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September 28th, 2014
01:22 PM ET

Brian Stelter's take

At the end of Sunday's show, Brian Stelter addressed the plagiarism allegations recently leveled against CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

Here's what he said:

Finally this morning, a story about the ethical practices of television shows like this one.

Earlier this month, anonymous bloggers who call themselves Our Bad Media accused one of my colleagues, Fareed Zakaria, of plagiarism, of stealing other people's words and passing them off as their own. They cited examples from "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS," the show that airs right before this one.

I disagree with a lot of what the bloggers are alleging. But I want to take a couple of minutes here to tell you about it, because, #1, I believe media companies should be transparent, just like we want politicians and CEOs to be, and, #2, because my reporting leads me to believe that Zakaria's program made some attribution mistakes. A small number, to be fair - but they are the kinds of mistakes that other journalists can learn from, and viewers too.

First, in the interest of transparency, let me say that I trusted Zakaria before these allegations, and I still trust him after studying all of it. He is one of a kind, one of the sharpest thinkers on world affairs anywhere.

But these bloggers' claims have gotten attention partly because prior claims of plagiarism were leveled against Zakaria in 2012. Back then, another blog pointed out that he had cribbed from a "New Yorker" article while writing his column for "TIME" magazine. He said he had confused his notes, and he apologized.

CNN kept "GPS" off of to air for two weeks while it reviewed his on-air work, and then reinstated him, indicating no other serious offenses were found. Well, the bloggers at Our Bad Media claimed they did find some.

It is clear to me that these anonymous people are waging a campaign against Zakaria, not just against his CNN work, but his columns and books, too. I believe that most of their claims about "GPS" - 26 total - do not hold up under close scrutiny. The closer you look, the less it looks like capital-P plagiarism.

But when you zoom out, there's a perception problem. The perception is that, as Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute told Politico, "It seems obvious that Fareed was overly reliant on his source material."

McBride called some of the examples low-level plagiarism. Politico reporter Dylan Byers likened them to misdemeanors.

And here is an example. One of the "What in the World?" segments on "GPS" back in June appears to have lifted two sentences from an appeals court ruling without attribution.

In a handful of other cases, it seems like parts of Zakaria's segments were inspired by articles in The Economist, The New York Times, etcetera. It seems like he took raw material from the articles, reworded a bit of it, and then added his own insights. Again, what appear to be misdemeanors, plucked from hundreds of episodes of "GPS."

But shows like "GPS" and this one strive for the highest standards.

So this is the part where I wish I could tell Zakaria's side of the story. For instance, many TV scripts are written by producers. So did Zakaria write the questionable passages himself or did his producers? But Zakaria declined to appear on-camera for an interview with me.

CNN's P.R. people have also declined to comment, other than to say that: "CNN has the highest confidence in the excellence and integrity of Fareed Zakaria's work. And we have found nothing that gives us cause for concern."

So, I can only tell you what my reporting has led me to believe. I believe the perception in this case is worse than the reality. But I understand why there have been raised eyebrows. We are in the business of raising eyebrows, after all.

Beyond just "GPS," television newscasts are inspired by newspaper and Web stories all the time. We run with their ideas, and sometimes they run with our ideas. Sometimes, we don't acknowledge it because we're short on time, and maybe, just maybe, because we want to sound all-knowing, like we didn't need the help.

That is not good enough. For people like Zakaria, for people like me - for people who read scripts on television - the pressure is on us to be generous with attribution, to figure out ways to give credit where it is due without bogging down our scripts.

I think the Web's norms of linking to the sources are becoming the world's norms. And the more transparent we are, the more trustworthy we will be.


Filed under: Reliable Sources
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