Fareed Zakaria Sure Looks Like He Stole From The New Yorker [Updated]

By
Zakaria. Photo: Paul Marotta/Paul Marotta

Gentlemen, start your engines and then drive to a bookstore and pick up some books authored by Fareed Zakaria and check them for plagiarism! Newsbusters has noticed that a passage from a recent Zakaria article on gun control in Time is very, very similar to a passage from an April New Yorker article by Jill Lepore. Here's Lepore's:

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."

And here's Zakaria's:

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 1813. Other states soon followed: Indiana in 1820, Tennessee and Virginia in 1838, Alabama in 1839 and Ohio in 1859. Similar 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."

As you can see, Zakaria does not lift Lepore's passage word for word. He tweaks the language ever so slightly — enough, in his mind, perhaps, that crediting Lepore in any way was no longer required. It's shady. If you're going to rewrite an entire passage, with only the most imperceptible and inconsequential alterations, you might as well just quote the passage and source it to the person who wrote it. Otherwise, you are taking credit for work that isn't yours. This is generally frowned upon.

The Atlantic Wire has been "told" that Zakaria "will be releasing an apology shortly," while a Time statement says it "takes any accusation of plagiarism by any of our journalists very seriously, and we will carefully examine the facts before saying anything else on the matter." We've asked Lepore for her reaction and have yet to hear back.

The best-case explanation is that Zakaria's transgression was the result of sloppiness, as opposed to intentional deceptiveness. But this isn't even the first time that Zakaria has been accused of taking ownership of another writer's work. We hope those are the only examples and that there's no larger pattern of plagiarism here. But, if there is, the Internet will find it, eventually, once it has a reason to look. Ask Jonah Lehrer.

Update: Zakaria's apology, via Atlantic Wire:

"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."

Update II: Zakaria has been suspended. The full statement from Time, via Dylan Byers:

TIME accepts Fareed's apology, but what he did violates our own standards for our columnists, which is that their work must not only be factual but original; their views must not only be their own but their words as well. As a result, we are suspending Fareed's column for a month, pending further review.