Monday, August 13, 2012

What to make of Fareed Zakaria

This week, it was announced by Time Magazine that Fareed Zakaria would undergo a month of suspension after it was revealed that he had lifted a paragraph from New Yorker journalist Jill Lepore's article on gun control. Zakaria apologized "unreservedly" to Lepore and has not been heard from since the scandal. In addition, this weekend, his television show, Fareed Zakaria GPS did not air this Sunday on CNN (CNN is owned by Time Warner, which also owns Time Magazine). The fall is particularly brutal because of the fact that Fareed has been seen as a bright light on cable news; his show does have people with varying views but rarely does his show devolve into the shouting matches that dominates most news shows.

Plagiarism in and of itself is a serious offense for any profession, as any expelled college student will attest to. However, for Journalism it is the cardinal sin because it affects whether or not the reader can trust the writer. As Tom Plate explained in his book Confessions of an American Media Man, journalists do not have a "bar exam" or a medical license to prove that they are qualified to practice journalism-nor should they. All they have is their credibility, which is based on their accuracy in reporting. This also applies to op-editorial writers and "ideas" people; their notions must be rooted in factual and accurate reporting on the realities surrounding them. By Plagiarizing, the journalist gives up the right to have people trust their writing because it is intellectually lazy and thievery.

Moreover, plagiarism is fatal for someone like Zakaria because his entire career thrives on finding solutions and new ideas. On CNN, he has hosted a series of prime-time specials focused on fixing America's long-term difficulties such as immigration, healthcare, education and job growth. His columns are usually based on trying some middle ground to furthering the body rather than miring in the same ideologies. His is someone who is read and revered nationwide. Whenever there is an international crisis or some serious discussion on policy on CNN, Zakaria is called on for his wisdom. In turn, Zakaria has become not only the man who gives a breakdown of the news to regular people, but also to elites. President Obama was seen clutching his book on the campaign trail in 2008 and Paul Wolfowitz called him in the build-up to Iraq.

Now, Fareed can no longer claim the mantle that he once did of a sensible centrist and pragmatist not interest in ideology. Rather now it is clear through his plagiarism, whether through him or through an assistant, that Zakaria was only interested in his own brand and promoting himself. He became interested in having people know what he was thinking and not contributing to the dialogue. This is not to say he is insincere, he may think his voice has many important opinions that must be aired. But in compromising his integrity, he has lost the pedestal that he held for so long in American political journalism circles.

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