UPDATE: See end of post for update on another journalist saying Zakaria "borrowed heavily" from him.
Following the lead of Time magazine, CNN Friday suspended Sunday morning show host and international affairs analyst Fareed Zakaria for plagiarism.
The magazine said its suspension was for a month "pending further review," while CNN put no time limit on its removal of Zakaria from its airwaves.
Plagiarism used to be a deadly journalistic sin from which there often was no redemption. Given the lack of values and ethics in journalism today, however, who knows what will happen to Zakaria.
I do know that in the wake of the journalistic beating CNN took when it mis-reported the Supreme Court's ruling on Obamacare this summer, this isn't the kind of matter the last cable news channel with any kind of commitment to journalism over ideology can treat lightly.
CNN is under siege on several fronts, and having a plagiarist as your star Sunday-morning, foreign affairs analyst doesn't help. It takes not only intellectual but also moral authority to command the Sunday-morning public affairs space that CNN once thought Zakaria could own. I don't see how you can be perceived as holding moral or intellectual authority once you are shown to be a thief of others' ideas and thoughts.
The plagiarism involved a passage in a column Zakaria wrote in the Aug. 20 issue of Time magazine. Similarities were noted to an essay written by Jill Lepore in the New Yorker in April.
Friday afternoon, Zakaria issued a statement saying, "Media reporters have pointed out that paragraphs in my Time column this week bear close similarities to paragraphs in Jill Lepore's essay in the April 23rd issue of the New Yorker. They are right. I made a terrible mistake. It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault."
CNN said in a statement that it suspended Zakaria for using some of the same "unattributed" Lepore material for a blog post at CNN.com.
“We have reviewed Fareed Zakaria’s TIME column, for which he has apologized," the statement said. "He wrote a shorter blog post on CNN.com on the same issue which included similar unattributed excerpts. That blog post has been removed and CNN has suspended Fareed Zakaria while this matter is under review.”
Here are two links worth checking into for context and background. The first at Huffington Post points out that Zakaria is a trustee at Yale University, an institution at which plagiarism can get a student expelled. The author wonders if the trustee will be treated the same as a student would by this institution that proclaims no tolerance for intellectual dishonesty. Read it
under the heading: "Fareed Zakaria's plagiarism: even worse than it looks."
In the academy, when you plagiarize, you are cooked. As a Ph.D from Harvard, Zakaria should know the rules of the academic game, which, I am sad to say, are tougher these days than in journalism where the massive changes in technology, lifestyle and economics seem to have obliterated any serious discussion of or adherence to ethical standards in many newsrooms.
The second piece is from 2009 and features Jeffrey Goldberg, of The Atlantic, alleging that Zakaria stole some of his work as well three years ago. The tone of Goldberg's piece is kind of flip, and maybe that's why the seriousness of his charges against Zakaria were overlooked. But I think what Zakaria did to Goldberg shows the same kind of intellectual dishonesty as the CNN host showed twice this week in Time and at CNN.com. Read more
Maybe I am a hopelessly out of date moralist, or maybe it is because I have taught media ethics for the last 20 years to college students, but I don't care how smart someone is supposed to be, if they steal others' ideas and words, they are dead to me as a source of intellectual or moral discourse. And if the media did a better job policing themselves in this regard, the public would have far more trust and confidence in us.
I am sorry if it sounds harsh, but I have no confidence or trust in anything Zakaria has to say.
UPDATE - 4 p.m. Saturday:
"Fareed Zakaria GPS,"which aired at 10 a.m. and was repeated at 1 p.m., will be replaced by: an extended version of "State of the Union" with Candy Crowley airing live from 9 to 11 a.m. "Reliable Sources" will from air 11 a.m. to noon as usual. Then, "State of the Union" in replay from noon to 1 p.m., followed by a replay of Saturday's "The Situation Room."
Brian Byrnes, a former Baltimore Sun intern who now works as a freelance journalist in Argentina, wrote this weekend about his feeling that Zakaria "borrowed" from him as well in a piece the suspended show host did for CNN on the Argentine economy.
Here's part of what Byrnes says:
... After watching his video column, and reading the text article published on CNN.com, I couldn't help but feel that Zakaria had borrowed heavily from my original reporting. Some phrases in his report were lifted nearly verbatim from the scripts of my TV packages, and examples and anecdotes of mine were repeated too -- without attribution. Moreover, some of the exact video sequences used in my reports appeared in his too ...