On Wednesday, two journalists accused former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson of plagiarizing sections of her new book Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts. The first account came from Vice News Tonight correspondent Michael C. Moynihan, who stated that the book’s sections on Vice were “clotted with mistakes” and contained at least six paragraphs lifted from prior reporting about the media outlet. On Twitter, Moynihan provided half-a-dozen examples of Merchants of Truth sections that bear a word-to-word resemblance with writing previously published in places like Time Out, The New Yorker, and the Columbia Journalism Review.
The second account came from journalist Ian Frisch, who had previously reported about Vice for his personal website in 2014. Frisch provided similar images of his work next to passages that appeared in Merchants of Truth:
This is the second round of flack aimed at the former Times editor’s new book. When advance galleys of Merchants of Truth circulated three weeks ago, journalists at Vice pointed out that it contained several errors in the section on their media outlet. (The book documents four news organizations as they navigate the last two decades of media upheaval, and the section on Vice has been reviewed as particularly dismissive.) Vice correspondent Arielle Duhaime-Ross noted a paragraph about her time at Vice that contained up to six errors, including a statement that “wrongly identified me as trans,” while former Vice journalist Jay Caspian Kang corrected Abramson’s claim that Charlottesville is in North Carolina.
Abramson responded to the first round of criticism, stating that the galleys have a “clear disclaimer saying ‘Please do not quote for publication without checking the finished book.’” It’s a fair defense, although Vox pointed out that “it is unusual for major factual errors to linger this far into the book production process, only to be corrected later. By the time galleys are released, it’s more typical for a publisher to be correcting proofreading errors on the level of spelling and grammar.” (Evergreen reminder that most books are not fact-checked.)
In a promotional appearance on Fox News’ The Story on Wednesday, Abramson told host Martha MacCallum that she was “100 percent” certain she did not lift the passages from other reporters. But after the show, she tweeted that she intends to “take seriously the issues raised and will review the passages in question.” She also added that “the attacks on my book from some @vicenews reflect their unhappiness with what I consider a balanced portrayal.”
Abramson’s work has appeared recently in New York, including an excerpt from Merchants of Doubt, an essay on the GOP exploiting #MeToo, and the case for impeaching Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas. In a piece on her daily routine, published this week by the Cut, Abramson said of her interview process, “I do not record. I’ve never recorded. I’m a very fast note-taker. When someone kind of says the ‘it’ thing that I have really wanted, I don’t start scribbling right away. I have an almost photographic memory and so I wait a beat or two while they’re onto something else, and then I write down the previous thing they said. Because you don’t want your subject to get nervous about what they just said.” This was criticized by some journalists as bad advice for those entering the industry.