If you followed the flap over
Zakaria's failure to credit a paragraph from Jill Lepore of the New Yorker in a column
about gun control -- and his resulting short-term suspension from Time and
CNN -- you may well already have read
about the extent of his professional activities. But listing them here is
intended to provide a sense of just how productive he has been, at a
consistently high level, and why I hoped this mishap -- widely described, and in
my judgment, with exaggeration, as plagiarism -- would turn out to be a small-bore setback in what will be a long and
Now that Time and
CNN have reinstated him beginning in September and found no further problems,
Zakaria is back on track. He will also resume his column for the Washington Post. The backstory of the
case seems to be a confusion in his transcription of notes. Zakaria's
apologies were immediate and repeated, even after he was essentially forgiven,
because he clearly realized that plagiarism is a cardinal offense for a writer.
An instance of picking up a small
section of another person's work (which was quoting facts from a recently
published book) didn't strike me as a major
failing, although the sensitivities involved were reflected in the public
flailing he endured. A clever headline at The Atlantic over a commentary by
Jeffrey Goldberg sounded about right to me: "Fareedenfreude (or Alternatively,
Coming so soon after the
revelations about Jonah Lehrer's fabrications of quotes from Bob Dylan in his
book Imagine: How Creativity
Works, and a stream of other misrepresentations that cost him his
reputation, the Zakaria case easily morphed into further evidence of the same
pattern of serious malfeasance,
which it certainly was not.
But the episode crystallized
something I've been thinking about increasingly in recent years. Today's leading
pundits and commentators have adapted to our current media culture in ways that
too often seem over-programmed, to the point where it is a veritable certainty
that some will eventually stumble. These blunders are taken all the more
seriously because of the prominence media stars have attained.
I wonder if it really is possible to do so many
things at once: columns, daily blog posts, a full schedule of television
appearances and Internet videos, speeches around the country (and the world),
and books intended to make a splash.
There are also outside activities (or jobs) that take administrative or
editorial time. The aggregation of all these activities can be enormously
lucrative, but there is also a competitiveness among the cohort -- and their
principal employers -- that seems to drive them to take on more roles than
frankly makes sense.
acknowledged as much in comments
to the New York Times: "This week has
been very important because it made
me realize what is at the core of what I want to do." His goal, he said, is to
"help people to think about this fast-moving world and to do this through my
work on TV and writing." Other activities, he added, "will have to go away.
There's got to be some stripping down." The first resignation was his position