Et tu, Fareed?

I have shared with a few friends that I was very disappointed last Sunday when I tried to watch the DVRed recording of Fareed Zakaria’s “Global Public Square” (GPS) program on CNN. The show was missing, replaced by an extended version of Candy Crowley’s “State of the Union” show. Crowley’s program is OK, but focuses on domestic issues in the political world rather than the international perspective Fareed brings in his GPS show.

I learned later that Zakaria had been suspended by both Time magazine (where he has a column that usually runs every week) and by CNN because of a case of plagiarism. Fareed admitted to this in a simple mea culpa and accepted suspension by both organizations. This was disappointing to me because I have grown to respect Dr. Zakaria. I often do not agree with him, but he brings a mix of progressive politics combined with an aggressive capitalism and free-marketism that I have found in no other national voice. His show brings in many international players whom he engages in spirited one-on-one discussions. I especially appreciate that Fareed shows respect to his show’s guests, even if they are folks he obviously does not agree with. With Fareed you do not find the constant interuptions (ala Bill O’Reilly or Chris Matthews) that end in disallowing free exchange of ideas and opinions. Fareed also assembles “panels” of thinkers to discuss the issues of the day, using folks from all over the world. His attempt to create something like a true “Global Public Square” is lacking elsewhere in the partisan world of cable TV.

But the evidence of plagiarism is irrefutable, and in some ways it is not surprising. Celebrity journalists like Zakaria have an enormous output of material, and obviously employ research assistants who ghost write much of this. We are naive to assume that everything published under Fareed’s name has been written by him. This pressure to grind out material seems designed to cause authors to use shortcuts. Someone in Fareed’s organization (maybe Fareed himself, although I doubt it), caved to this pressure and lifted a substantial chunk of material from another columnist. And even if his the plagiarism was committed by someone else, Fareed’s name was on the column, and the blame rests with him.

Is this forgivable? Of course. But it taints Fareed and it should. I will never be quite so trusting of him in the future. And that makes me sad. In a world where political commentary is sometimes thinly veiled rehash of talking points from one of the national parties by attractive airheads, Fareed was different. My expectations from him were too high, I guess.

Both Time magazine and CNN have lifted Fareed’s suspension and his GPS show is scheduled to resume on August 26. I will be very interested to see how he handles the situation. Will his credibility be diminished or enhanced in my eyes? We’ll see.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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