The distinguished journalist Harold Evans directs his reptilian fury at the Financial Times (August 27th) for a lapse from its “high standards in publishing my “venomous” column on Mr. Zakaria’s plagiarism. He hisses loudly but he fails to bite.
He forgets the elementary fact that Mr. Zakaria had confessed to plagiarism. No, there was no third degree applied by rogue cops. None of what Mr. Evans writes about who wrote what and retracted what charges they had made on the issue — his assertion that I could not have known all this is somewhat ludicrous — has any bearing on the fact that Mr. Zakaria was a self-confessed plagiarist.
The only questions were what penalty could and should follow. Since Mr. Zakaria was a journalist as also a man feted by universities with honorary degrees and even sitting as a member of the Yale Board of Trustees, the two issues had to be separated.
The penalties at universities are fairly severe, as I explained. If Mr. Evans doubts that, he should look up what is said on the subject by the University of Durham which he attended. The issue for universities then is clear: should they expect less from the people they honour and more from those whom they teach? I think this matter of equity is so important at universities that self-confessed plagiarists of high profile must be reprimanded, and even honours may possibly be withdrawn, unless our students become cynical about plagiarism.
As for journalism, which I do know something about as having been a founder of the influential Media specialization in the School of Public Affairs at Columbia (the role model for the changes made at our School of Journalism) and having taught with Sylvia Nasar at the School of Journalism, I am astonished by the lackadaisical approach taken by Mr. Evans to the question of standards in journalism.
He is also offended that I talk of “over-commitment” by Mr. Zakaria, a generous attempt to explain how his lapse could have occurred. He writes at the same time of exoneration by investigation by CNN and Time, of “thousands” of Mr. Zakaria’s columns (in an internal, not impartial third-party investigation that no one could take as compelling since these institutions’ profit motive would conflict with their principles.) I might ask: how many thousands? Mr. Evans might as well have written: hundreds of thousands!
Does Mr. Evans seriously believe that, with 24 hours in the day, Mr. Zakaria wrote “thousands” of columns, book reviews and his fine books, ran the GSP talk show, did specials on different issues and gave commencement speeches, and was not “over-committed”? Is he Superman?
More likely, he is a friend of Mr. Evans who shows a strange lapse of professional standards when he fails to mention that he is married to the celebrated Tina Brown who now runs the Daily Beast and Newsweek whose international edition was long edited by Mr. Zakaria. Has Mr. Evans heard of conflict of interest and the need for transparency? The Japanese have a tradition where, if a samurai commits harakiri by disemboweling himself, his best friend or chosen attendant will put him out of his agony by doing a kaishaku: cutting his head off. Mr. Evans instead tries to circle the wagons around his friend with absurd allegations of my indulging in the “full Nuremberg”. Mr. Evans must know that this is obnoxious and his abuse of his status in British journalism makes his behavior contemptible.
University Professor of Economics, Law & International Affairs, Columbia University
Senior Fellow in International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations