Why does Fareed Zakaria still have a job?
For a month now, anonymous investigative journalists @crushingbort and @blippoblappo have been building a devastating case at their site Our Bad Media that CNN and Washington Post star Fareed Zakaria has committed dozens of acts of plagiarism and intellectual dishonesty. But Zakaria has not been hounded out of his job and shamed in the public square, as one would expect. Instead, he continues to go about his business as if nothing happened, revealing a disturbing double standard in the media industry.
The story begins back in 2012, when Zakaria was caught lifting from The New Yorker's Jill Lepore. He fessed up and apologized. His employers at CNN, Time, and The Washington Post all conducted reviews, declared he was otherwise clean, and reinstated him.
But he wasn't clean. Our Bad Media found numerous instances similar to the Lepore flap in articles that Zakaria's employers had supposedly reviewed. Then, when his employers brushed @crushingbort and @blippoblappo off, they found even more examples. Then they investigated his book, and found some more. Then they examined his CNN show, and found 26 more examples, as well as another from the very first article he wrote for The New Republic back in 1987.
This example is perhaps most striking, in which a segment on his CNN show outright repeats passages from an obscure documentary:
Some of the examples Our Bad Media has turned up are blatant instances of verbatim copy pasting. Others rephrase and lift ideas and original research without attribution, which is still plagiarism. Some of these may be accidental, but the weight of the evidence makes a crushing circumstantial case.
This is especially so when you consider several occasions in which he repeated facts that were out of date. During his show on April 29, 2012, he restated several facts about "last year" from this 2011 Economist piece — but didn't update them with current data, making them inaccurate. The idea that all of this is a coincidence simply beggars belief.
Politico's media reporter Dylan Byers took a hard look at the evidence and essentially concluded that Our Bad Media has Zakaria dead to rights. After speaking with some journalism professors over email, he concluded:
For years now, Zakaria has made a habit of borrowing facts, language, and style from other sources without attributing the work to its original authors, and he has presented such material as if it were his own. [Politico]
Nevertheless, elite institutions appear to be circling the wagons. "I thought it was so far from a case of plagiarism that it made me question the entire enterprise," Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt scoffed to Byers. CNN emailed him a statement saying it has the "highest confidence in the excellence and integrity" of Zakaria's work. Only Time is conducting a review, though Zakaria doesn't work there anymore.
The comparison with Benny Johnson, who was fired by BuzzFeed after Our Bad Media similarly nailed him on plagiarism, is highly illustrative. Johnson also lifted research and language, and did some "patch writing" to cover his tracks. But if anything, Zakaria's sins were worse. Johnson plagiarized to create worthless and offensive listicles about obvious, widely known stories. It was highly unethical, but not particularly harmful.
Zakaria, by contrast, swiped painstaking research about obscure subjects, such as when he bogarted exact language from The New York Times (see here and here) describing an analysis the paper had personally commissioned.
Benny Johnson is a right-wing clown. Fareed Zakaria, on the other hand, is a made man, one of the most famous and widely respected journalists in America. Accordingly, Our Bad Media's findings impugn not just him, but half the journalistic establishment. It's fairly obvious at this point that whatever the Post and CNN did to "review" his work back in 2012 was laughably inadequate. To sack him now would be to admit serious fault.
As Byers put it in a previous post, "The media is reluctant to even question the integrity of its elder statesmen." So far there is no word from CNN or the Post as to whether they will keep Zakaria on. But even if he is eventually fired, the sheer fact that it took this much time and evidence to do it says nothing good about the integrity of our elite media institutions.