Did Ex-NY Times Ed Jill Abramson Steal All The Words Or Just Some Of The Words? A Deep Investigation Into 'Yikes!'
Simon & Schuster paid former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson $1 million for the rights to her new book, Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts. They should've given her $2 million so she'd write some new material. It turns out that Merchants of Truth might have as many unauthorized "samples" as a rap album from the 1980s.
Wednesday, Michael Moynihan of Vice News provided multiple examples on Twitter of Abramson plagiarizing the work of others in her book. She basically paraphrases -- or lifts entirely -- whole passages from articles in Time Out, the New Yorker and the Columbia Journalism Review and calls it good, but it is not good. It is very bad. Abramson ends the Moynihan-checked chapter of Merchants of Truth by declaring that Vice lacks the "expertise to compete on the biggest news stories," so Moynihan exposing Abramson as a fraud is probably a labor of love.
Moynihan wasn't the only one to accuse Abramson of pulling a Jayson Blair. Ian Frisch, author of the upcoming Magic Is Dead, claims Abramson lifted copy from his work at least seven times. This would've required Abramson going to Frisch's personal site, where he'd posted the article, and using it as a lending library.
And unlike wholly lifted paragraphs cited by Moynihan, that was one of the passages she mildly rewrote! Abramson defended herself last night on Fox News, although she didn't defend why she was on Fox News in the first place. Martha MacCallum confronted Abramson with the allegations, which she strongly denied.
ABRAMSON: All I can tell you is I certainly didn't plagiarize in my book, and there's 70 pages of footnotes showing where I got the information.
The "footnote defense" led to Moynihan reminding Abramson how footnotes actually work. You can't just publish your own book called Rich Assholes Go To Parties and then toss in a footnote at the end citing a minor work from F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is still plagiarism. Abramson once told Slate that "when you take material word-for-word and don't credit it," that's plagiarism, but who knows who originally said that.
What the hell happened? Abramson was already in hot water for
suggesting journalists abandon those newfangled tape recording machines and just rely on half-assed note taking. This is probably fine if you're interviewing your high school's junior varsity swim team, but if you're meeting Deep Throat in the parking garage, you'll want to record that shit unless you want yourself and any publication who hires you sued into oblivion.
ABRAMSON: I do not record. I've never recorded. I'm a very fast note-taker. When someone kind of says the "it" thing that I have really wanted, I don't start scribbling right away. I have an almost photographic memory and so I wait a beat or two while they're onto something else, and then I write down the previous thing they said. Because you don't want your subject to get nervous about what they just said.
Abramson credits herself with "almost" having a photographic memory, which doesn't work at all the way she describes. She seems to understand the concept about as well as she does footnotes. Bottom line: She's not Spencer Reid from "Criminal Minds."
The appearance on Fox News perhaps inspired Abramson to respond at full Donald Trump and accuse her detractors of "fake news."
Clara Jeffery from Mother Jones wondered if Abramson was sloppy and unethical all by herself or if she relied on a crappy ghostwriter. In an interview with The Cut -- hilariously titled "How I Get It Done"-- Abramson credits a "fantastic assistant who helped [her] with everything." It makes sense to us that Abramson might've farmed out some of the reporting grunt work and then later the even more tedious "writing" part. Allegedly.
As of this morning, Abramson's publisher is standing by her, releasing a statement that doesn't actually address the relevant accusations.
Reporting is hard work that involves finding sources and asking them the right questions. Abramson clearly gives the impression that she's done this when on several occasions she's only added the word "London" to someone else's work and tossed in a superfluous comma. That's editing (at best) not writing.
We'd once thought the Times made a fatal error replacing Abramson with Maggie Haberman-hiring Dean Baquet. We might not have been wrong, but we weren't right either.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He recently fled Seattle, where he did theatre work for Book-It Rep and Cafe Nordo.