Responding to critics who say her new book contains plagiarized material, former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson acknowledged Thursday that the “language is too close in some cases” and changes will be made.
Abramson had initially rebutted the accusations involving “Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts,’’ tweeting that she “endeavored to accurately and properly give attribution to the hundreds of sources that were part of my research.” Abramson and her publisher, Simon & Schuster, did promise to review the passages in question.
Yesterday’s reversal was only the latest in what has been a rocky launch for Abramson’s examination of disruption in the news industry over the past decade. Last month, current and former Vice journalists got their hands on a galley and said it contained multiple inaccuracies. Some of those concerns were addressed in the final version of the book, which arrived in stores this week.
On Thursday afternoon, Abramson, now a senior lecturer at Harvard, issued a statement saying: “I was up all night going through my book because I take these claims of plagiarism so seriously. . . . I tried above all to accurately and properly give attribution to the many hundreds of sources that were part of my research. My book has 70 pages of footnotes, and nearly 100 source citations in the Vice chapters alone. . . . The notes don’t match up with the right pages in a few cases, and this was unintentional and will be promptly corrected. The language is too close in some cases and should have been cited as quotations in the text. This, too, will be fixed. I wouldn’t want even a misplaced comma so I will promptly fix these footnotes and quotations as I have corrected other material that Vice contested.”
The plagiarism allegations were leveled on Twitter Wednesday by Vice News’s Michael Moynihan, who compared sections from Abramson’s book with passages from other publications, including Ryerson Review of Journalism, The New Yorker, Time Out, and Columbia Journalism Review. Writer Ian Frisch, the former editor of Relapse Magazine, also tweeted that Abramson’s book included, without proper attribution, material from a 2014 profile he wrote about Vice’s Thomas Morton.
One of the passages cited by Moynihan is from a 2005 story in Ryerson Review of Journalism about Vice Media cofounder Gavin Miles: “In August 2003, McInnes wrote a column in The American Conservative, a magazine run by Pat Buchanan. In the magazine, he called young people a bunch of knee-jerk liberals (a phrase McInnes and his cronies use often) who’ll believe anyone with dark skin over anyone with light skin. He laments the liberal views of most of the people who pick up his magazine, saying they’re ‘brainwashed by communist propaganda.’ ”
On page 50 of her book, Abramson writes: “He wrote a column in The American Conservative, a magazine run by Pat Buchanan, calling young people a bunch of knee-jerk liberals (a phrase McInnes and his ilk often used) who would believe anyone with dark skin over anyone with light skin. He lamented the liberal views of his magazine’s readers, saying they were ‘brainwashed by communist propaganda.’ ”
During an appearance Wednesday on Fox News, Abramson didn’t respond to individual claims, saying “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.’’
But some in the publishing industry said footnotes are sometimes not enough.
“The real problem,” says literary agent and lawyer John Taylor “Ike” Williams, a founder of Kneerim & Williams, “is that if you’re quoting or very closely summarizing someone’s work and don’t put it in quotes to show it’s not your work, or identify the creator of the work on the page it appears, all the footnotes or endnotes in the world won’t protect you from charges of plagiarism even if your use of others’ work is too insubstantial to amount to copyright infringement.”
In her statement Thursday, Abramson, who’ll be at Harvard Book Store Feb. 19, said she stands by the substance of her book, which looks at the various paths taken by legacy media organizations The New York Times and The Washington Post and digital newcomers Vice News and BuzzFeed.
“All of the ideas in the book are original, all the opinions are mine,” she said. “The passages in question involve facts that should have been perfectly cited in my footnotes and weren’t.”Mark Shanahan can be reached at email@example.com.