Newsweek and Slate have added editors’ notes to Zakaria columns saying they did not meet the publications’ standards of attribution. And Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt, who once called plagiarism allegations by Our Bad Media reckless, told Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon Monday that five Zakaria articles “strike me as problematic in their absence of full attribution.”
Our Bad Media originally accused Zakaria in August of extensive plagiarism, beyond the incident he was suspended for in 2012, in his work for CNN, the Post and Time. In subsequent posts the bloggers identified only as @blippoblappo and @crushingbort expanded on their allegations, including instances of plagiarism by Zakaria since 2012 and in Newsweek, Slate and other publication.
Initially, the accusations were not taken very seriously because of the bloggers’ anonymity. But they provided extensive documentation of each accusation and their case is finally gaining grudging acceptance. Everywhere except CNN, which responded initially with an email to Politico’s Dylan Byers expressing support for Zakaria. The network has not responded further even to its own media critic, Brian Stelter, who tried to find a mushy middle ground saying Zakaria maybe “made some attribution mistakes,” but had not committed “capital-P” plagiarism.
Time noted in August that Zakaria no longer worked for it, but said it was satisfied with its 2012 investigation. I have not seen that Time has changed its stance on Zakaria’s work.
I am not going to go into detail about Monday’s Our Bad Media post, which called on Hiatt to append similar notes to six Washington Post columns as Newsweek and Slate have done.
However, since I have agreed with previous accusations the bloggers made against Zakaria, I should note that I wouldn’t describe two of the latest examples cited by Our Bad Media as plagiarism. In two of the cases, Zakaria cited his sources (a Foreign Affairs article and a White House press release) and used extensive passages with the exact words from the source but without quotation marks.
I agree that quotation marks should have been used in both cases, but I regard plagiarism as one of journalism’s gravest sins and I don’t apply that word to passages that cite their sources. In a post about Jim Romenesko’s departure from Poynter, I called it a “a punctuation offense, not a serious breach of journalism ethics.”
Given the different context (Romenesko was aggregating news accounts and commentary from other media and Zakaria was writing original commentary), Zakaria’s failure to quote was more serious than Romenesko’s, especially when he was using the White House’s words and especially given his broad context of actual plagiarism.
I agree with Our Bad Media that the Post should update those archives, adding quotation marks and noting that the original columns failed to use quotation marks. But I see failure to attribute as a key element of plagiarism and in these two instances, Zakaria both attributed and linked. So I won’t use the P-word in those cases.
By the way, @blippoblappo told me in a Twitter direct message in September that they were really busy then and wouldn’t be able to answer my questions right away, but “we WILL try to answer your Q’s as best we can very soon.” Now that they’re blogging again and answered Newsweek’s questions, I hope I’ll be seeing my answers soon. When they do, I will blog again.
Updates: @blippoblappo told me by Twitter direct message that they would respond to questions from my students and me. I have sent them some questions and will post when they respond.
My earlier posts about Our Bad Media’s accusations against Zakaria: