by Jim Sleeper
A few hours ago Fareed Zakaria apologized publicly for passing off New Yorker writer Jill Lepore’s work as his own in an essay he wrote for Time magazine. Not to put too fine a point on it, Zakaria committed egregious plagiarism, as Alexander Abad-Santos of the Atlantic Wire reported.
But the offense does not end there. Zakaria is a trustee of Yale, which takes a very dim view of plagiarism and suspends or expels students who commit anything like what he has committed here. If the Yale Corporation were to apply to itself the standards it expects its faculty and students to meet, Zakaria would have to take a leave or resign.
Worse still: Lepore, whom Zakaria wronged by misappropriating her work, is herself a Yale PhD. If anyone knows what it means to steal another scholar’s work, it’s Zakaria, who holds a PhD from Harvard.
Zakaria is a busy man, of course. Although he’s been judged by The New Republic to be one of America’s “most-overrated thinkers,” he was interviewed about the state of the world last year by Yale President Richard Levin before a large audience at the kick-off off Yale’s $50 million Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, the new home of “Professor” Stanley McChrystal and of what Lewis Lapham has called “the arts and sciences of career management,” including mastery of “the exchange rate between an awkward truth and a user-friendly lie.”
Zakaria was Harvard’s commencement speaker this June and, as Paul Starobin reported in the Columbia Journalism Review, he’s also very busy collecting his standard speaking fee of $75,000 for talks he gives to at Baker Capital, Catterton Partners, Driehaus Capital Management, ING, Merrill Lynch, Oak Investment Partners, Charles Schwab, and T. Rowe Price.
Might Zakaria then have fobbed off the drafting of his ill-fated Time article to an assistant or intern (from Yale, perhaps?) and given the draft his glancing approval before letting it run under his byline in Time? Whatever the truth, he couldn’t have fobbed off the blame on anyone but himself, and so he has issued his clipped but “unreserved” apology to Lepore.
He should also apologize to Yale. Last April Yale’s trustees, under fire for their ill-conceived venture to establish a new liberal arts college bearing Yale’s name in collaboration with the authoritarian city-state of Singapore, wheeled in their fellow trustee and favorite journalist, Zakaria, to write a column defending the venture in the Yale Daily News that, I wrote here in Huffington Post at the time, then read as if it had been written by a wind-up toy of Zakaria at his self-important, elitist worst.
After parsing the new Singapore college’s prospective East-West syllabus with affectations of an erudition he doesn’t possess, Zakaria, a consummate player of the “Third World card” against Westerners who dare to criticize his Davos neo-liberalism, discovered in the Singapore venture’s Yale faculty critics “a form of parochialism bordering on chauvinism — on the part of supposedly liberal and open-minded intellectuals” who, he wrote, can’t “see that we too, in America and at Yale, can learn something from Singapore.”
I’ve since had several occasions to explain what exactly we’re learning from Singapore, as well as to note Zakaria’s bad habit of resorting to elitist, snarky put-downs of his critics. Last summer, he lit into a leftist critic of President Obama, the academic psychologist and political consultant Drew Westen, by telling Charlie Rose, “I’m not going to get into the what-ifs of a professor, you know, who has never run for dogcatcher advising one of the most skillful politicians in the country on how he should have handled this.”
Zakaria — who hasn’t run for dogcatcher, either, but doesn’t hesitate to advise presidents — can’t help himself at such moments, and he hasn’t been able to help himself now, either. As long as he remains a Yale trustee, he will remain a sad example of Yale’s own transformation from a crucible of civic-republican leadership for America and the world into a global career-networking center and cultural galleria for a new elite that answers to no polity or moral code and that aggrandizes itself by plucking the fruits of others’ work.
This article was first published in Huffington Post.
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