Strong Accusations

08.16.12

Meet The Man Who Wrongly Accused Fareed Zakaria of Plagiarism

Yesterday, the Washington Post retracted its story accusing Fareed Zakaria of scalping quoted material from a book by Clyde Prestowitz.

The quoted material was in fact properly attributed in all editions of Fareed's The Post-American World. See below for the details.

One question remains: What was Clyde Prestowitz thinking? After all, it was he who brought the accusation to the Washington Post.

Clyde Prestowitz has released a statement, which follows at the bottom of this post. I spoke to Clyde Prestowitz yesterday, by phone at his residence in Maui for further clarification.

Here's Prestowitz's story: Prestowitz had read Fareed's book when it appeared in 2008. He had seen the quoted words, but somehow overlooked the footnote. He had been annoyed at the time, wrote to Fareed, and then dismissed the matter from his mind. Four years later, when the New Yorker matter erupted, Prestowitz had recalled his old grievance. He happened to have a copy of the 2009 paperback at hand, glanced through it, and again overlooked the footnote.

He then set about to find a journalist to take his story. When he spoke to Paul Farhi of the Washington Post, Farhi did use Amazon's look inside feature to check Prestowitz's complaint against the most current edition of the book. Farhi told Prestowitz that his name was indeed mentioned.

On the basis of that remark, and no further information, Prestowitz said that Fareed must have corrected the book in his response to his years-ago email—but insisted that the credit was missing from the 2008 and 2009 editions.

Farhi accepted Prestowitz's word and called Fareed for comment.

Fareed responded with a general defense of his work methods, but in print, that read very much like what it was not: a confession of the validity of Prestowitz's specific claim.

The rest unfolded as we saw.

Prestowitz has since apologized for his actions: but what was he originally thinking? In his own statement, Prestowitz claims that "I had overlooked this reference earlier because the note was attached to Tom’s book title". How was it he didn't notice his own, very easy to resolve mistake for so long? And why did he decide to recklessly launch a damaging accusation on such a casual basis—starting a controversy that damaged not only Fareed's reputation, but that of the reporter, Paul Farhi, who incautiously trusted Prestowitz's word?

The answer to that question takes us inside Clyde Prestowitz's head, and there my press pass does not gain me access.

Here is Prestowitz's statement in full:

When Fareed Zakaria’s Post American World first appeared in 2008, I found that it contained a quotation from my 2005 book, Three Billion New Capitalists. There was no end note number next to the quote. Thinking it may have been an oversight, I sent a note to Mr. Zakaria suggesting the addition of an end note. I received no response.

Recently I suggested that Mr .Zakaria may have neglected properly to attribute the quote. However, since carefully reviewing several editions of his book, I have discovered that in an odd juxtaposition, reference to my book is made at the conclusion of an end note to one of Tom Friedman’s books. I had overlooked this reference earlier because the note was attached to Tom’s book title.

While I believe that the current standards and format for attribution have become confusingly sketchy and misleading, the error was mine and I offer sincere apologies for the confusion, misunderstanding, and hurt that my suggestions and inaccurate reading caused.