Fareed Zakaria busted?
August 25, 2014 5:55 AM   Subscribe


 
You'd think that after the last incident these news organizations would assign a fact and citation checker specifically to Zakaria, if only to avoid this kind of problem.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:25 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's pretty bizarre that this guy ever got a position of responsibility again after the first incident, or at least one where he wasn't watched like a hawk.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:29 AM on August 25, 2014


I'm looking through these examples and find their arguments weak. These are cited as being identical:

Armed with at least $15.5 billion in state-backed credit, China's biggest windmill makers Sinovel Wind Group Co. and Xinjiang Goldwind Science Technology Co. won their first major foreign orders in the past year.

versus

China's biggest windmill makers, Sinovel Wind Group Co. and Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology Co., have received more than $15.5 billion in credits from state-owned banks.

Who are the two biggest windmill makers in China is a statement of fact as is the $15.5 billion in credits.

I deal with potential plagiarism from students all the time. I would not fault this.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:33 AM on August 25, 2014 [25 favorites]


I agree with dances, also as a professor, this is some weak tea. Meh.
posted by spitbull at 6:36 AM on August 25, 2014


I deal with potential plagiarism from students all the time. I would not fault this.

Some of the passages seem to be plagiarism, others are more patch-writing, and still other parts are just sloppy sophistry mixed in with mediocre writing, which just goes to show you it is all about churning out filler and calling it journalism...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:40 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Here's another one. According to our bad media "Zakaria began an article on the Greek debt crisis in an identical way to a similar article by Businessweek."

These are the passages highlighted.

Businessweek:

Since winning independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1832, the nation has spent half its time in various stages of default or restructuring.

Zakaria:

By one estimate, since it gained its independence from the Ottomans in 1832, Greece has been in default or restructuring for half this period.

Identical? That is a completely non-plagiaristic restatement of the same fact.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:40 AM on August 25, 2014 [8 favorites]


Yeah, reading through the examples in the third link, a lot of them seem to be quotes from other people, and survey results. Those are facts, reported first by someone else, and then by Zakaria. And one of them even begins "As [plagiaree] points out...[text Bad Media calls plagiarism]," which is again a recitation of facts from a survey of the American public. I'm not seeing much of a problem here.
posted by likeatoaster at 6:41 AM on August 25, 2014


dances_with_sneetches, not only are you cherry-picking, but you truncated the cherry that you picked. With the full context, including the second sentence of both the source and Zakaria's copy/reword/paste job, it beggars belief that Zakaria didn't use that source without attribution.

And, of course, there are many more obvious examples in the linked pieces that make an even stronger case.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:41 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


Finding plagiarism is a sport these days. The standards are much stricter than they were years ago, and woe betide anyone who doesn't keep up -- or who has work long ago put out under the standards they internalized years ago.

Journalists are held to standards that standards no one else is, and academics are held to stricter standards yet, to include even paraphrasing others' ideas.

I can't help but wonder if the employment crunch in both fields doesn't contribute to a bit of the bloodsport.
posted by tyllwin at 6:43 AM on August 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


There are some direct copy and paste examples at the beginning of the article, but many of the examples that the authors give are about ideas, not copying and pasting. This seems like reaching, to me.
posted by bshort at 6:43 AM on August 25, 2014


They are choosing what to highlight. If they highlight bad examples then they are making a bad case. You don't strengthen a case by tossing in the kitchen sink when the kitchen sink has nothing to do with it. You weaken your case.

I'm not cherry-picking their weakest arguments. I just jumped randomly down the page after not being impressed by the first arguments. Frankly, if there is plagiarism I'm not going to hunt it down if they don't bother to make a good case for it.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:46 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh what a tangled web we weave. When first we practice to deceive. - Sir Walter Scott (Marmion, 1808)
posted by robbyrobs at 6:48 AM on August 25, 2014


Oh what a tangled web we weave. When first we practice to deceive. - Sir Walter Scott (Marmion, 1808)
posted by robbyrobs at 9:48 AM on August 251

Seconded.

1. robbyrobs, “Fareed Zakaria busted?,” Metafilter, 25 August 2014, http://www.metafilter.com/142194/Fareed-Zakaria-busted#5702299.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:54 AM on August 25, 2014 [24 favorites]


Oh what a tangled web we weave. When first we practice to deceive. -- reblogged from anonymousquotes.tumblr.com, 2014
posted by ardgedee at 6:58 AM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


I agree that many of these examples seem pretty weak. It is reminiscent of the True Detective allegations to me.
posted by norm at 7:02 AM on August 25, 2014




I just can't get worked up about plagiarism. It's one of those things that's a technical gotcha that's supposed to end someone's career, but to me is just a minor embarrassment. I think reporters care about it more than regular people for what should be obvious reasons.

Plus remix culture, yada yada yada ("Seinfeld", 1997).
posted by empath at 7:20 AM on August 25, 2014


NotMyselfRightNow: Seconded.
1. robbyrobs, “Fareed Zakaria busted?,” Metafilter, 25 August 2014, http://www.metafilter.com/142194/Fareed-Zakaria-busted#5702299.

And this is precisely the point. It's simply not true that you can't plagiarize facts. If you're citing facts from your own base of knowledge, and using your own words, you're fine. If you're getting facts from a source, you owe it to the author of that source to provide a citation.

What Zakaria does here is even more sinister, because he's simply stealing passages and transposing them enough that they aren't mirror images, but still contain the same thoughts and ideas expressed by the original authors. And he is most certainly doing so without attribution. Only willful blindness could see this as a mere coincidence.

