Edward Jay Epstein “submits that Fareed Zakaria is not guilty of plagiarism.” I submit that Epstein doesn’t understand what the word means.

I won’t dwell on this for too long, but: Last week, Fareed Zakaria was suspended from both Time and CNN for plagiarizing a portion of a column (for Time) and a blog post (for CNN) on gun control from a New Yorker article by Jill Lepore. When this came to light, Zakaria immediately 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 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.

This was the classy and correct thing to do; after all, this wasn’t a close-call type of case: An entire, 68-word paragraph of Zakaria’s CNN piece had appeared, word-for-word, in Lepore’s essay.  In his Time column, Zakaria changed around a few words but also borrowed a couple of more sentences. Here’s Zakaria in Time (the identical words are in bold):

Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA, documents the actual history in Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America. Guns were regulated in the U.S. from the earliest years of the Republic. Laws that banned the carrying of concealed weapons were passed in Kentucky and Louisiana in 1813Other states soon followed: Indiana in 1820Tennessee and Virginia in 1838Alabama in 1839 and Ohio in 1859Similar laws were passed in Texas, Florida and Oklahoma. As the governor of Texas (Texas!) explained in 1893, the “mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder. To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law-abiding man.”

And here’s Lepore in The New Yorker:

As Adam Winkler, a constitutional-law scholar at U.C.L.A., demonstrates in a remarkably nuanced new book, “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” firearms have been regulated in the United States from the start. Laws banning the carrying of concealed weapons were passed in Kentucky and Louisiana in 1813, and other states soon followed: Indiana (1820), Tennessee and Virginia (1838), Alabama (1839), and Ohio (1859). Similar laws were passed in Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma. As the governor of Texas explained in 1893, the “mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder. To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law-abiding man.”

I bring this up only because of a Daily Beast piece in which Edward Jay Epstein admonishes the “feeding frenzy of bloggers” going after “‘gotcha’ bait” — and then goes on to argue that Zakaria isn’t even guilty of plagiarism because Zakaria credited the scholar whose ideas he was discussing — i.e., Adam Winkler. (I’m not making this up.) If copying multiple sentences, word for word, doesn’t count as “the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own,” then what does?

 

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8 Responses to Edward Jay Epstein “submits that Fareed Zakaria is not guilty of plagiarism.” I submit that Epstein doesn’t understand what the word means.

  1. Pingback: Gun Law News 8/13/2012 « Gun Laws By State

  2. jre says:

    I read as much of the commentary at the Beast as I could endure. Surprisingly (to me, at least), no one seems to be making the obvious point that a responsible writer uses accepted stylistic conventions — inverted commas, indented blocks, italics — to separate the words of others from his or her own. Zakaria did not do that, saw that he had erred, and owned up to the error. What’s to argue about?

  3. Julien Gorbach says:

    Zakaria isn’t worth defending because of his generally sloppy sourcing, which leaves all of his work open to question. But it’s plagiarism now if you repeat that someone is a scholar of–let’s put this in bold now–”constitutional law at UCLA”? Or that laws “banning concealed weapons” (how dare he steal such an apt and original phrase!) were passed in such-and-such years in such-and-such states? Give me a break! If that’s plagiarism, how are you supposed to pass along basic facts, never mind the gist of insights or arguments, that you glean from one source or another? To put it another way, how does Seth Mnookin advise writers to convey this argument and the facts that support it (the specific laws and the years they were passed) in an ethical and concise manner? And if this is indeed plagiarism, how many others are we going to find out there who have committed the same offense?
    One final point: guides to historical methods argue that good history is built upon primary sources and that secondary sources may be useful in helping a researcher identify primary ones. James D. Startt and William David Sloan’s Historical Methods in Mass Communication, for example, further advises that “researchers should always track down the original secondary source.” (See Chapter 7, “Historical Sources and Their Evaluation,” p. 162-163 in the 2003 edition.) In the case we are discussing, none of the sources are primary, but at least both journalists, Lepore and Zakaria, attribute their information to Winkler, the scholar who conducted the original research. That to me seems appropriate.

  4. Pingback: Fareed Zakaria: ‘People are piling on with every grudge or vendetta’ | Astrid Bidanec

  5. Pingback: Fareed Zakaria’s Plagiarism Is up for Debate | Freedom Report

  6. jb says:

    Epstein and several commentators here simply misunderstand the complaint about Zakaria. Zakaria is accused of lifting whole paragraphs and sentences from the New Yorker article by Jill Lepore in which she quotes Winkler (and correctly attributes her quotations). In short, Zakaria is accused of plagiarizing Lepore, if one can put it that way, because he used her paragraphs and sentences as though they were his own by failing to use quotation marks around the words he really was quoting and by failing to credit Lepore as his source.

  7. Pingback: Links 8/17/12 | Mike the Mad Biologist

  8. Jack Dunn says:

    Seth,
    You and I met in South Hadley at a bookstore after you gave a talk. It was during the controversy over Dan Brown and his Plagiarism. I told you then he copied my book The Vatican Boys (1997) to use as the structure for The Da Vinci Code (2003). In the next few years I went back to writing 3 books, one which won me a national writing award. During signings people kept telling me Brown had copied my book first into Angels & Demons. I looked, he did. I filed a second lawsuit in 2010. In the last 1/1/2 years it has been a joke in the federal courts, first with the district court documenting similarities, then calling them not, then the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirming the decision by affirming an evidence inspection not done by the district court. I have file a petition at the Supreme Court now. The reason I am wring you is that you were the first one who had courage to face Brown and his Plagiarism. I protested 8/28/12 at the federal court building in Boston. A few marshalls and homeland security officers came over to ask us what we were doing. I told them. They replied, “It does sound suspicious,” and “everyone knows Brown is dirty”. But Seth, the federal courts have blocked a Jury trial. The reason is that the evidence, Brown copying in Angels & Demons is Child’s Play. There is word for word, plenty of it. His character Langdon is created on the first page of A&D with my text, in a dream copied form my book. Every charcater in my book is copied in sequence into A&D. But, the courts refused to allow us to present to a jury. Why? Well it seems Brown grew up at Phillips Exeter Academy. Some graduates of the Academy are Chuch Harris, ceo of Goldman Sachs, Gregory Craig, White House chief Obama counsel, John Negroponte, director of national Intelligence, and twenty more people active in the federal governmnent and the bail-out banks. Its a club, Seth. Now since you wrote part 1 of the Dan Brown scandal, it would seem fitting that you write the fanale. Someone will, because once it breaks Brown’s Plagiarism is going to be exposed and a lot of good will come from it. My only concern is that you are published by S&S, and they published Brown’s A&D, and were named in the lawsuit. But, and it is another but, we both know that unlike Random House S&S is a great publisher. They just got conned like Ron Howard and Tom Hanks by Dan Brown. When the story breaks they will all support anyone who holds in high esteem, copyrights, and does not condone Brown’s Plagiarism in any media form.

    Jack Dunn

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