Additional Questions Of Plagiarism Directed Against Fareed Zakaria

Last week, Fareed Zakaria was suspended by Time and CNN after it came to light that he had borrowed heavily from another author’s work in a column he wrote about gun control in the wake of the Wisconsin Sikh Temple shootings. Today, The Washington Post’s Paul Fahri makes note of additional allegations that bring Zakaria’s previous work in to question: (Please note: The Washington Post has essentially retracted this story, please see Update #2 below)

Columnist and TV host Fareed Zakaria, who acknowledged plagiarizing parts of a magazine article last week, appears to have also published without attribution a passage from a 2005 book.

Zakaria’s 2008 book, “The Post-American World,” contains a quote from former Intel Corp. chief executive Andy Grove about the nation’s economic power. “America is in danger of following Europe down the tubes, and the worst part is that nobody knows it,” Grove says in Zakaria’s book. “They’re all in denial, patting themselves on the back as the Titanic heads straight for the iceberg full speed ahead.”

The first edition of Zakaria’s book, which became a bestseller, makes no mention of the comment’s source, nor does a paperback version of “Post-American World” published in 2009.

In fact, Grove’s comment was published three years earlier in “Three Billion New Capitalists: The Great Shift of Power to the East,” by former Commerce Department official Clyde V. Prestowitz.

In an interview Monday, Prestowitz said Grove made the comment in an interview with him that was conducted while Prestowitz was researching his book. The quote appears in the book’s first chapter.

Prestowitz, who heads theEconomic Strategy Institute, a Washington think tank, said he contacted Zakaria about the Grove quote when “Post-American World” was published four years ago but received no response. Prestowitz said he also mentioned the lack of attribution to his editor and agent, but he doesn’t know if they raised the issue with Zakaria or his publisher.

Zakaria finally acknowledged Prestowitz in the footnotes of “The Post-American World 2.0,” an updated and expanded version of his original book that was published last year. The footnote attributes part of the passage containing the comment to Thomas Friedman’s 2006 best-seller, “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century.” It then notes, “Andy Grove’s statement is quoted in Clyde Prestowitz, ‘Three Billion New Capitalists….'”

Fahri actually got a chance to speak to Zakaria, and his comments seem to indicate he’s straying into the land of victimhood:

Zakaria, in an interview Monday, defended the practice of not attributing quotes in a popular book. “As I write explicitly [in the book], this is not an academic work where everything has to be acknowledged and footnoted,” his said. The book contains “hundreds” of comments and quotes that aren’t attributed because doing so, in context, would “interrupt the flow for the reader,” he said.

He compared his technique to other popular non-fiction authors. “Please look at other books in this genre and you will notice that I’m following standard practice,” he said.

“I should not be judged by a standard that’s not applied to everyone else,” he added. “People are piling on with every grudge or vendetta. The charge is totally bogus.”

I suppose Zakaria has an argument here. But, isn’t this what endnotes and bibliographies are supposed to be for? I’ve seen both in plenty of “popular” works of non-fiction over the years. In any event, he took a quote and didn’t attribute it, even after the same was brought to his attention and there was at least one opportunity to revise the work for the paperback edition.

About the original story, I assumed when it happened that this was really the result of errors by researchers or a ghost writer, and Andrew Beaujon addresses that possibility in an interesting manner:

Eric Zuesse writes — without offering any evidence — that Zakaria “cannot possibly actually write all that is attributed to him. He certainly cannot research it all.

Like many “writing” stars, he has a staff perform much of the research and maybe even actual writing for him, and many in his situation are actually more editors than they are writers; but, regardless, he cannot let the public know that this is the way things are, because this is simply the way that the star system works in the “writing” fields, and because the public is supposed to think that these stars in the writing fields are writers, more than editors.

Defense: Zakaria may have taken the fall because he’d put his name atop someone else’s sloppy work.

Ruling: Not totally bogus!

I can’t stress enough this defense is predicated on speculation: Zakaria, the theory goes, couldn’t have made such a boneheaded mistake on his own. But how is using a researcher’s work under your name different from a journalist’s editor directing a story, changing its lede, inserting a new ending or making any of the other changes that happen in editorial meat grinders every day?

The only thing I can find admirable in this whole dismal tale is the possibility that Zakaria held up his end of the bargain and apologized for an error he didn’t make. “It is a full apology — no hedging, no excuses,” Mark Leccese writes.

Is it possible Zakaria observed a kind of omerta because he, like almost every writer who’s worked with an editor, OK’d the use of his name on work that was only partially his?

That’s certainly possible, but then that leads to the whole question of what the heck is so ethical about the idea of having someone else write a column and then slapping your name on top of it.

UPDATE:  David Frum demonstrates that, “This charge is false, as 10 minutes’ work by the Washington Post would have shown. ” See also, “Fareed Zakaria Shot the Sheriff But Did Not Shoot the Deputy.”