Rick Perlstein recently got into trouble for providing citations online instead of in his book (previously) to save on printing costs. We can argue about whether a note in the book saying "go to my website for citations" constitutes an appropriate level of citation, but at least he tried to credit others where appropriate. Had Zakaria done this very simple thing, he would have been fine using the original works verbatim instead of engaging in these obvious copy/tweak/paste jobs.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:20 AM on August 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


If you're getting facts from a source, you owe it to the author of that source to provide a citation.

I think it's more that you owe it to your reader, so they know you aren't just full of shit.
posted by empath at 7:21 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's simply not true that you can't plagiarize facts. If you're citing facts from your own base of knowledge, and using your own words, you're fine.

It is more complex than that. If a fact is general knowledge, it is fine to use it without citation even if you had to consult a specific source to locate it. That Beethoven was born in Bonn in 1770, for example, need not be attributed. If you consult the standard references to tell us what the GDP of the US was over the last three years, you don't need to give a citation--although if you are using some alternative measure or if you want to argue that here are problems with the statistical models used to generate that figure you should. In a student paper at university that "by one estimate" cited above would need referencing ("whose?" you might write in the margin) but in normal journalistic practice it is acceptable to give these things without attribution, so long, of course, as you're not about to attack that estimate as badly skewed etc--that is, so long as it is simply a building block in a larger argument.

It does seem like these people haven't really bothered to take the time to understand what really counts as plagiarism in Zakaria's field and what doesn't.
posted by yoink at 7:34 AM on August 25, 2014 [7 favorites]


Finding plagiarism is a sport these days. The standards are much stricter than they were years ago, and woe betide anyone who doesn't keep up -- or who has work long ago put out under the standards they internalized years ago.

Journalists are held to standards that standards no one else is, and academics are held to stricter standards yet, to include even paraphrasing others' ideas.


The standards for journalists are so high these days that if your book uses other people's research & ideas without citing them you can have your own TV show on CNN.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:38 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


The examples of "straight up lying" the critics cite in Zakaria's response are so clear, so undeniable, that it's astonishing anyone is defending Zakaria here:

Second Zakaria is- well, there’s no other way to say it – straight up lying here when he says Coy “does not cite the Rogoff book or any source at all for the same fact.” See for yourself:

And then they show the direct cite. There are other clear examples of lies as well, including Zakaria's attempt to dismiss the charges as mere use of "statistics" and "facts."

Bottom line: the folks here saying the charges are weak are ignoring the strongest of the charges. Every example the critics use may not be strong, but they've proved quite clearly that Zakaria is a serial plagiarist and a liar.
posted by mediareport at 7:43 AM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


The lifted paragraphs from Gerges, tweaked just slightly, are the place to start. Do the "meh it's not plagiarism" folks want to address those?
posted by mediareport at 7:44 AM on August 25, 2014


yoink: "It does seem like these people haven't really bothered to take the time to understand what really counts as plagiarism in Zakaria's field and what doesn't."

Most of the examples given in the links really count as plagiarism in Zakaria's field.
posted by chavenet at 7:47 AM on August 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


yoink: It is more complex than that. If a fact is general knowledge, it is fine to use it without citation even if you had to consult a specific source to locate it. That Beethoven was born in Bonn in 1770, for example, need not be attributed.

This is true, but we're not talking about citing well-known facts, we're talking about a paraphrase of ideas. When you paraphrase ideas, a cite is expected.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:48 AM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


Just to be clear, this:

Two anonymous bloggers today have alleged that there are 11 cases in my writing where I have cited a statistic that also appeared somewhere else.

is Zakaria's insultingly misleading summary of the charges. No one can look at the clearest of the examples and call them simply "citing a statistic." That's just so blatantly false it's astonishing he's trying to get away with it.
posted by mediareport at 7:48 AM on August 25, 2014 [7 favorites]


Brit here, what's the real story? Who has Zakaria offended that there is so much effort being put into tarnishing his reputation.
posted by epo at 7:52 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


The lifted paragraphs from Gerges, tweaked just slightly, are the place to start. Do the "meh it's not plagiarism" folks want to address those?

So I go to the (3) link above, and look at the first Gerges example, and there, I see him mention Gerges by name. Twice. In one paragraph.

"Plagiarism," to me, implies intent to conceal, and you don't call out a source by name that you're trying to steal from unnoticed.
posted by tyllwin at 7:58 AM on August 25, 2014


It does seem like these people haven't really bothered to take the time to understand what really counts as plagiarism in Zakaria's field and what doesn't.

That's just completely wrong. They lay out what they consider plagiarism very clearly, and note - again, very clearly - that what Zakaria himself called "a terrible mistake" and "a serious lapse" (and was suspended from Time and CNN for) in 2012 is *exactly* what they've caught him doing again in lifting entire paragraphs from Gerges without attribution. But now for some reason the standards seem to have changed.

The Gerges example alone is enough to make the plagiarism charge stick, and stick hard.
posted by mediareport at 7:59 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


look at the first Gerges example, and there, I see him mention Gerges by name. Twice. In one paragraph.

Again, there's no citation in the end notes, and the direct lifting of entire paragraphs with minor tweaks goes far beyond the norm.
posted by mediareport at 8:03 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


mediareport: "The Gerges example alone is enough to make the plagiarism charge stick, and stick hard."

