Home / General / Would someone please teach these people how to plagiarize?

Would someone please teach these people how to plagiarize?


Every quarter I tell my students a joke. I tell them that I’ll let them plagiarize so long as they paraphrase their source material and attribute the original idea to its author or put it between quotation marks and identify where they found it. They usually stare at me agog for a seconds before what I’ve said sinks in. But it usually sinks in. It’s a shame I didn’t teach Fareed Zakaria, who’s not only a plagiarist, but one of the most stunningly untalented plagiarists I’ve ever encountered. Another thing I tell my students is that if they’re going to plagiarize well, they need to find source materials specific to the argument they want to parrot, which means that they can’t just type “visual rhetoric Blowup” into Google because the first few links will direct them to stuff I’ve written. Only an idiot would quote my only words back to me. I encourage them to find obscure material—like academic essays on Antonioni or Italian New Wave—and pluck their attributed paraphrases or quotations from there. So what’s so stunning about Zakaria’s plagiarism?

He plagiarized from one of Jill Lepore’s articles in The New Yorker. The New Yorker. I know most people only read it for the cartoons, but I promise you that Google has access to the words as well as the pictures. But Zakaria’s even dumber than that. He plagiarized from a recent New Yorker article in the pages of Time magazine. It’d be one thing to plagiarize a recent New Yorker article in an essay that only one person, your professor, will ever read. It’s dumber thing entirely to publish material lifted from one national publication in another national publication. He should have known that anyone interested in the material he quoted would pop onto Google and see that it appears in two different places in a very nearly identical context. But wait! It gets even better!

It seems as if Lepore herself might have a problem with plagiarism, which if true means it’s possible that Zakaria second-order plagiarized the work of a graduate student at Harvard. And we let this man talk to president and kings? To coin a phrase: Why oh why can’t we have a better press corps?

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  • John

    I assume that by “Lepore’s tendency to use student work without attribution,” Morozov is referring to graduate student work, not undergraduate work. And not so much plagiarism as reporting the results of her students’ research without giving them credit.

    • SEK

      He does say “grad student,” doesn’t he? Well, that makes it all better.

      I’ll edit the post, though.

      • John

        He says he heard it from a grad student. I suppose it’s possible that a grad student was complaining about Lepore’s tendency to steal work from undergraduates, but that seems doubtful.

      • Halloween Jack

        He cites an unnamed source, and when asked to back it up, his comeback is “that student is no fool, I surmise”? I’d drop it completely.

  • Ni Hao Lao Wai

    To coin a phrase: Why oh why can’t we have a better press corps?

    Oh, I see what you did there.

    • SEK

      I’M BUSTED!

      • John

        And now you are plagiarizing Bob Seger? For shame!

        • Or Harlan Howard at the very least.

          • SEK

            Or I could be plagiarizing my own post, since I didn’t link to it. Good thing I got that puppy attributed before anyone decided to Lehrer me.

            • firefall

              or Zakaria you

    • Manju

      IIRC, many years back, the Boston University School of Journalism Dean plagiarized something. A NYTimes journalist reported it…by lifting the story from the Boston Globe.

      • DrDick

        We had a case at the University of Oklahoma when I was in grad school where a student in the Education Department plagiarized an earlier dissertation from the same department. To make it worse, several of his committee members, including the chair, were on the original committee.

        • Warren Terra

          I think that’s closer to the Zakaria situation than the theft-of-reporting that Manju alludes to. The product is less generic, there is more expectation of original work with an unique viewpoint, and both incidents involve a shared set of readers.

          Oh, and I hope that that someone who’d fake their dissertation either was put in treatment for serious mental issues or was sued to reclaim any departmental funding they’d fraudulently obtained, or possibly both.

          • DrDick

            As far as I know he simply had his doctorate revoked.

        • Hawise

          My father, before he retired, had a student present a paper that was the opening section of Master;s thesis that he had supervised. It was obscure, it was the perfect answer to the point the student wanted to make but it was taken verbatim and no attribution was made. The student was thrown out of the program in their third year for the want of a single footnote.

          • DrDick

            I forgot to mention that the committee, including the members of the prior committee, actually passed him. Somebody else caught the plagiarism later.

