It’s gone viral!
This time the evildoer is my college classmate Fareed Zakaria, who, in a column he “wrote” for Time, plagiarized from Jill Lepore in the New Yorker.
The good news is, you’re plagiarizing from a reliable source. The bad news? Apparently a lot of people read the New Yorker.
Conservative media watchdog Newsbusters was the first to spot the similarities between a Zakaria piece on gun control and an article by Jill Lepore that appeared in the New Yorker in April.
Zakaria has quickly apologized:
“Media reporters have pointed out that paragraphs in my Time column this week bear close similarities to paragraphs in Jill Lepore’s essay in the April 22nd issue of The New Yorker. They are right. I made a terrible mistake. It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault. I apologize unreservedly to her, to my editors at Time, and to my readers.”
This apology irritates me somewhat, because while it sounds pretty straight-up, it isn’t. Yes, there were “paragraphs” that were similar, but really, they were more than “similar”—they were almost exactly the same, with a few minor alterations that seemed added to establish that they were not exactly the same. A more candid apology would use the word “plagiarized,” I think.
Fareed is far too smart for this, which makes me think that the Time column was written for him by a ghostwriter. (Hence the “entirely my fault” language–trying to discourage the idea that he didn’t even “write” the damn thing.)
A digression that isn’t really a digression: Back when I was editing the now-infamous Stephen Glass, I once asked Steve how he could be so prolific—simultaneously writing for George, the New Republic, GQ and more. He told me that he had insomnia and got a lot of work done when he should have been sleeping. Great excuse! I totally bought it. Of course, it was all bullshit.
The lesson I took from that experience is that people who seem like they’re doing much more than most of us could do in the same amount of time…probably aren’t really doing it.
We all know, for example, certain Harvard professors who travel the world, sit on the boards of private companies, host television series, attend countless galas, summer in lovely places, teach once in a (long) while…and yet somehow manage to have their names on a long list of books they’ve written, co-written, edited, etc. Which means often that graduate students do a hefty chunk of their work, for which they get job recommendations and a hat tip in the acknowledgements.
So…back to Fareed. He’s got a national magazine column, a weekly TV show, travels around the world, commencement speeches, and probably lots of other stuff that I don’t know about. That doesn’t leave much time for thinking and writing. Anyway, writing a column is hard, unglamorous work. It’s not as fun as hopping a jet to Davos or schmoozing at the Aspen Institute or giving speeches for which you’re paid tens of thousands of dollars.
But…if you say you do it…you kinda have to do it. You can’t leverage all the gravitas you get from writing a column into more lucrative and less demanding pursuits and then not actually write the column. That’s…you know…cheating.
Update: I haven’t even posted yet and already there’s new news. Time has suspended Zakaria.