The Gerges example is weird because, as noted, Gerges is name-checked in the grafs in question. It's not the most egregious example in this collection (and also not the least egregrious). But the way it is written makes it seem as if Zakaria interviewed Gerges or spoke with him, rather than quoting his book:

Zakaria, Post-American World 2.0, p. 14: The London School of Economics professor Fawaz Gerges has analyzed polls from dozens of Muslim countries over the past few years. He notes that in a range of places— Jordan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Lebanon, and Bangladesh—there have occurred substantial declines in the number of people who say suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets can be justi ied to defend Islam. Wide majorities say such attacks are, at most, rarely acceptable. The shift has been especially dramatic in Jordan, where only 12 percent of Jordanians view suicide attacks as “often or sometimes justified” (down from 57 percent in 2005). In Indonesia, 85 percent of respondents agree that terrorist attacks are “rarely/never justi ied” (in 2002, by contrast, only 70 percent opposed such attacks). In Pakistan, that figure is 90 percent, up from 43 percent in 2002. Gerges points out that, by comparison, only 46 percent of Americans say that “bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians” are “never justi ied,” while 24 percent believe these attacks are “often or sometimes justified.”
posted by chavenet at 8:10 AM on August 25, 2014


"Plagiarism," to me, implies intent to conceal,

But plagiarism doesn't mean that.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:14 AM on August 25, 2014 [8 favorites]


I'll continue to read Zakaria's stuff, 99.8% of which is original.
posted by Vibrissae at 8:20 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have no fondness for Zakaria, but the Gerges example is ridiculous, and if that is supposed to be a 'strong' example, then it's a bullshit charge. When you cite the source IN THE TEXT it isn't 'plagiarism', and that's even using the much stronger academic definition.
posted by tavella at 8:20 AM on August 25, 2014


Who has Zakaria offended that there is so much effort being put into tarnishing his reputation.

People who actually believe in journalistic ethics and basic intellectual honesty?

The backlash carping in this thread, and the world's apparent willingness to accept the hardcore bullshit denials from Zakaria and his former editors, are appalling. Even granting that Our Bad Media led with some of their poorer, more questionable examples and didn't present the nutshell version of their case as well as they could've (it really appears that a lot of the willingness to accept Zakaria's denials amounts to a tl;dr about their blog posts) — still, just reading the entirety of the evidence they've assembled should be enough to make clear that it's ridiculous that this has even been reported as "alleged" rather than starkly obvious plagiarism.

It is an amazing testament to the don't-rock-the-boat complacency of the American corporate media that the guy still has a job and isn't a pariah, never mind the smarmy backpatters queueing up to defend him — of whose creepy brown-nosed log-rolling, the most ridiculous and fantastic example has to be Fawaz Gerges himself, "delighted" to be plagiarized.
posted by RogerB at 8:24 AM on August 25, 2014 [7 favorites]


Okay, this is what I would say to Our Bad Media. As a reader, I am not going to do the work for you. Don't ask me to read through all your examples to find the juicy ones. Start your argument off strongly (perhaps with your strongest example) and keep the supporting examples of high quality. Then I will believe you. I'm not going to go to the third link if I don't find the first link convincing.

A time back, there was a national writer who went through Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 and tried to prove that it was dishonest. He led his article with the "The Pet Goat" incident and tried to absolve Bush by pointing out that the principal of the school was grateful that Bush spent extra time with the kids and stated that Moore was guilty of not quoting the principal.

In other words, this author led with a really crappy argument. So after that, instead of reading the arguments through in order I jumped randomly down the page just to see if there were any good arguments. I encountered two other crappy arguments that convinced me of the opposite point that the author was trying to present: that Michael Moore is a genius researcher (I'm not a big Michael Moore fan and I doubt that that is true). Maybe the rest of the article had good points, the writer of the screed lost my attention and I wasn't going to do the work for him.

If you want to nail Zakaria for plagiarism, present your argument well, not in a hodge-podge, wait-for-the-good-stuff sort of way. Otherwise, he will get away with it. And don't misuse the word identical.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:24 AM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'll continue to read Zakaria's stuff, 99.8% of which is original. [citation needed]

apologies; it was there.
posted by quinndexter at 8:30 AM on August 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


This is true, but we're not talking about citing well-known facts, we're talking about a paraphrase of ideas.

Indeed--but that wasn't the claim I was responding to, which was about citing "facts."
posted by yoink at 8:31 AM on August 25, 2014


The backlash carping in this thread, and the world's apparent willingness to accept the hardcore bullshit denials from Zakaria and his former editors, are appalling.

Appalling? Really? I could say maybe a 'annoying' or 'frustrating', but that's a pretty low bar for 'appalling', imo.
posted by empath at 8:33 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


my question is, who put them up to this ... there's no way @tane_hitler and @sneebles are acting alone here out of "ethics" or something. we gotta follow the money
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:34 AM on August 25, 2014


yoink: Indeed--but that wasn't the claim I was responding to, which was about citing "facts."

Yeah, I've already conceded that you're right that basic historical facts do not require citation. If that were all Zakaria had done, we'd have no argument.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:35 AM on August 25, 2014


It is an amazing testament to the don't-rock-the-boat complacency of the American corporate media that the guy still has a job and isn't a pariah, never mind the smarmy backpatters queueing up to defend him — of whose creepy brown-nosed log-rolling, the most ridiculous and fantastic example has to be Fawaz Gerges himself, "delighted" to be plagiarized.

He was delighted to have given him permission to cite his work. Which is kind of the opposite of plagiarizing.
posted by empath at 8:35 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


So basically these blippoblappo guys got internet fame for their previous thing and now, in giddy excitement, they are trying to replicate their previous internet success.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 8:42 AM on August 25, 2014


The Gerges example alone is enough to make the plagiarism charge stick, and stick hard.

