The Real Problem With Fareed Zakaria Isn't His Plagiarism

Borrow a line from the New Yorker and it's a major punishable offense. Repeatedly serve up flawed left-wing conventional wisdom, and you're set.


Piling on to the story of Fareed Zakaria runs counter to some of my favorite journalistic rules.

Never make too big a deal of a plagiarism story, for one thing — given the number of words that pass through most journalists' computers nowadays, and the difficulty sometimes of remembering exactly where you learned that fact or phrase, it's a wonder there aren't more cases.

And kick them while they are up, not when they are down, for another thing. My contrarian instincts are summoning me to defend the now-embattled Mr. Zakaria rather than join in the flurry of attacks.

But I already gave Mr. Zakaria one pass. When Harvard gave him an honorary doctorate this May and made him the main commencement speaker, I was all geared up to write an item expressing disgust with my alma mater's choice. For a variety of reasons, I wound up letting it slide.

Now Mr. Zakaria — a columnist for Time and the Washington Post, a former editor of Newsweek International, a member of Yale University's governing board, the host of a weekly program on CNN — is back in the news for his apology for what he called his "tremendous mistake" and "serious lapse" in lifting paragraphs from a New Yorker article on gun control and putting them into his own column on the same topic. He's reportedly been suspended by Time and CNN.

The whole episode is newsworthy less for what it discloses about Mr. Zakaria's level of originality than for what it says about just how low the standards are for professional journalists. Omit a small phrase of attribution like "As the New Yorker reported," and the punishment is suspension, and the journalist has to abjectly apologize. But consider all the other, arguably more egregious, things Mr. Zakaria has said, written, and done over the years.

In an August 2010 Newsweek piece headlined "Raise My Taxes, Mr. President!," Mr. Zakaria claimed the budget must be balanced via tax increases rather than merely spending cuts because, "We have one of the smallest governments among all the rich countries in the world." But that's nonsense, both in absolute terms and in relative terms. As I pointed out at the time, as a percentage of GDP, American government is about the size of Canada's and bigger than Australia's. Our military expenditures dwarf those of other rich nations.

Mr. Zakaria's mind is so closed on raising taxes that this is how he dealt with Mitt Romney's former Bain Capital partner, author Edward Conard, in a recent appearance by Mr. Conard on CNN:

So if he is as brilliant and has so much integrity, explain to me how he could, at that Republican debate, when told if you could close the deficit and you would get $10.00 of spending cuts for $1.00 of tax increases would you take it, and he said no.

I mean, you know the math. Surely the Mitt Romney you're describing understands that you can't close this deficit without more revenues.

Here was Mr. Zakaria's oversimplified approach to the tax issue in an interchange with the president of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist.

ZAKARIA: Look, as I said, Clinton raised taxes. He got growth. Bush had the biggest tax cuts in a generation. And he got the weakest growth in 30 years.

In April 2012, Mr. Zakaria made the incendiary on-air charge that lobbyists for the private prison industry "have bought most state politicians in America." As I observed at the time, if Mr. Zakaria has evidence for that charge, he should produce it. If he doesn't, he should withdraw it and apologize to the state politicians whose integrity he impugned.

Mr. Zakaria isn't any better on foreign policy issues than he is on economics. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America points out that Mr. Zakaria, in on June 2010 television appearance, incorrectly claimed that Israel had annexed Gaza and the West Bank, and also incorrectly claimed "Israel has gotten used to a self-defeating spiral in which it shoots first and deals with the fallout afterwards."

Also in June of 2010, the New Republic's Leon Wieseltier memorably demolished Mr. Zakaria's soft line on Iran, which Mr. Zakaria has claimed "isn't a dictatorship" and, on the nuclear front, "could well be happy with a peaceful civilian program."

Then there was the bizarre episode in which Mr. Zakaria first, in 2005, accepted a $10,000 check from the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization active on foreign policy issues, then, in 2010, returned the money after the ADL suggested maybe the organizers of a new 15-story Islamic Center mosque and swimming pool could find a more sensitive location than one adjacent to ground zero.

I hesitated to attack Mr. Zakaria after his Harvard honorary degree in part because on some level, he's actually better than a lot of other journalists. At least he has free-market types like Mr. Norquist and Mr. Conard on his show rather than just ignoring them. Mr. Zakaria describes himself by saying, "I'm a big fan of the free market. I think it has an almost magical ability to allocate resources and generate growth." He served for some time as a trustee of the center-right Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. One could view those things as somehow ameliorating Mr. Zakaria's failings, but one could also view them as making those failings all the more disappointing. You'd think that he, of all people, would know better.

Such, then, is the sorry state of American journalistic standards. Borrow a line or two from the New Yorker and it's a major punishable offense. Repeatedly serve up the flawed left-wing conventional wisdom on taxes, spending, and the Middle East, and get rewarded with your own television show and a Harvard honorary degree.

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  1. Were he born in America instead of India, he could be Vice President. Such a waste of a few stolen sentences.