      • Warren Terra

        Beat reporters stealing each others’ work by rewriting stories they’ve read without attribution is common, and wrong, and the most prominent sources have historically been the worst offenders (because they don’t like to admit they got scooped by someone they never heard of – TPM was slighted in this way several times during the late Bush administration).

        But this failure to give attribution for the unearthing of a set of facts, in a story that simply reports a set of facts, is a fair bit different from a prominent, brand-name opinionator who is paid for their contemplative insight stealing someone else’s ideas.

        • …is a fair bit different from a prominent, brand-name opinionator who is paid for their contemplative insight stealing someone else’s ideas.

          Lionel Hutz (to his secretary): Get Tom Friedman’s cab driver on the phone. Stat!

          (To camera): Cha-ching!!

        • rea

          Beat reporters stealing each others’ work by rewriting stories they’ve read without attribution is common, and wrong

          Or in this instance, not rewriting a story without attribution

      • Julie Blutstein

        Yes, that was Dean Maitre of BU’s College of Communication. It was at my graduation (1991) and he did it while addressing all of the Broadcasting and Film students. He plagiarized film critic Michael Medved and managed to not only plagiarize, but simultaneously insult all of us who had just spent a fortune on our film degrees (his words — er, Medved’s words, were not complimentary.) The biggest irony of all was that at the beginning of every semester I was in school, we received a memo in our class mailboxes (ah yes, the quaint days before email — actual mailboxes) on what constituted plagiarism and precisely what would happen if we plagiarized (expulsion from the program). Unsurprisingly, while Dean Maitre was asked to step down from his position as Dean, he continued to teach at BU. And I never received that video of my graduation ceremony, since it included plagiarized material.

    • Chet Murthy

      Oh, man! Beat me to it!

      • Warren Terra

        No, totally: go with the same idea! Copy Ni Hao Lao Wai, and claim the credit!

  • DrDick

    These must be those high journamalistcal standards we keep hearing about.

    • Pseudonym

      Time for a blogger ethics panel!

  • Vis-a-vis Lapore, is there more evidence then that one hearsay-bearing tweet? Because if not, I think that’s pretty thin basis for repeating so serious an accusation as plagiarism.

    At the very least you might change “It seems as if Lepore herself has a problem with plagiarism, which means…” to something more like “It seems as if Lapore herself has been accused of plagiarism, which if true means….”.

    • SEK

      That seems prudent.

  • Holden Pattern

    Zakaria is one of the elect; not bound by the rules applicable to ordinary mortals. How can you even raise your head to gaze upon his boots?

    • Sev

      to discover- the horror- patent leather!

      • Bill Murray

        so he also infringed on a patent?

  • Oh, and since everyone here knows all internet traditions, and given this blog’s Special Relationship with her, maybe someone could help me with a shorter for this piece by Althouse.

    I’m torn between
    Shorter Althouse: the evidence that Zakaria plagiarised is so strong that he possibly can’t have done it.
    Shorter Althouse: plagiarism is for little people.


    • Make that, ‘plagiarism charges are for little people’.

    • SEK

      I’m not sure what she means, but Zakaria might be able to claim ownership of a lesser sin: he could say his article was ghostwritten and there’s a good chance people would believe him. (Credit where it’s due: this was brought up by someone else on Facebook, who can take credit for it they so desire.)

      • Murc

        Honestly, I find ghostwriting to be in some ways more reprehensible than plagiarism.

        A plagiarist has the dignity and respect of a con-man. He is working for his money, in some cases working very hard; maintaining a web of lies and living with the fear of discovery can be very stressful.

        Someone who pays others to produce materiel they then claim under their own name, and take credit for, is just a big’ol lazy faker. I remain baffled it remains an accepted practice; were I to interview someone who was pimping their new book that was obviously ghosted, my first two questions would be “Who ghosted this?” and “How much were they paid?”

        • Jonas

          Well, at least ghostwriting sometimes leads to funny moments, like Charles Barkley claiming he was misquoted in his autobiography.

          • sparks

            If you’re like me, you think that every celebrity autobiography is ghosted unless proven otherwise.

            • Cody

              I always assumed as much. Most have the class to say “co-written by…”, don’t they?

              I mean, we all know the athlete/celebrity writing it didn’t REALLY write it.

        • Warren Terra

          Ghostwriting has its place, as in the celebrity memoir, where the ghostwriter is retooling stories the “author” and their friends cannot effectively relate.