The Gerges example is certainly a great deal stronger than most of the examples in the first link. They undermine their own case (and reveal just how much this seems to be a vendetta rather than an unbiased summary of the facts), though, by making a huge song and dance about how Gerges isn't cited or referenced anywhere when he is explicitly acknowledged in the text. The first paragraph they offer in the section on Gerges is just laughable. Gerges is directly acknowledged twice as the source of what we're reading. It is true that it should be clearer that we're being given actual quotations from Gerges and not paraphrases, but this is about as venial as these things get. The second example (the "Osama Bin Laden's growing anxiety" one) is much more egregious. The authors do themselves and their case a huge disservice, though, by desperately trying to throw everything against the wall no matter how strained the interpretation needed to make it "plagiarism" rather than simply presenting the few strong cases they have and relying on those.
posted by yoink at 8:50 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think it's crazy that a little pushback against some weak examples, which are admitted to be weak by most of the people arguing hardest for this being scandalous, gets labeled as "appalling". What is this, Facebook?
posted by norm at 8:53 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh what a tangled web we weave. When first we practice to deceive.

Which leads us to the fact is: we really need more practice.

(I don't remember who said this. It was quoted in Espy's Almanac of Words at Play.)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:57 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


So basically these blippoblappo guys got internet fame for their previous thing and now, in giddy excitement, they are trying to replicate their previous internet success.

Yes, unfortunately that is very much what this looks like. "We're the giant killers of the media world!! Who will we destroy next?" seems to be the mood in which they undertook this. It's a shame because they have a few genuinely compelling instances in here which they could have presented in such a way as to demand a serious response. But a lot of what they single out here is simply risible, which makes it pretty easy for Zakaria to just laugh them off.

(A good example of just how desperate some of their examples are: in the first link, in example 9 they highlight "The International Federation of Health Plans" as one of the phrases Zakaria supposedly "plagiarised." Which is like saying that if you refer to National Rifle Association or the American Association of Retired Persons you need to give a footnote to whatever piece you last read that used those names.)
posted by yoink at 8:57 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think it's crazy that a little pushback against some weak examples, which are admitted to be weak by most of the people arguing hardest for this being scandalous, gets labeled as "appalling". What is this, Facebook?

On the internet, everyone's a half-step from being Hitler.
posted by yoink at 8:58 AM on August 25, 2014


Sidenote: what is everyone's favorite software for checking (journalistic) plagiarism?

I spent a couple of hours checking out online recommendations and testing them but found nothing I loved among Grammarly (nice UI but costly, missed actual quotes that had quote marks removed), Plagiarisma (lots of false negatives), and a couple of others.

I would love the ability to check a published piece and enter its URL as an OK source, not to be listed as a violation.
posted by msalt at 9:04 AM on August 25, 2014


I am now going to pull a blippoblappo, which I define as "internet excitement related to the misunderstanding of what plagiarism is."

I'm going to claim the following: After the end of the First World War of 1914, there was a great hope that this was the war to end all wars, and that from now on there would be eternal peace all around the world.

The above statement is in fact plagiarism, or I should say, blippoblappism, because Winston Churchill's book The Second World War opens with this sentence: "After the end of the World War of 1914 there was a deep conviction and almost universal hope that peace would reign in the world."

Ethics committee, here I come, martyred!
posted by Pyrogenesis at 9:07 AM on August 25, 2014


I think it's crazy that a little pushback against some weak examples, which are admitted to be weak by most of the people arguing hardest for this being scandalous, gets labeled as "appalling". What is this, Facebook?

Oh for chrissake. Yes, let's definitely cavil about adjectives and a few oversold examples while a rich and famous guy who's just been revealed as a serial violator of the bedrock ethical principles of his field is not just getting away with it, but indeed being congratulated for it. What's appalling — yes, appalling — because it's symptomatic of the fucked-up nature of the current media landscape here is the way that Zakaria, as a rich and famous insider, is being afforded every courtesy up to and including waiving fundamental ethics by his current and former bosses and editors and chums, while the Internet-debate-team "pushback" squad, and much of the established media world, seems to be deciding to spend all its energy nit-picking the presentation flaws and occasional overstatements of these pseudonymous bloggers/media outsiders — rather than just thanking them for the public service of documenting a bunch of obvious wrongdoing, and turning the focus to Zakaria and his denial and what consequences he ought to face.

That's the serious problem here: that Zakaria and his establishment pals' wagon-circling bullshit denials are being provided such good cover by the endless quibbles over presentation and the sophomoric "why does plagiarism even matter" arguments.
posted by RogerB at 9:13 AM on August 25, 2014 [7 favorites]


...or it may be an example of a rather clumsy and failed attempt at pulling Zakaria and his establishment chums down a notch, conducted in a manner that allows him to ignore it completely, because righteous anger is not actually a credible demonstration of anything.

(Saying this as someone who has read Zakaria precisely to the extent of the quotes in the links. Who's the guy anyway? I mean according to Metafilter, not according to google.)
posted by Pyrogenesis at 9:27 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


a serial violator of the bedrock ethical principles of his field

He probably taunts small children and doesn't call his dear old mum as often as he should too!
posted by yoink at 9:30 AM on August 25, 2014


Do unto others as you would.

Anyhow, neeners are fun.
posted by mule98J at 9:32 AM on August 25, 2014


To the extent I notice him at all, I class him in the establishment-promoting, war-loving, useless idiot class with people like David Brooks.
posted by tavella at 9:33 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Who has Zakaria offended that there is so much effort being put into tarnishing his reputation.