    1. That’s fokin’ brilliant. Thanks for the link! The wee takedown of Paul Ryan (Creepy Ayn Rand Fetish Guy!) was a bonus.

    2. That pretty much nails it.
      Zakaria went from being Bush’s best friend in the Iraq war to a vocal opponent in perfect time with the polls.

      I’m not sure he is actually serious about anything he writes. He changes his mind whenever whatever position he formerly occupied becomes unpopular.

    3. That Obama wasn’t on that list, along with a couple of dozen other leftist “thinkers,” many who write for that very publication, is revealing don’t you think?

    4. Despite the fact that Rand’s worldview is a crackpot Manicheanism, in which the world is divided between virtuous, productive individuals and lazy parasites, Rand’s hold on American conservatism continues to grow, as if real thinking is ever compatible with a cult.

      Meanwhile, in reality.

      1. Well what Ms. Rosenbaum said is actually true even among workers. Programmer productivity varies over a 10 to 1 range – minimum. Worse is that using the wrong language (almost universal) gives another loss in productivity of 10X to 100X.

        So what do we do? Stick with the bad programmers (there are so few of them to start with) and bad languages (we have always done it this way).

        I blame stupid management.

      2. Rand isn’t even that capitalist. The Austrian economists are much better.

        1. And what she said about Native Americans sounds ignorant.

  2. I’ve never seen his show or read his column. Non-entity.

  3. Seeing this happen to a smug busy-body like Zakaria makes me so happy

  4. I don’t think CNN can ax Zakaria — he seems to be the ultimate “inside information” guy.

  5. Ye gods, check out the smug on that mug. That alone makes me want to hip toss him and break his arm.

    1. Breaking his jaw would shut him up AND remove the smug look.

      1. No need to get violent. Simply mocking him is sufficient.

  6. Well, I for one, am pleased.

    Once upon a time, I was a bit of a fan of Zakaria. But he went from being what I felt was a fairly non-partisan foreign policy commentator, to a run-of-the-mill Democratic shill, and more recently I have come away from every one of his columns with a sense of disgust.

    So, I guess this just proves what a hack he had turned into.

  7. IMO, Ira has one thing wrong on this. There’s no doubt in my mind that the private prison lobby has a substantial hold over many state legislators. This, along with the law enforcement lobby, is why medical marijuana laws and decriminalization laws are so tough to get passed at the state level.

    1. There’s an economic loss from our prison system. It is more likely that politicians simply grow more and more authoritarian, and write too many laws.

    2. Agreed, but that doesn’t mean you can claim it on television without proof, or even circumstantial evidence.

      1. The Central planners panic about everything, I think it is just old-fashioned incompetence.

      2. /Because TV talking heads always back up what they say with solid facts.

  8. The main problem is ultimately with the people that think this guy is such intellectual titan.

  9. Leftwing Journalists (which is depressingly close to being a redundancy) pass around the same tired old talking points like the Harlem Globetrotters passing a basketball around their magic circle. That this prat is being pilloried for repeating verbatim the hack-work some other idiot did on Gun Control makes me suspect that

    A) He is being punished for doing so in so blatant a fashion that the proles actually noticed.


    B) He is being punished for going off the reservation in some other area.

  10. I don’t see Zakaria’s insufficient clamouring for war with Iran as much of a moral failing.

    1. I think that the accusation is that his position on the Iraq war was at all time dictated by its popularity rather than any principle; that he started out for it and turned against it when the general populace did, and only then.

    2. That’s just the kind of Israel-bashing we can’t tolerate in this protectorate, Bradley.

      1. Saddam is gone and the only people making mass graves in Iraq can be fought against by the Iraqi people.

  11. I see the problem with Fareed. He’s not Irving Kristol. Well, we all have our faults.

  12. Uh-oh. FZ has run afoul the Joo lobby. He’s toast.


      1. You’re right. It’s all anti-semitic canards.


  13. So a Zionist media propaganda group [do some googling – all they do is criticize critics of Israel because Israel is supposed to be above criticism] criticized him for saying something only technically incorrect to the part of the West Bank not in Area C [with the juiciest land and aquafiers] and then, gasp, he returned money to the ADL because the ADL did what the ADL whines about all the time – blaming an entire group {here – Mooooslims} for the actions of a few {the Saudi patsies on the planes on 9/11} – and you use these as legit examples?

    Funny, Ira – I’d almost guess that because you’re Jewish, you’re simply out to get the guy for not towing the Zionist party line.

    But I don’t because that would be racist.

    Apparently, when the ADL is racist, it isn’t racism. And Israeli settlers throwing rocks at school kids in what is occupied Arab land… have a right to for some reason or other… and building Jewish only roads, school and towns isn’t ‘apartheid’ and anyone who suggests it is an ‘anti-semite.’

    Jeez, could it be, Ira, that you’re just full of fucking shit? That your feeble, facile attempts at cogent thinking are immediately hijacked by your smarmy ethnocentrism?

    You bet it could.

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