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.