It's largely that despite making left-of-center-sounding sentiments, Zakaria is an extremely establishment Villager (i.e. resident of the Beltway who endlessly recites conventional wisdom by others inside the Beltway), and years ago provided apologia and cover for neo-conservatives supporting the bellicose Bush regime. He's a Thomas Friedman type for those who consider themselves too intelligent to be bamboozled by Thomas Friedman.
posted by dhartung at 9:36 AM on August 25, 2014 [7 favorites]


But plagiarism doesn't mean that.

Sure, "omitting an end note citation for an author explicitly named multiple times in the text" probably meets a technical, legalistic definition of "plagiarism." In popular understanding, however, outside of journalism and academia, plagiarism isn't understood, as a state you can technically fall into. It's thought of as deliberate theft, an attempt to make others believe that another person's work is your work.

Is oxforddictionaries.com the OED definition? Their take is:

"The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own."

That's a much more serious moral and ethical boundary to cross, one in which intent is implicit, and one that's impossible to cross if you point to the original researcher in the same paragraph.

People accusing him of "plagiarism" do so in the full knowledge that the general public will assume the more serious transgression is meant, or even just that the distaste for the more serious charge will bleed over.

Because no one (or much fewer people) would care if they honestly charged him with "omitting an end note for an author explicitly named multiple times in the text," or "sloppy and dodgy citations." It's an ugly little word game of the sort I see deployed in the media, social and otherwise, on hot button topics every day. It just makes "plagiarism" another of those words where I wish we had a single, agreed-to definition.
posted by tyllwin at 9:40 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


On the internet, everyone's a half-step from being Hitler.

Or Hitler's dog.
posted by Pudhoho at 9:42 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


He directly lifts extended phrasing so often and so clearly, tyllwin, that I'm really at a loss to understand why you think "plagiarism" is the wrong word.

It's the right word.
posted by mediareport at 9:44 AM on August 25, 2014


He directly lifts extended phrasing so often and so clearly, tyllwin

There is a real and important difference between "lifting" phrasing which you attribute in your text and lifting phrasing which you don't. If one of my students hands in a paper which says
Foucault argues that the rise of the concept of the author constitutes the privileged moment of individualization in the history of ideas, knowledge, literature, philosophy, and the sciences.*
then we're having a stern chat in my office about the use of quotation marks and the sloppy handling of citations. If the same student writes simply
The rise of the concept of the author constitutes the privileged moment of individualization in the history of ideas, knowledge, literature, philosophy, and the sciences.
I'm writing a letter to the Associate Dean alerting them to a case of plagiarism which requires disciplinary procedures. And the academic world has much, much more stringent standards, of course, than the journalistic world.

I'm not, at all, denying that they have identified some clear-cut cases of plagiarism which should demand some accounting from Zakaria (although as plagiarism goes they're pretty minor--that is, if he just peppered a few quotation marks around the problem would be solved; it's not like they're crucial pieces of independent argument--he hasn't copied whole essays or swiped central, innovative theses; he's been a bit sloppy about incorporating and attributing some "background fact" passages. These are "rap over the knuckles" offenses, not "OMG we have to fire him immediately!!" offenses). But they wildly over-egg the custard by trying to pretend that every time they can ever find any string of words in Zakaria's prose which has appeared in anyone else's prose that must be plagiarism. Surely you agree it is laughable to suggest--as they do--that using the name of an organization which is also used in your source is "plagiarism"?

("the rise of the concept of the author constitutes the privileged moment of individualization in the history of ideas, knowledge, literature, philosophy, and the sciences" is from Foucault's "What is an Author"?)
posted by yoink at 9:58 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yes, let's definitely cavil about adjectives and a few oversold examples while a rich and famous guy who's just been revealed as a serial violator of the bedrock ethical principles of his field is not just getting away with it, but indeed being congratulated for it.

I don't really consider 'properly citing sources' as a 'bedrock ethical principal' of journalism. I think focusing on technical bullshit like this lets people get away with other more egregious violations like "selling bullshit narratives to the masses for the benefit of the elite." Stuff like this is like arguing about whether a director technically violated union regulations on the catering table instead of like "Is the movie any good?"

Who gives a shit if he properly cites where he gets the bullshit he's trying to sell you from.
posted by empath at 9:59 AM on August 25, 2014


Man, wait until you guys hear what Žižek did.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 10:00 AM on August 25, 2014


It is an amazing testament to the don't-rock-the-boat complacency of the American corporate media that the guy still has a job and isn't a pariah, never mind the smarmy backpatters queueing up to defend him — of whose creepy brown-nosed log-rolling, the most ridiculous and fantastic example has to be Fawaz Gerges himself, "delighted" to be plagiarized.

Odd because Gerges isn't primarily an employee of the media nor is he American.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:38 AM on August 25, 2014


In popular understanding, however, outside of journalism and academia,

Ok but Zakaria is a journalist and former academic so shouldn't we be using the definition of plagiarism that applies to this case?

rather than just thanking them for the public service of documenting a bunch of obvious wrongdoing

I disagree that there was a bunch of obvious wrongdoing, or more accurately, remain to be convinced that there was a bunch of obvious wrongdoing.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:43 AM on August 25, 2014


Okay, is Gerges seriously the strongest charge against him? That's a really sloppy and unclear citation, but hardly a hanging offense. That's the sort of thing I would expect the editor to catch. It's certainly not "without attribution" as claimed above.

Is there an actual strongest charge? I'm all set to not like this guy even more, but this is weak if the Gerges passage is the headshot.
posted by spaltavian at 10:58 AM on August 25, 2014


Using quotation marks when using (some) words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs, as well as properly crediting sources when paraphrasing, are both crucial to both academia and journalism. For the writer/scholar, citing sources enhances your credibility with readers, and the closer your sources are to the original, the better. So if Zakaria is going back to get data from, for example, official U.S. government sources, it can only help him to say so - in his writings, not just after the fact when his ethics are challenged.

