This morning, the blog Our Bad Media posted twelve allegations of what they call plagiarism that was committed by Fareed Zakaria, who has written for Time Magazine, CNN, and the Washington Post among others. Now, Zakaria is responding to these allegations.
In August 2012, CNN, Time and the Washington Post separately conducted extensive reviews of my commentary. As one part of this process, they ran my columns and cover stories (which span over 20 years) through software programs designed to detect plagiarism. All three informed me that the reviews cleared me fully.
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. These are all facts, not someone else’s writing or opinions or expressions. For example, in one column, I note that the national debt tripled under Ronald Reagan. The bloggers point out that this is also in Wikipedia’s Reagan entry. But it is also in hundreds of other articles, studies, and reports — just Google the phrase. Until today, I had never read the Wikipedia entry for Ronald Reagan. As it happens, it is incorrect. (There is a difference between “public debt” – Wikipedia’s words — and national debt.)
My usual procedure with a piece of data that I encounter is to check it out, going as close to the original source as is possible. If the data is government generated (GDP, spending on pensions, tax rates, defense spending, etc) then I often don’t cite a source since it is in the public domain. If it is a study or survey produced by a think tank, then I usually cite the institution that conducted the survey. In many of these cases, there was a link in my column to the source. This was not always possible, however, because Time magazine, for example, did not always allow for links. My columns are often data-heavy, so I try to use common sense, putting a source into the text when it was necessary.
In many of the columns cited by the bloggers, I found the data they refer to in a primary source not the secondary one that they highlight. For example, in my column that mentions Greece’s debt, I noted that “one estimate” suggests that Greece has been in default for half of its existence since its independence. The bloggers found a Businessweek article that had the same fact. But I didn’t get it from there; I never read that article. The “estimate” I refer to is in the scholarly book by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, “This Time It’s Different” – which I did read. The Businessweek article, incidentally, does not cite the Rogoff book or any source at all for the same fact Does that mean that the Businessweek author was claiming that he was the source for it? No, of course not, because it was a fact in wide circulation at the time.
There is one additional case – the 12th — that involves, not a piece of data, but a quote from Richard Holbrooke that also appeared in a George Packer essay in the New Yorker. I got that from a direct conversation with Holbrooke in person several months before he died. He had made that particular comment to me many times. I asked him in this case if I could quote him. He agreed. I put it into my notebook, marked, “for attribution.”
TKNN will continue to monitor this story. For more, including responses from the Washington Post, CNN, and Time Magazine, read TKNN’s article.
(h/t: Politico’s Dylan Byers)