Every quarter I tell my students a joke. I tell them that I’ll let them plagiarize so long as they paraphrase their source material and attribute the original idea to its author or put it between quotation marks and identify where they found it. They usually stare at me agog for a seconds before what I’ve said sinks in. But it usually sinks in. It’s a shame I didn’t teach Fareed Zakaria, who’s not only a plagiarist, but one of the most stunningly untalented plagiarists I’ve ever encountered. Another thing I tell my students is that if they’re going to plagiarize well, they need to find source materials specific to the argument they want to parrot, which means that they can’t just type “visual rhetoric Blowup” into Google because the first few links will direct them to stuff I’ve written. Only an idiot would quote my only words back to me. I encourage them to find obscure material—like academic essays on Antonioni or Italian New Wave—and pluck their attributed paraphrases or quotations from there. So what’s so stunning about Zakaria’s plagiarism?
He plagiarized from one of Jill Lepore’s articles in The New Yorker. The New Yorker. I know most people only read it for the cartoons, but I promise you that Google has access to the words as well as the pictures. But Zakaria’s even dumber than that. He plagiarized from a recent New Yorker article in the pages of Time magazine. It’d be one thing to plagiarize a recent New Yorker article in an essay that only one person, your professor, will ever read. It’s dumber thing entirely to publish material lifted from one national publication in another national publication. He should have known that anyone interested in the material he quoted would pop onto Google and see that it appears in two different places in a very nearly identical context. But wait! It gets even better!
It seems as if Lepore herself might have a problem with plagiarism, which if true means it’s possible that Zakaria second-order plagiarized the work of an undergraduate at Harvard. And we let this man talk to president and kings? To coin a phrase: Why oh why can’t we have a better press corps?