In addition, citing *weak* sources (when they are the best available) can help your credibility, as it demonstrates your awareness that some of your data/information may be shaky or disputed.

Even more fundamental: do unto others. Give credit where it is due. Be generous, and if you must err, be generous to a fault.

Zakaria has nothing to lose by giving credit to his sources, and everything to gain, including a lot of goodwill from those whose work he uses to create his own material. Yes, it's more work, and if Zakaria is pressed for time to do the grunt work himself, no doubt he can afford to hire one or two very good researchers to give him a hand.

Also important is that there is a big difference between one or a few instances of unintentional plagiarism, and many (or regular) instances. There's no excuse for not apologizing (and making things right) in the first case. In the second case, there's simply no excuse — it's not right in either journalism or academia because it's fundamentally a lousy way to behave.
posted by young_simba at 11:01 AM on August 25, 2014


Is there an actual strongest charge?

No, that's it, basically. But apparently this does not prevent people from descending into complete holier than thou rants, such as RogerB, above. I don't know who this dude is, and perhaps he's indeed Hitler incarnate, but as far as the plagiarism charge goes, well, if I caught one of my students doing that, I would indeed have some stern words with them.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 11:02 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


this is weak if the Gerges passage is the headshot

Well, as usual these guys kind of mess up the presentation even on their strongest case. They start with the incredibly weak case of the paragraph which acknowledges Gerges twice and cry shrilly about how Gerges isn't in the footnotes!!! But they do have a strong case on the subsequent paragraph. I think Zakaria probably thought it was obvious that that paragraph was continuing to cite/paraphrase Gerges, but it's not contextually clear and it could easily be mistaken by the reader for original research. As I say, this is definitely grounds for a rap on the knuckles and a correction in subsequent editions (or, as this is, I think, an e-book only version they could just amend it). But no, it's not the "FINISH HIM!" moment the bloggers seem to think.
posted by yoink at 11:18 AM on August 25, 2014


FWIW, the Gerges stuff is in the follow-up post. The first post on this is more illustrative of straight up copypasta, especially the article on Chinese movies and the article about the stunning filibuster percentage.
posted by chavenet at 11:32 AM on August 25, 2014


No, that's it, basically.

No, that's not it. The Korb example is another one, filled with extensive direct lifting and information from a study by Korb, et al, and presented in largely the same order for the same purpose, with no citation or reference to the study that produced it. None.

Honestly, I'm at a real loss to understand the "it's not plagiarism" crowd here, unless they haven't read the original article or its follow-ups closely.

Anyway, the bloggers claim they have more, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if they do. In most of these cases where someone is caught plagiarizing extended passages, there's a long history. But if the Korb and Gerges don't seem like plagiarism to some folks, all I can do is shrug and recognize sometimes humans live on different planets.

Me, I live on a planet where plagiarism is a pretty damn serious offense.
posted by mediareport at 11:34 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's all sort of an interesting case study in spin, this. The lede here ought to be "Twitter randos understand traditional old-media journalistic ethics better than actual famous journalist guy," a classic man-bites-dog story eliciting anti-establishment sympathy for the Internet little guy unseating the fraudulent big guy. But somehow instead through a combination of self-defeating overselling and bad framing, and because Zakaria quickly got out in front of the story with his and his friends' minimizing dismissals and distortions, and maybe also because of the weirdly predictable way that half the people in any given discussion on the Internet don't care about plagiarism (as an ethical question, that is, rather than just an arbitrary social code of etiquette), all that potential juice is being squandered and the story is just going to die in a storm of pettifogging bunfights.
posted by RogerB at 11:34 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


weirdly predictable way that half the people in any given discussion on the Internet don't care about plagiarism (as an ethical question, that is, rather than just an arbitrary social code of etiquette),

Um, the people in this thread who are pushing back against the narrative that Zakaria is the devil are mostly academics who are intimately familiar with the standards of what is and what is not plagiarism.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:36 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Which makes it doubly strange to me that they're not seeing the plagiarism here.
posted by mediareport at 11:39 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


A few days after it was published, Korb wrote a letter to the Washington post defending Zakaria's article that supposedly plagiarized him.

That would have been a nice time to say he had been plagiarized had he been -- more likely, he was an uncredited source for Zakaria's article.

Hell, he was a credited source:

Lawrence Korb, who worked at the Pentagon for Ronald Reagan, believes that a $1 trillion cut over 10 to 12 years is feasible without compromising national security.
posted by empath at 11:47 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


empath, that letter is unrelated to any plagiarism charges, and there could be plenty of reasons not to introduce them in a letter to the editor about something else. The fact remains that Zakaria's piece does not follow standard requirements for quoting others' work. It's plagiarism by any standard.

And, as pointed out by the bloggers who brought it up, the fact that Korb was credited elsewhere in Zakaria's piece for another brief quote, but not for the extensive data and framing that was lifted almost word-for-word, doesn't help his case. Hell, I'd say it makes it worse by implying Korb had been properly credited when he clearly hadn't.
posted by mediareport at 11:52 AM on August 25, 2014


the only ones from the first link that are convincing to me are the first entry and last. but many of the other claims are huge stretches.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:00 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Me, I live on a planet where plagiarism is a pretty damn serious offense.

Me too. I also live on a planet where the Gerges example is sloppy quoting, but has been trotted out in this thread as a smoking gun in near-theatrical language.

