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UD’s blogpal, Jim Sleeper, asks the question…

…that has to be asked, these days, when anyone even slightly high-profile plagiarizes:

Might [Fareed] Zakaria … have fobbed off the drafting of his ill-fated Time article to an assistant or intern … and given the draft his glancing approval before letting it run under his byline in Time?


There are, of course, varieties of plagiaristic experience (as William James might put it). UD has simplified the matter for you with her tripartite A scheme. There’s:




Jim’s assuming Zakaria’s is the atelier method, a variety made famous by busy Harvard law professors who, to use Jim’s word, appear to fob off much of the writing of their books to student assistants. Other busy Harvard people (Doris Kearns Goodwin) also seem to have gotten to P in this way. You get there not out of ambition (see #2). On the contrary, all of your ambitions have already been realized. Rather, you get there out of grandiosity. Having more than achieved your ambitions, you decide you’re too important to do your own work. Atelier is très pomo, being all about one’s transubstantiation into a simulacrum.

2., Ambition
, is when you’re still young and struggling to be grand. This is Jayson Blair, Jonah Lehrer, Johann Hari, Stephen Glass, Glenn Poshard, Baron von und zu and unter von Googleberg or whatever his name is (put these names in my search engine for details). This is all those eager young German, Romanian, Czech, etc. PhD students panting toward political careers and totally not interested in actually writing something. This is saying yes to every project and assignment that comes your way, and therefore making it impossible to do everything.

Bringing up the rear is Addicted, in which, having been caught plagiarizing, you explain that you do it because you’re a drug or alcohol addict. Addicted is a tricky one, because successful plagiarism takes a steady hand and mucho planning. It’s not the sort of thing you can do staggering down the street. James Frey, Q.R. Markham (again use the search engine), and plenty of others blame their stealing on a deep-seated insecurity which drives them to drink and then the drink clouds their judgment yada yada.


One other thing to keep in mind about plagiarism is the More Principle. There’s always more. Once the guy (Doris alone holds the banner aloft for the girls) is found out, anyone who wants to discover more of his plagiarized work only has to look.

Margaret Soltan, August 11, 2012 7:11AM
Posted in: plagiarism

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15 Responses to “UD’s blogpal, Jim Sleeper, asks the question…”

  1. Tobe Says:

    You are correct about the serial nature of plagiarism. Sort of like the old slogan for Lays potato chips. “Bet you can’t eat just one.” Bet lots of other examples will be found as people start to dig into Zakaria’s writing and CNN work.

  2. Alan Allport Says:

    Frey and Glass may have gotten up to some naughty stuff, but it seems like a stretch to call their actions plagiarism.

  3. theprofessor Says:

    I have no use for Zakaria, but at least he didn’t blame it on an assistant. This was one of the more prompt admissions. Of course, it may have been to forestall further scrutiny of his work.

    Now the intriguing point here is that Fareed and Lepore operate in the same liberal echo chamber, yet said plagiarism was not unveiled by a plucky young Occupier or a grizzled progressive editor at Time, taking a few moments off from transcribing David Axelrod’s Bainful Message of the Day, but a guy from the NRA.

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    tp: Absolutely. It was a conservative publication that found it. As to Zakaria’s not having used the assistant excuse (another A for my list!) – just wait.

  5. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Alan: You’re right that Glass and Frey (not to be confused with Bruno Frey!) were more about making things up — which was also, primarily, Lehrer’s thing. But in Lehrer’s case, and I think in the others as well, there was plagiarism. The two seem to go together.



  6. Alan Allport Says:

    OK, it seems that Frey (in addition to everything else) was accused of plagiarism, though whether the charge had any substance to it is unclear – this happened some years ago. But the Mediabistro article simply seems to be using a sloppy definition. I think it’s important to maintain a clear sense of what plagiarism is and what it isn’t, because using it as a broad-brush synonym for all literary dishonesty makes it harder for people to understand specifically what’s wrong with it. I dislike the term ‘self plagiarism’ for the same reasons – duplicating work is wrong, but it’s not intellectual theft in the sense that true plagiarism is.

  7. Jack/OH Says:

    A senior university staffer’s memo was purportedly lifted in large part from relevant Wikipedia articles. She’d been publicly praised for the memo, according to the very distressed junior colleague who told me the story. If a first offense, this alleged plagiarism ought to have been easy to correct. But, wait, the senior staffer appears to enjoy unusual influence with her superiors, immunizing her against ordinary workplace counseling, guaranteeing her excellent work evaluations, and giving her the freedom to come and go as she pleases. The junior colleague’s story reached at least the threshold of semi-plausibility, something you’d want to mention casually to a responsible administrator. Her distress was caused at least in part by her not knowing a trustworthy university administrator.

  8. jim sleeper Says:

    Thanks for this, Margaret! I do put Zakaria in the Atelier category, and even also — despite his advanced age of 48 — in the Ambition category, as well.

    But to your three marvelous “A”‘s I’ve been thinking of adding a fourth to denote something that might explain his plagiarism in this case if perchance he actually committed it himself: That would be “A” for “Arrogance,” in that, whenever this Zakaria comes across some very good reporting or a felicitous turn of phrase, he simply assumes that he wrote it.

  9. theprofessor Says:

    There seems to be a lot of fuss also over Zakaria giving essentially the same commencement address at Harvard and Duke. To be sure, this is sleazy and tacky, but do these speakers actually have contracts that stipulate an original speech?

  10. Margaret Soltan Says:

    tp: I wouldn’t think contracts were needed. A person who’s gone to the trouble of getting into and graduating from a particular school – Harvard, Duke, Middlebury, the University of Arizona – wants a particular commencement speech. It’s kind of insulting to have your school treated like one more McDonald’s.

    Though I note that plagiarizing or self-plagiarizing commencement speeches is very popular, very much the done thing. Recall that poor Canadian guy.

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