penalized for doing what everybody does. That’s what he believes about some of these episodes, I think. But when you’re making points—one, two, three—that another writer has made, and in the exact same order, though with different exact words, you’re not just participating in a great swap meet of ideas in which nobody owns anything. You are claiming ownership of ideas that aren’t your own. That’s not a “mistake.” That’s on purpose.

I have e-mailed back and forth with Fareed about all of this, but on instructions from his bosses at CNN, anything about plagiarism is strictly off the record. In a controversy about attribution, the one person he can’t cite is himself. He is permitted to say only the following: “I will leave it to viewers and readers to make their own decisions. I’m fully focused on putting out the best work I can.”

And the stonewalling continues and at the worst possible time. With NBC in total damage control mode over Brian Williams, media writers everywhere are on the lookout for media transgressions as a hook or tie in to the Williams fiasco…going Meta if you will. Some will no doubt bring up Lara Logan. Others will bring up Zakaria. CNN will never be able to shake this as long as it maintains radio silence on all things Fareed.


5 Responses to “Not Gone, Not Forgotten…”

  1. Hey Fareed has NO issues. He recently got to interview the President. A plagiarist – yes! Fox News – no!

    Makes perfect sense to me!

  2. Kinsley emphasizes, several times, the key charge: these points that Zakaria makes in his articles are just slightly, obvious but slightly, different from the exacting wording of the person he is “borrowing” from. There are a change in word here, a change there.

    That’s evidence, for me, of conscious and deliberate theft.

    Or, at the very least of such extreme sloppiness that any other journalist would be fired for.

  3. This is the best article I’ve read on the Fareed Zakaria ‘scandal’ and even this author seems pretty sympathetic to Fareed’s POV while still admitting Zakaria made mistakes. His point seems to be if you check out almost any long article you can find some fact or quote the author forgot to credit properly.

    That’s the problem with these accusations. They could be laid at the feet of many writers and thus Zakaria’s peers (at least those without an axe to grind) seem to feel ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.

    As for CNN keeping Zakaria’s comments off the record it makes perfect sense to me. This story has run its course and CNN just wants it to die. Why would they want to give it a burst of fresh air; by allowing Zakaria to get involved at this point?

    There is one comparison between this story and the Williams story that is truly relevant. Both are tales of a host getting in trouble by not following a basic rule of broadcasting in the 21st century; everything you say,write or do will be fact checked. So if you have any question about the truth, legality or morality of something make sure it’s beyond reproach or just don’t say, write or do it.

  4. I keep waiting for Spud to note that CNN’s Stelter has been all over Brian Williams, but has pretty much ignored Fareed.

    In my mind, Fareed’s transgression is FAR (far far far) worse.

  5. Stelter is compromised. He’ll never publicly admit it. He may not even see it. But he’s compromised. He can neither opine nor properly report on the network that employs him with the same free reign he has with the Williams story.

    Because this is rather self-evident, I’m not going to waste my time on it.

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