If there's a stronger example that can be demonstrated clearly and soberly, I wouldn't mind hearing it. As I said, I already don't like the guy. The Our Bad Media people, seem to expect me to sift through a lot of really weak or incorrect exhibits.
posted by spaltavian at 12:04 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


You know, being in academics, maybe I just see out and out plagiarism too often that I am inoculated against minor forms.

I have to read a 100 papers trying to express the same idea, e.g., is it too easy or too difficult to get a new drug approved into the marketplace? There are only so many ways you can comment on this. Since I know students are not going to do original research on this (it is not part of the assignment), I know they are going to rely on one of a limited number internet or textbook treatises.

I do not grade off for the student who completely rephrases something from Wikipedia. (I weary of it but I certainly don't consider it plagiarism). I do not grade off for someone who cites a cost figure for getting a new drug from discovery to approval without attribution to source. These numbers are kicked around everywhere.

To be plagiarism the student would have to be passing off wording or concepts as their own. As for wording, it has to be more than a clause that is copied. And, as for concepts, well there are only so many around a particular topic that it is really hard to say anything original.

Okay, should I put a pundit at a higher standard? Yes and no. I know pundits are not going to be using their own research. I am aware Zakaria didn't count the years since Greek independence and determine how many were in default. He even started his sentence with "By one estimate..." No, he doesn't have to cite who he took that estimate from. In an opinion column?

I consider plagiarism a serious charge and not something that should be alleged around articles just because they contain the same facts. I suspect nothing will happen to Zakaria because of these allegations. This is not because his bosses are cowed. It's because they actually do understand journalistic standards.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:06 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Which makes it doubly strange to me that they're not seeing the plagiarism here.

We see, and explicitly acknowledge, that there are a few fairly minor cases of plagiarism here. We're simply more struck by the massive overreach of the case put forward than we are by those few genuinely compelling examples. Which, in the end, don't really amount to all that much. They certainly shouldn't be ignored. Zakaria's editors should have a frowny-face conversation with him. But you're surely not suggesting that they amount to some sort of Scarlet Letter which should prevent him from ever working in the field again?
posted by yoink at 12:07 PM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is the most damning example:

NYT: " Of the 500 big companies in the well-known Standard & Poor’s stock index, 115 paid a total corporate tax rate — both federal and otherwise — of less than 20 percent over the last five years, according to an analysis of company reports done for The New York Times by Capital IQ, a research firm. Thirty-nine of those companies paid a rate less than 10 percent."

Zakaria: "And yet, of the 500 big companies in the Standard & Poor's stock index, 115 paid a total corporate tax rate--both federal and otherwise--of less than 20% over the past five years. Thirty-nine of those companies paid a rate of less than 10%."


Which isn't that egregious, esp. since its an op-ed.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:11 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Which, in the end, don't really amount to all that much.

My last editor would have kicked my ass around the office if I tried the shit in the Gerges and Korb examples. And if I'd done it a second time? If I was lucky he'd be telling me there better not be a third. We've got a serial plagiarist here with examples going back years. Like I said, it won't surprise me to find out there are more.
posted by mediareport at 12:18 PM on August 25, 2014


It is an amazing testament to the don't-rock-the-boat complacency of the American corporate media that the guy still has a job and isn't a pariah, never mind the smarmy backpatters queueing up to defend him

I'm no Fareed fan and find your characterizations appalling. Get some perspective and consider a more nuanced view especially of your fellow MeFites. Maybe there's a reason people aren't as outraged as you'd like.
posted by aydeejones at 12:23 PM on August 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


My last editor would have kicked my ass around the office if I tried the shit in the Gerges and Korb examples.

The Gerges example is from what I think is a Kindle-only update to a book. There probably wasn't a whole lot of editorial input, which might be one reason that this slipped through. The Korb one is actually pretty weak tea. It's an op-ed piece. One very, very rarely sees any detailed sourcing in op-ed pieces and for good reason. There is no default assumption that the writer is putting forward original research; the default assumption is that they're offering us a reflection upon the news, rather than bringing us the news. Op-eds are full of unsourced "in the last 12 years, 253 cases of feral squid attacks have been recorded in Minnesota" type claims and we never assume that the writer personally researched and came up with that number. What we're reading that writer for is to get their opinion that the feral squid attacks are all the fault of the gays or a lack of federal funding for squid research or what have you.

Were you writing op-ed pieces for that "last editor" mediareport? Because I think rather different standards would (and should) apply on that page and on the news pages.
posted by yoink at 12:32 PM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


Both straight journalism and a regular opinion column, yoink. In neither of them would extended lifting of sentences and ideas without attribution been allowed to pass.

Again, we're not talking about unsourced brief statistics in an op-ed. We're talking about multiple plagiarized sentences used without citation. There's no op-ed standard that allows that.
posted by mediareport at 12:38 PM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


consider a more nuanced view especially of your fellow MeFites

Oh, I'm sorry if that paragraph came across as slagging people in the thread; it certainly wasn't meant to. I meant it as a condemnation only of the journalists and media people who've rushed to defend Zakaria and echo his weaselly denials, but I can see how it might've seemed otherwise.
posted by RogerB at 12:39 PM on August 25, 2014


We're talking about multiple plagiarized sentences used without citation

Not in the Korb example I'm looking at. Is there more than one case involving Korb? In the one I'm looking at (the first "Korb" hit in the first link) he basically just uses the facts they cite; claims about lifting "whole sentences" are quite unfounded.
posted by yoink at 12:43 PM on August 25, 2014


I just want to note what a delicious bit of snark alongside modern-day Aristotles like Thomas Friedman and Malcolm Gladwell is.
posted by naoko at 12:47 PM on August 25, 2014


In neither of them would extended lifting of sentences

where does this happen? I only saw one sentence that almost exactly matched someone elses.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:57 PM on August 25, 2014


And plenty of others that show a clear pattern of copy, tweak, paste. The chance that any one example is coincidental is appreciable, but all of them? Come on.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:00 PM on August 25, 2014


I don't think anyone is denying that he plagiarized, only that the evidence is pretty weak and they are minor examples of it. He'll probably have to retake the class.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:03 PM on August 25, 2014


The evidence is very strong that he worked to alter the words enough to get past trivial comparisons and avoid attribution. Trying to minimize it with yuk yuk phrasing doesn't change that.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:22 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


And plenty of others that show a clear pattern of copy, tweak, paste.

