Zakaria also told the Times that he had reluctantly hired a research assistant to help him handle the workload, but that the assistant did not draft his articles. If his more complete explanation turns out to be that he is taking the bullet for a research assistant, readers at CNN.com and Time deserve to know that, too, and deserve to know what he’s doing to cut down on his workload so that he can be fully responsible for the work that bears his name. And reporters deserve to know the name of the research assistant, not to embarrass him or her but so that they can interview him or her to verify the story.
However, if it turns out that this was more than a paper mix-up or a researcher’s rookie mistake, and that the pressures of all those paying gigs actually made Zakaria steal Lepore’s work—something for which he could have been thrown out of the two universities (Harvard and Yale) that adorn his resume—CNN and Time should explain why he’s being forgiven and what he’s doing to cut down on his workload and multiple payrolls. More than that, reporters should press CNN and Time on why even one commission of what, along with fabrication, is journalism’s most basic breach of trust gets a pass. Would I be able to explain to the police that my flat-screen might be stolen, but I swear everything else in my house was bought honestly?
The same Times story that initially referred to his busy schedule, noted that Zakaria had been criticized for giving basically the same paid graduation speech at two commencements this spring. I’m not sure how bad an offense that is, but it does raise another question: Where, other than at universities, has he been such a busy paid speaker? Has he been paid to speak to groups—such as those representing major industries or international constituencies (a group that seeks enhanced free-trade agreements, for example)—that have special interests related to issues he reports about or whose leaders have been covered in his writings or on his TV show?
A column by David Carr in the Times, also on Monday, compared Zakaria’s transgression to those of Jonah Lehrer, who was found to have plagiarized his own work by recycling it in the New Yorker, among other places, and also to have fabricated quotes in his best-selling book, Imagine. Declaring Lehrer to be the far worse actor—which based on all the available evidence is clearly true—Carr wrote this about Zakaria: “He apologized, was suspended, and Time and CNN investigated whether there was a deeper problem and decided there was not. He was reinstated on Thursday. End of story.”