Opinion

Three major publications have acknowledged plagiarism by Fareed Zakaria. Does CNN have no shame?

The network appears to be betting that the scandal will blow over

It's been nearly two months since we last took a look at the plagiarism scandal surrounding Fareed Zakaria, whose many ethical lapses have been chronicled by the pseudonymous bloggers @crushingbort and @blippoblappo. Since then, things have only gotten worse for Zakaria: seven of his Newsweek columns (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), one Slate column, and four Washington Post columns (1, 2, 3, 4) have been affixed with editor's notes essentially admitting to acts of plagiarism.

Among Zakaria's current and former employers, that leaves only Time and CNN that have yet to respond to the latest charges. Zakaria doesn't even work at Time anymore, but the magazine has not released the results of a review that it announced back in August. (A representative at Time did not respond for a request for comment.) This column, for example, has no note recognizing the fact that it contains language swiped verbatim from a David Leonhardt story from The New York Times.

The Post will reportedly keep Zakaria on as a contributor. That doesn't speak well of the Post's standards, but at least the paper addressed the controversy and admitted some fault.

CNN, on the other hand, has been persistently ignoring or whitewashing the scandal. (CNN also did not respond to a request for comment.) The network brass have stonewalled others by handing out some variation of "CNN has complete confidence in Zakaria" over and over. They even fed that line to their own media critic Brian Stelter, host of CNN's Reliable Sources, who did a short segment on the story back in September:

It's an illuminating piece. While he did grudgingly admit that Zakaria might have borrowed a line or two without proper citation, Stelter did not discuss any of the specific allegations in detail, and did not even allude to the most damning case, in which Zakaria's script copied verbatim segments from a documentary. He noted that hosts of television shows often don't write the scripts, while acknowledging that Zakaria has failed to clear up the matter of authorship in any way, a conspicuous silence that includes declining to be a guest on Stelter's show. (Stelter also did not respond to a request for comment.)

Most egregiously, he kept dismissing the gravity of the charges, saying that Zakaria had merely "made some attribution mistakes — a small number, to be fair." But a simple attribution mistake can still fit squarely in the definition of plagiarism, which, according to the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, "consists of using someone else’s words, phrases, sentences, or ideas without giving credit." In other words, what Zakaria's show did is still plagiarism, such as the time when Zakaria swiped the numbers from this Economist piece (spotted by Our Bad Media) — notable because they were out of date by the time he aired them. (Indeed, you could argue that this brand of plagiarism is worse, since it's harder to detect.)

After months of hounding, three top-shelf publications have at least admitted to some wrongdoing by Zakaria. But it appears a whitewash job is the best CNN can muster.

You have to wonder: Does the network have any shame left at all?

The situation is sadly ironic for CNN, for even if you take the latest controversy into account, Zakaria is probably the network's best host. I've watched his program many times, and it's generally head and shoulders above, say, the segments speculating whether the missing plane got sucked into a black hole or whether Ebola is the ISIS of biological agents.

But the longer CNN avoids an honest reckoning with this scandal, the more its reputation will be tarnished. Jon Stewart was on Zakaria's show last weekend promoting his new movie Rosewater, and towards the end Zakaria tried to get him to praise CNN's coverage. It didn't work.

More From...

Picture of Ryan CooperRyan Cooper
Read All
American workers are fed up
A striking worker.
Opinion

American workers are fed up

The European right is in retreat
European politicians.
Opinion

The European right is in retreat

Democratic disaster in Virginia
A donkey.
Opinion

Democratic disaster in Virginia

The case for spending our way through inflation
Industry.
Opinion

The case for spending our way through inflation

Recommended

House Democrats Mike Doyle and David Price announce retirements
Rep. David Price.
time to say goodbye

House Democrats Mike Doyle and David Price announce retirements

California had its driest year since 1924
Dry cracked land in California.
climate change

California had its driest year since 1924

COVID is already reshaping the public health workforce
Abandoned mask.
looking ahead

COVID is already reshaping the public health workforce

Large employers fear vaccine mandates will chase away workers. But 'real world data tells a different story.'
Biden discusses vaccines
vaccination nation

Large employers fear vaccine mandates will chase away workers. But 'real world data tells a different story.'

Most Popular

Sicilian Catholic diocese bans godparents
Baptism at Vatican
'It's an experiment'

Sicilian Catholic diocese bans godparents

Halloween Kills scores best pandemic debut for a horror film
Halloween Kills
purely and simply evil

Halloween Kills scores best pandemic debut for a horror film

The American 'Great Resignation' by the numbers
Help wanted sign
Help Wanted

The American 'Great Resignation' by the numbers