Update #2: The Washington Post has issued the following correction:

Correction:  This article incorrectly states that in his 2008 book, “The Post-American World,” Fareed Zakaria failed to cite the source of a quotation taken from another book. In fact, Zakaria did credit the other work, by Clyde V. Prestowitz. Endnotes crediting Prestowitz were contained in hardcover and paperback editions of Zakaria’s book. The Post should have examined copies of the books and should not have published the article. We regret the error and apologize to Fareed Zakaria.

Now, of course, the question is how the Post could’ve gotten this so wrong.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Media, Quick Takes,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    Hmmm.

    I’ve managed ghostwriters who were working under my name. (My wife’s name, actually, but same thing.) And I have to confess that I never checked for plagiarism. Then again, that was fiction, so it’s unlikely they had anyone to plagiarize — other than us. Which was kind of the point of the exercise, really.

    In fiction I tend to dismiss plagiarism charges just because:

    1) There are really only so many ways to tell a story, and we’ve all been plagiarizing Shakespeare since forever. Boy meets girl but their families want to keep them apart? That little trope of his has been used once or twice since. Dithering reluctant hero who can’t decide whether to step up? Hmmm, may have used that one myself just a few times.

    And 2) Plagiarism seems harder to me than just writing the damned thing yourself. You’re going to lift two grafs off a guy then spend a half hour trying to figure out how to disguise it? Jesus, just take the basic concept and write your own grafs.

    In Zakaria’s case it just looks like a blend of arrogance and burn-out. Not everyone can be prolific.

  2. Just nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    what the heck is so ethical about the idea of having someone else write a column and then slapping your name on top of it.

    Well, that is another question indeed. On the other hand, since he is one of society’s “producers” rather than one of the “parasites,” why should he sweat that he is maximizing his own utility by having others do the grunt work for him? Why should he let some outmoded concept such as “ethics” keep him from becoming the greatest Fareed Zakharia he can become?

  3. CSK says:

    I’ve always done my own research, because I wouldn’t trust anyone else to do it right, because I enjoyed it, and because I couldn’t afford to pay to have it done. The final reason is the least important.

    I once freelance copy-edited a how-to book and discovered that most of the “advice” was plagiarized word-for-word from various websites. I notified the publisher. I’m not sure whether the book was ever published. It was one of those books written–so to speak–by committee, with no named author or authors.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    @Just nutha’ ig’rant cracker:

    A lot of what appears under an author’s name may be written by someone else to one degree or another. In my case I’ve always credited ghosts, and if no ghost is credited, then there wasn’t one.

    But I know of a book written by. . . let’s just say a supermodel . . .in which said supermodel did nothing but come up with the idiot plot and then turned it over to an uncredited ghost. To me that’s uncool, but not all that uncommon.

  5. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Pamela Baywatch Anderson’s “novel” was ghostwritten by a guy named George (I can’t recall his last name) and the publisher didn’t even bother to pretend otherwise. Pam’s aesthetic contribution was to appear nude on the cover, with the title and byline strategically placed.

    There’s a woman in New York who’s ghostwritten novels for a number of big-name authors–not celebrities, but people you’d assume were actually writers, even if they aren’t very good. And people like Tom Clancy franchise their names now.

  6. Modulo Myself says:

    Of all the unendurable tasks on earth, I’m thinking ghostwriting a novel written in the imagined voice of Pamela Anderson ranks pretty high.

  7. CSK says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Well, I suppose you do what William Faulkner did when he was working as a Hollywood screenwriter: You repeat to yourself, as many times as necessary, “I get paid on Friday. I get paid on Friday. I get paid on Friday.”

  8. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    And people like Tom Clancy franchise their names now.

    Heh. At least during the 90s his ghostwriters were much more palatable than the man himself.

  9. CSK says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius:

    You do know, don’t you, that Rush Limbaugh once referred to Tom Clancy as “our greatest American novelist.”

    I’m sure Hawthorne, Twain, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, et al. were all in perfect agreement.

  10. Like Fareed Zakaria, I write in English as my second language, and I can spot someone that also writes English as his second language(In part because I know that I have to police myself to TRY to avoid things like writing in English using a Latin structure or worse, using Brazilian or Portuguese idiomatic expressions that does not exists in English). If Fareed uses ghosts, then his ghosts also does not have English as their Native language. It´s easy to spot that: anyone that listens to the BBC World Service will note that Fareed Zakaria writes in English in the same way that most Indians write in English. Besides that, you can easily see that Fareed uses similar arguments in his show and in his columns.

    So, Zuesse is writing crap. Pure crap.

    I think that the bigger problem is that since most pundits reads too much internet articles and so few books you see the same arguments being repeated ad naseaum. I think that the problem with Zakaria is not plagiarism, but that he did a poor job of researching his sources.

  11. LCaution says:

    A bit OT, but have you never been edited? A good editor improves one’s work. A bad editor can ruin it. Your work still carries your name alone, in either case. And the price of not submitting to distortion can be the loss of a job.

  12. SKI says:

    I think Frum eviscerated the WaPo claim – including images of the footnotes WaPo claimed didn’t exist.