Cam Edwards and Newsbusters caught him in the act; follow the link to read the offending passage from his new gun-control column side by side with a similar paragraph in a gun-control piece published in April by “The New Yorker.” Not the first time that Zakaria’s been accused of pinching stuff, either. The Atlantic remembers that Jeffrey Goldberg accused him of lifting quotes from Goldberg’s own interviews with Israeli officials. And just this afternoon, Michael Moynihan — who caught The New Yorker’s Jonah Lehrer making up Bob Dylan quotes just two weeks ago — noticed that a sentence in Zakaria’s column on China in the May edition of Time reads a lot like a sentence from a Time story on China published in 1968. If he were a lesser name, he’d probably already have been canned. As it is, I wonder how many lucky Time staffers will end up on the inevitable task force charged with going through his old stuff to see just how bad the problem is.
Daniel Halper at the Standard already has the appropriate alternate headline here, so I’ll simply pose a plaintive question instead: Where will we get our middlebrow liberal conventional wisdom on policy now? Via the Atlantic, Zakaria’s formal apology:
“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 23rd 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.”
Time’s suspended him for a month, no doubt to give their researchers time to check his back catalog. CNN, meanwhile, has suspended him indefinitely because — ta da — he wrote a blog post on their site on the same subject that also included unattributed excerpts. Assuming that this is in fact deliberate plagiarism and not just some bizarre editing mishap or whatever (Zakaria’s apology is a bit ambiguous), I have no earthly idea why anyone would persist in this behavior in the age of Google even if they’ve otherwise made peace with the idea of behaving unethically. We must be nearing the point technologically where search-engine algorithms will be able to detect instantly whether “new” writing on the web has been lifted from someplace else; there’s really no future in practicing this particular “trade.” In Zakaria’s case, the purloined passage comes from a magazine as famous as his own, whose readership probably overlaps substantially with his. It’s irrational in the abstract to risk a highly successful career on plagiarism, but this particular case of apparent plagiarism was so blatant and easily found out that it’s irrational in the details too. Makes me wonder how much of this behavior is calculated and how much is compulsive. Even if you’re crashing on a deadline and desperate for ideas, you’re far better off telling your editor “sorry, I couldn’t finish my column this week” than inviting a clusterfark by going this route. Simply mystifying.
Exit question via John Podhoretz: Could Zakaria maybe have been farming his columns out to an intern or assistant? That would be ethically problematic in its own right, but it might help explain this incident. A young ghostwriter has much less to lose in taking a risk like this and might well be more naive than Zakaria would be about the probability of being caught. Neither J-Pod nor I are trying to make excuses for him, mind you, just spitballing on how to account for something this bizarre.