NYT big Jill Abramson accused of plagiarism in new book, and boy, is it bad
Jill Abramson, the former New York Times editor who carries a little plastic Obama doll in her purse for comfort, has written quite a book, trying to describe the news industry the same way the great David Halberstam once did in The Powers that Be in the 1970s. She examines four news outfits, plus Facebook, in an attempt to replicate Halberstam's tome about how the news industry evolved in her new book, titled Merchants of Truth. Her conclusion? Legacy media rule. Upstart media have no value.
After a big buildup from this, she's got a problem: she's being accused of plagiarism.
Here's the New York Times' generally positive review from Jan. 22:
The episode [Abramson's firing from the New York Times], in more ways than one, set Abramson on a path that would produce "Merchants of Truth," her book examining four news organizations trying to sail through the storm of digital transformation: BuzzFeed, Vice, The Washington Post and The Times. It's partly a memoir and partly a work of investigative reporting. But it's mostly an audit of an industry that has spent much of the past decade wetting its pants in fear of digital technology and then worrying about whether to go to the dry cleaners. And it's a damn good read.
Abramson's pious, pompous, and plummy conclusion? Old ways are best; reporting flourishes when it's left in the hands of the legacy media and, kid you not, its heirs. Any media upstarts challenging this particular press can only be punky little idiots.
She'd get away with this except that one of those punky little idiots at one of the agencies she decried...has found that Abramson, doyenne of the Times and guardian of its claimed values, plagiarized the heck out of other people's work in her book.
VICE contributor Michael C. Moynihan put out an amazing string of ten tweets showing instance after instance. Look at this — I'll include a few, and the rest can be checked out here:
So...Jill Abramson's book has finally hit bookstore shelves. A few weeks ago, reading a galley copy, I noticed an egregious error about my colleague @adrs. She tweeted it out, a shit storm followed, Abramson corrected the mistake.— Michael C Moynihan (@mcmoynihan) February 6, 2019
The following examples from the final book—not the galley—are only from the Vice chapters (I didn’t check the others). So let’s begin...Here is Abramson on Gavin McInnes (whom she interviewed) and the Ryerson Review of Journalism https://t.co/hx0XcyZ89k pic.twitter.com/qroN59gyVk— Michael C Moynihan (@mcmoynihan) February 6, 2019
The book ends with a final wag of the finger, reminding me that my colleagues apparently don’t possess “the expertise to compete on the biggest news stories.” If Abramson is the arbiter of ethics & expertise, I think we’re doing just fine.— Michael C Moynihan (@mcmoynihan) February 6, 2019
Oh man. So what we have is scolding, schoolmarmy "leave the news to us, the professionals," with a side of "we are the upholders of the traditional values," and right out the gate, she gets caught and exposed violating the first rule of journalism, which is not to copy off other people's papers. Basic stuff. Multiple times. As this tweeter put it:
The apparent plagiarism, from someone supposedly at the Olympic pinnacle of journalism, using her soapbox to point the bony finger at others for their supposed turpitude, is a doozy.
Plagiarism. That's rule one of news, violated. When I was a student at Columbia Journalism School, I knew of people who were thrown out on the spot for plagiarism. Back then, we learned of some guy who lifted quotes from an interview with a guy named Joseph Papp and tried to pass them off as his own reporting. His problem was that Papp was dead, and the professor, an old-guard Daily News guy, knew that. That was the sort of thing that got no forgiveness at J-school, which booted the kid, and which, by the way, is a place where Abramson occasionally gives lectures.
And, well, here we are. Jill Abramson, vaunted guardian of journalism and its old-school values, getting called out by one of the upstarts, catching her out so very fast in this age of Google. Moynihan used new media's natural advantage to pretty well tell us what's wrong with the legacy media.
And don't think I'm overstating this when I say that Abramson had contempt for the new upstart media.
NPR pretty well destroyed Abramson with this, first citing what she wrote:
"Most of the on-air talent was very young and had scant experience; only three had ever reported on camera before. What they had was 'the look.' They were diverse: just about every race and ethnicity and straight, gay, queer, and transgender. They were impossibly hip, with interesting hair."
...and then adding this:
Not only is this framing dismissive and cruel, it also shows that she doesn't understand that diversity is one of the biggest advantages of Internet media. Young people do and should expect journalists to look like the people they write for.
Abramson's snide tone also contrasts sharply with the way she writes about journalists who have a different "advantage" — family ties. "[T]he news was in his blood," she writes of one editor with an editor father. The book concludes with a hopeful line about the newest Sulzberger, a baby girl, who is held up, Simba-like, as the heir to the fight for truth: "This sixth-generation Sulzberger would be reared with the values necessary to be both a guardian and a merchant of truth." This dismissal of new and diverse talent in favor of the establishment makes it clear which group of people Abramson sees as her natural allies.
Now she's got a publishing disaster on her hands, explaining why her plagiarism isn't plagiarism, and rest assured, she's not persuasive:
She doesn't even justify herself well — she only insists she's not a plagiarist, and she hasn't "looked at" the VICE reporter's charges in what looks like a hope that the whole thing will go away. Her publisher put out this one, suggesting it's a matter of footnoting:
Simon and Schuster stupidly paid a million dollars for this disastrous book. If these obvious examples of plagiarism aren’t enough and they require more examples of egregious mistakes and secondary source...ummm...cribbing, I’ll happily provide them. https://t.co/DbV3dkgjni— Michael C Moynihan (@mcmoynihan) February 7, 2019
And the Times delicately noted in its Jan. 22 piece that there seemed to be a spot of bother, not mentioning any plagiarism:
[A] number of former Vice employees have claimed on social media that there are errors in her text.
Um, plagiarism is kind of a big one. Any questions as to why the public is convinced the media are untrustworthy?