Archive for November 25th, 2014

Jerry Ceppos, my dean and friend, teaches an ethics class, so I called a recent post about Fareed Zakaria’s plagiarism to his attention.

He discussed the case with his class and sent me an email with an interesting analysis by his students about different types of plagiarism. I’ll share his summary of the analysis, then comment on it.

We had a fascinating discussion about Zakaria, comparing the latest side-by-sides and discussing the Post’s wishy-washy questions. I came down pretty hard on Zakaria (and predicted a denouement by the end of the semester). I even showed a clip of him smugly talking to a British TV person about the Indian election. We did something interesting that you may or may want to follow up. Because some of the class was a little nicer than I was, we broke plagiarism down into five blocks.

  1. Words — The sports folks, tellingly, argued that there might be just one way to describe a key play. I said I found that hard to believe but might be able to accept the same words from two reporters if writer #2 had not first read writer #1.
  2. Facts — I said that I found stealing facts abominable because someone else has done the work and the reader has no idea where they came from. On the Web, in particular, it seems lazy because attribution is so easy. I did concede that it might be OK to go to the original source and “re-find” the facts if the original source is given.
  3. Ideas — I said that I found it most difficult to “copyright” ideas.
  4. Quotes — I agreed that, in this age of PR folks putting out statements for their clients or parading the same client at the same moment before a variety of reporters, it might be OK to see the same quotes in multiple stories. In fact, it would be weird not to see them the same if the source were the same.
  5. The medium — There might be some excuse if Zakaria loosely uses someone else’s information when he’s a talking head vs. when he is writing for The Times.

That’s a pretty good analysis. Some of my thoughts on each of the blocks: (more…)

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