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Takeaways from the Lehrer and Zakaria Plagiarism Scandals

Posted by Jessica Gopalakrishnan on Aug 24, 2012 10:07:00 AM

How serious are the Lehrer and Zakaria plagiarism cases? Listen to this lively discussion between Jason Chu at Turnitin and Jonathan Bailey at Plagiarism Today for observations of both journalists, thoughts on their futures, and ways journalists can best avoid plagiarism.


1) Who's Jonah Lehrer, why do we care who he is and why is it important?

Takeaway: A well-known journalist with a large volume of published work for a variety of high profile publications. He was the first of the two big plagiarism scandals this summer, initially accused of self-plagiarism, but taken down by fabrication. It looked as though he may come out of the scandal unscathed, but as people dug deeper into his work, they found evidence of other misconduct. He rose to the top, even The New Yorker hadn't detected misconduct in all of his writing.

2) Are we not getting the message? Are we not understanding why we should not plagiarize?

Takeaway: Journalists are under extraordinary pressure, and overall, there is a lack of understanding about (or belief in) self-plagiarism. When journalists put their name to piece, that they are the author, that they are expected to come up with original content.

3) What do you suggest that authors and researchers do to make a name for themselves without running into issues and cutting corners?

Takeaway: Being honest and forethright about your content. You can reuse your work, but have to cite yourself. Go revisit your past content every so often and build upon it. In regards to the tough environment in publishing, think about the people who are meeting that pressure and combatting it daily.

4) How much of this misconduct is tied to the trending upwards of his success? How much of that is entrenched in practice? Looking back, is there something that could have been done for prevention?

Takeaway: Publication and high profile people need to be more cautious, more thorough and not leave a trail of misinformation. Using plagiarism detection software is one way for authors to help. Lehrer is still at Wired Magazine so he does have another chance to redeem himself.

5) Let's talk about Fareed Zakaria. What happened with him?

Takeaway: Zakaria claims that he mistook notes he took, and that it was an accidental, isolated incident. Within hours of Zakaria apologizing for plagiarism, he was suspended from CNN and Time Magazine, and within days, he was reinstated. Although so many eyes may be on these types of high profile journalists are "brands." They need to produce content to get paid and fulfill their contracts.

6) Lehrer's future? Sems there is a striking contrast compared to someone like Jason Blair.

Takeaway: Jason Blair exited journalism completely and is currently working as a life coach. Last time he was anywhere near a newspaper was to make a comment on the Jonah Lehrer case. Blair fell really hard and is very different from Lehrer's.

7) How's Zakaria's future looking?

Takeaway: It looks like CNN and Time are pretty content, having gone through all his content and don't believe it's a problem, just an isolated incident. Looks like he'll continue his successful career, unless they find something much bigger.

8) What lessons should journalism take from these scandals moving forward? How can media prevent future scandals like these?

Takeaways: Use tools available to check your own work, take advantage of technology that will help avoid plagiarism. Take good notes and track them extremely carefully. Be aware of current issues, understand what can happen and the severity of what can happen. Don't wait for your editor or, even worse, your competitor, to call you out.


Washington Post: Tools to Detect Plagiarism

What authors and researchers can do to avoid self-plagiarism