          Arguably it even has its place in the “researcher” as used by Literature Nobelist Winston S Churchill, collecting the source material and thrn writing whole chapters under the leadership (real or nominal) of a senior person who provides guidance, tone, resources, editing, and marketability. I get the sense that Winny was far from the only and far from the last successful mass-market popular historian to turn to this approach in their later works.

          But if Zakaria were to admit that his thumbsuckers were ghostwritten for him by some intern, or even some well-paid professional, given that Zakaria is paid to write and for his unique insight (rather than for his fame or notoriety, at least supposedly) this would arguably be a greater scandal than his plagiarizing one essay from Ms. Lepore. Assuming it stays at one essay.

      • greylocks

        Except it’s for Time, not the West Wahoo Weekly Pennysaver & Recipe Exchange that pays in coupons.

        I doubt Time would be happy to know they were paying a premium rate to put FZ’s byline on an article they could have gotten some schmuck to write for a tenth the price.

        So either he plagiarized the material, or he ripped Time off. Pick one. Or, for that matter, both.

        • Pseudonym

          And in our age of the interwebs, the West Wahoo Weekly Pennysaver & Recipe Exchange is just as googleable and seoable as Time, and probably more profitable.

      • Pseudonym

        There’s got to be some sort of Latin phrase by this point denoting the logical fallacy of assuming that an Althouse whinge has a meaning. Deus ex asina, perhaps?

        • Bill Murray

          deus ex buxum vinum

    • Attribution is for the little people.

    • It’s easy these days to copy something for your notes and later simply mistake it for something you’ve written.

      Like that time when I . . . what, Meade? Oh. OH. Never mind.

    • Halloween Jack

      I’d phrase the shorter as “God only knows how I got tenure with an attitude like this, but I got it, so fuck all y’all.” Makes up in general applicability what it lacks in brevity.

  • Manju

    There’s always an uptick in plagiarism right before a Bob Dylan album drops.

  • “To coin a phrase”

    George Sanders


  • And what do you tell your students these days when you find them in flagrante delicto in your office?

    • SEK

      I don’t have to. I’m an urban legend on campus. Everyone who comes to UCI knows that story. Every quarter, in every class, there’s one student who figures out that “Mr. Professor Office Sex” not only exists, but that I’m him, then shares his or her new-found knowledge with their mates.

      • Murc

        “Figures out?”

        I take it you don’t point them towards Acephalous in your syllabus, then?

        • SEK

          I don’t. I mention it when we discuss their blogs and the purpose of acquiring the habit of writing daily, but unlike some people we know, I don’t force it on. (Except when they miss a day of class and I tell them to read the post I made out of my notes for it. But that’s just for convenience.)

      • Rob

        If you wouldn’t use Mr. Professor Office Sex as your Xbox Live name less people would figure it out.

      • Pseudonym

        And for better or worse it sounds as though you’re too honest, conventional and/or timid to reap the benefits that such a moniker might engender.

      • rea

        Frankly, I’m amazed that having sex in your office hasn’t become a well known cool thing to do on your campus, like having sex in the Spoon in Minneapolis . . .

    • Colin Day

      I’d hope that I’d tell them to get dressed and leave.

      • rea

        He did. They threatened to sue him for sexual harrasment . . .

  • My plagiarism story:

    I’m TAing for a class on philosophy of science. The midterm has an essay question on the scientific revolution, asking about Copernicus and epicycles etc. When I grade the exams, I decide to type up a short answer sheet, including a brief sample essay covering the main points (that I shrink down 8 point or something to fit on one side of a sheet of paper), which I include with their returned essays.

    At the end of semester, one of the students writes her final paper on the scientific revolution and what Copernicus and epicycles etc. show us about the nature of scientific progress, heavily plagiarizing from the sample essay her TA had handed back to her on her midterm.

    • sparks

      When I went to college, a good number of classmates seemed to want to plagiarize my work, and I hardly considered myself one of the elites in the program. The result was that I endeavored to make my work as memorable as possible as a means of discouragement. It mostly worked. I will say there was a lot of plagiarism going on at that time.

