David Frum

08.14.12

A False Charge Against Fareed Zakaria (UPDATED)

Is Fareed Zakaria a quote thief? This is the latest charge brought against the CNN host. From both hard evidence and direct personal experience, I can answer: No.

On August 14th, The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg restated his 2009 charge that Fareed Zakaria had used work of Jeffrey's without attribution.

Now the Washington Post has seconded the accusation, this time in a case involving Clyde Prestowitz of the Economic Strategy Institute.

Zakaria’s 2008 book, “The Post-American World,” contains a quote from former Intel Corp. chief executive Andy Grove about the nation’s economic power. “America is in danger of following Europe down the tubes, and the worst part is that nobody knows it,” Grove says in Zakaria’s book. “They’re all in denial, patting themselves on the back as the Titanic heads straight for the iceberg full speed ahead.”

The first edition of Zakaria’s book, which became a bestseller, makes no mention of the comment’s source, nor does a paperback version of “Post-American World” published in 2009.

This charge is false, as 10 minutes' work by the Washington Post would have shown.

The 2009 paperback does contain a citation to Prestowitz: footnote 11, page 262. We photocopied the page this very afternoon at the DC Public Library's central branch: I'm hoping the PDF below is legible. We couldn't locate a physical copy of the 2008 hardcover edition in time, but Amazon's "look inside" feature shows Prestowitz there in hardcover too, also in footnote 11, page 262.

It would be a strange reflection on journalistic practice if a Washington Post reporter—sent to investigate Fareed Zakaria's journalistic methods—issued such a damaging accusation without first independently verifying it.

As for Jeffrey Goldberg's particular concern: It's an interesting question whether a journalist who quotes a statesman's words in a publicly available interview ought to specify who the interviewer was. In the Internet world, the question does not arise. A blogger types, "President X said …" and then links to the clip or the article from which come the president's words, in their full original context, all sourcing unmistakable. In print, where space is finite, it's a more delicate question how many lines to give over to citation. Fareed's reply to Goldberg, as quoted by Goldberg, seems reasonable enough.

I think it is quite untrue that it is standard journalistic practice to name the interviewer when quoting from an interview. Look through the New Yorker, the New York Times, or any other prestigious publication and you will see that most quotes from interviews do NOT mention the name of the interviewer. This is a subject close to my heart since I interview people every Sunday. On Monday, we get clips of the papers, magazines, and blogs that quote from these interviews. Most do not mention my name. Many do not even mention CNN. They simply say, "In an interview, "Mr. X said. . . "I wish they did but they don't."

Jeffrey Goldberg offers this implicit criticism of Fareed, "[M]any writers are fastidious about correctly describing the provenance of a quotation." But I can attest first hand: one lapse aside, Fareed is just such a fastidious writer.

In late 2007, I spoke to Fareed shortly before he finished work on his book, The Post-American World. In the course of the conversation, I made a joke—an indiscreet joke, as I am all all too typically prone to do.

Some time later (I don't recall exactly how long—long enough for me to have forgotten all about it), Fareed called me. He wanted to use my joke in his new book. Would I like credit? Or—given that I should not have said it—would I prefer to have my name left off? That was easy. I chose Door Number Two. It would have been very easy for Fareed to help himself to my little joke. I would have been in no position to complain, even if I had noticed that he had used it, or remembered that I had originally said it. Nevertheless: he took care to use only with permission.

I have known Fareed Zakaria since 1986. Over those years, we have had our personal ups and downs. As with any of us, there are criticisms to be made of him and his work. Recently he made a serious mistake, for which he has accepted the consequences without self-excuse. But building that mistake into some larger narrative of lack of intellectual integrity? And using charges themselves false in order to tarnish his reputation? That's plain wrong.

In the instance in which I saw Fareed's work methods close up, I can attest: the work was done right. I have to imagine there are many, many other people who could say the same thing.

title
Photo copy of title page of softcover version of Fareed Zakaria's "Post American World," copyright 2009 ()
The Footnote in Question
Photo copy of page 262 of softcover version of Fareed Zakaria's "Post American World," copyright 2009 ()
pg 40
Page 40 of softcover version of Fareed Zakaria's "Post-American World," copyright 2009. The footnote in contention can be found in the middle of the page. ()

Update:

I spoke last night to Paul Farhi, author of the Washington Post story accusing Fareed Zakaria of having filched a quotation from Clyde Prestowitz without credit. I asked Farhi whether he had done anything to verify Prestowitz's complaint of quote-stealing by Zakaria. We agreed that the conversation would be off-the-record, so I won't quote Farhi's answer. But I don't need to. The pages speak for themselves.

Above is a PDF of the relevant footnotes of the 2009 paperback edition; below follows a PDF of the relevant pages in the 2008 hardcover. Prestowitz is credited both times. Had Farhi clicked Amazon's "look inside this book" button, he would have seen the footnote for himself. It follows that he didn't. Given the gravity of the accusation he lodged against Zakaria, that omission seems a grave act of journalistic malpractice.

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Page 40 from 2008 hardcover edition of Fareed Zakaria's "Post-American World" ()
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Page 262 from 2008 hardcover edition of Fareed Zakaria's "Post-American World" ()
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Title page of 2008 hardcover edition of Fareed Zakaria's "Post-American World" ()