But when all you're taking from someone is a bunch of facts and figures (which is, in fact, all he is doing in the Korb case, which was being held up as particularly damning, all you can do, really, is "copy, tweak, paste." I mean, there really aren't all that many different ways to say that "we are now spending about $250 billion per year more than during the Cold War." And it's not clear to me that normal journalistic standards would required that that fact, qua fact, would have to attributed to a specific source when writing an op-ed column. It is certainly the case that I see op-ed columns every day that offer facts of that sort which I presume not to be the result of original research and which are not given sources. So either we're saying "the damning fault is citing this fact without crediting the source"--which would seem to me to be clearly contrary to normal newspaper op-ed norms, or we're saying "the damning fault is copying the phrasing too closely!" But if it's the latter, well--how close is "too close"? "...we spent $250 billion more than average US defense expenditures during the Cold War" seems to me to be about as "unlike" the original as you could reasonably expect it to be and still be an idiomatic English sentence.

And the problem with waving your hand and saying "o.k., o.k., but it's not just this one case, it's ALL these cases!!!" is that we're looking here at what have been held up as the most damning and most serious cases--and they just don't really hold all that much water. So ALL those other cases must be pretty thin gruel.
posted by yoink at 2:06 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why you think he'd want to go through all that work to avoid attribution? He's mostly 'plagiarizing' from people that he knows personally and with permission or ideological allies. Ethically it feels like more of a ghost-writing situation than a plagiary situation.
posted by empath at 2:07 PM on August 25, 2014


Agreed yoink, but its not the case that all of these examples are times where Zakaria was trying to say a simple thing and there are just few variations on it. It is clear that this was copied and pasted:

NYT: "...115 paid a total corporate tax rate — both federal and otherwise — of less than 20 percent..."

Zakaria: ... 115 paid a total corporate tax rate--both federal and otherwise--of less than 20% over..."

Note that 'both federal and otherwise' is a kinda awkward phrasing, I find it much much more likely that he copied and pasted rather than came up with that phrase on his own.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:11 PM on August 25, 2014


Oh for sure--as I said way back, there are undoubtedly cases here of genuine plagiarism and he deserves a rap on the knuckles for them. But they're few and relatively minor.
posted by yoink at 2:29 PM on August 25, 2014


there really aren't all that many different ways to say that "we are now spending about $250 billion per year more than during the Cold War."

I thought the argument was that even paraphrasing was plagiarism -- that basically any sentence expressing that thought would require a citation.
posted by tyllwin at 4:21 PM on August 25, 2014


He is presenting analysis done by other people as his own work, in addition to lazily ripping off full sentences with word swaps. Whether that fits one's narrowly defined conception of plagiarism or not, this is disappointing.
posted by pixelrevolt at 4:23 PM on August 25, 2014


He is presenting analysis done by other people as his own work

Does anyone really think that guys like him analyze anything? All of them basically re-write press releases and papers from think tanks.
posted by empath at 4:46 PM on August 25, 2014


It's not what we think, it's what he passes himself off as. He's supposed to be among the more serious, egghead-y analysts of international affairs, or as close as you can get to that on the network that brings you holographic correspondents and crashed plane simulators.
posted by tonycpsu at 4:54 PM on August 25, 2014


the argument was that even paraphrasing was plagiarism

The argument has shifted wildly depending on the particular case. Up above, when I pointed out that it's perfectly acceptable within the normal parameters of op-ed writing not to cite all your sources, the comeback was "multiple plagiarized sentences used without citation." When it turns out that that's not actually true it's "presenting analysis done by other people as his own work." But it's not "analysis--it's findings. His opinions are about those findings--but he's not presenting the findings as the reason for reading his piece.

Again, there are real transgressions here and real things to complain about, but it seems to me that some people just have a real hate-on for Fareed Zakaria and are looking for any reason to slam him.
posted by yoink at 6:36 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Fareed Zakaria, isn't he the new Fouad Ajami?
posted by BinGregory at 7:38 PM on August 25, 2014


That's just so blatantly false it's astonishing he's trying to get away with it.

Right-wing pundits have been getting away with writing blatantly false things for decades. It'd be astonishing if he didn't try to obfuscate his way out of this situation; the risk-reward equation is all in his favor and he knows it.
posted by Gelatin at 5:04 AM on August 26, 2014


New post!
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:05 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


This has been a weirdly slow-burning story. Finally picked up by Dylan Byers in Politico and there's now an Esquire piece by the two pseudonymous Tweeters. CNN's own media reporter Brian Stelter says he's "trying" to get an interview with Zakaria.
posted by RogerB at 2:23 PM on September 22, 2014


And another new post, this one about Zakaria's work for Slate, has garnered an, uh, interesting reaction from the site's top guy. The fake, more honest headlines for the Slate articles in the first paragraph are a nice touch.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:20 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


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