      • Warren Terra

        I was sufficiently antisocial that I would have been in no position to steal another’s work had I so wished, and no one who knew me well enough to ask me ever did so. On the other hand, I was good enough at writing essays that scored highly (whether this made me a good writer being a separate question) that I was one of many successful students to find that their graded essays, supposedly available for retrieval in a box outside the professor’s or TA’s office, had a tendency to go missing before I got there. I assume that my (literally) sophomoric insights into Shakespeare or classical history featured the name of some fraternity member in a subsequent year (as it was the Greek houses that had the organization and the continuity to accumulate files of exams and successful essays for the use of future members; also the football team).

        I suppose the Internet has democratized cheating now, somewhat, or at least taken it out of the hands of organized societies like the Greeks and the Jocks and into the marketplace.

        • sparks

          Yeah, frat brothers often oiled up to me in classes. It was worse than getting hit on.

  • Merganser

    Let me be the first to wonder why our Fourth Estate is not populated by thinkers of a higher caliber.

  • Murrietta

    The first time I taught a large western art survey course, I had my students write papers on a couple of paintings included in a small exhibition at the university museum. It was my first time managing a team of TAs (I was still a grad student myself), so imagine my joy when a rash of papers came in plagiarizing from the little brochure that the museum handed out to accompany the exhibition. As one TA pointed out, “At least we know they actually went to the museum!” Up to that point, we’d mostly been concerned the students wouldn’t bother going at all — but they did. They went to get the materials from which to plagiarize.

  • Plagiarism as video worth playing to your class on day 1.

  • rea

    Really, go look at the particular language that got him caught and it’s amazing what an idiot he is. You can get away with stealing the ideas (thought them up independently) and the research (read the same book), but you can’t steal the sentence structure and get away with it. He made a pass through, changing some of the words, but he did such a bad job of it that it only makes the plagiarism more apparent. Five minutes more spent cutting and pasting the sentences into a different order might have saved his career . . .

  • Hugo Torbet

    I am sorry, but don’t see this as a case of plagiarism. I don’t see Fareed as suffering from a frozen pen so that in desperation he had to steal someone else’s idea. I’d like to hear directly from him. But I suspect that he simply reads a lot, and makes arguments based on what he thinks and what he has read. In this process, he no doubt uses ideas other people have also stated. That is not wrong.

    In all of the nutty talk about abridging the 2nd Amendment, haven’t many other people also said something along the lines of “It’s time to start talking about gun control?”

    John Lennon said that there’s nothing you can say that hasn’t been said.

    My opinion is that Fareed’s show on Sunday morning is one of the few things worth listening to on TV, and it is a shame that it is off the air.

    • redwoods

      Well, that was a rather long-winded way of saying “I haven’t read the excerpt paragraphs and I don’t plan to”, as they are exactly the same. It wasn’t restating another author’s idea, he repeated a whole paragraph verbatim. How on the good green earth is that not plagiary?!

      • Hugo Torbet

        No, I read it. I just thought it wasn’t a big deal.

        No one has had anything new to say about gun control since our rights were abridged in the 1920’s. It’s all a bunch of clatter.

        • Warren Terra

          Shoulder-launcher rocket launchers for all! Belt-fed machine guns over the counter at 7-11! Freedom!

    • Halloween Jack

      But I suspect that he simply reads a lot, and makes arguments based on what he thinks and what he has read.

      Not the same as copying and pasting. And whatever else people say about Zakaria, no one’s suggested that he’s the writing equivalent of one of those autistic savants who can exactly duplicate someone else’s musical performance, including idiosyncratic nuances, from memory.

  • But I suspect that he simply reads a lot, and makes arguments based on what he thinks and what he has read. In this process, he no doubt uses ideas other people have also stated. That is not wrong.

    1. If only there were some sort of method by which people who read a lot could keep track of what they have read. I don’t know, maybe putting the name of a person next to their idea in your mother-freaking notes, something like that.

    2. “He makes arguments based on what he thinks and what he has read”? What a novel approach. I’ve always based my arguments on things I don’t think and on things I haven’t read.

    3. Er, when someone “uses ideas other people have also stated” and passes them off as his or her own, that’s the, um, what’s that word? Oh yeah, that’s the definition of “plagiarism.”

  • He plagiarized from one of Jill Lepore’s articles in The New Yorker.

    Christ, what an asshole.

  • jp

    So the big penalty is that CNN is suspending him for a month? Those are the consequences? Way to keep up those journalistic standards all around!

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