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Fact Checking the Fact Checkers (cont.)

From the Scrapbook.

Sep 3, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 47 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Well, no sooner had The Scrapbook’s language been rendered into print than the New York Times, as if on cue, produced a full-page, deeply therapeutic profile of the malefactor with this headline: “A Media Personality, Suffering a Blow to His Image, Ponders a Lesson.” And there was a fetching, four-column portrait of -Zakaria, looking fit and rested in jacket and dress shirt (no tie), smiling gamely for the camera, his hands positioned slightly awkwardly on his jean legs.

Note the carefully worded cause and effect: Zakaria did not commit plagiarism; he suffered “a blow to his image,” from which he has learned a lesson. And of course, there is no sense whatsoever that Zakaria had resorted to the lowest means by which any writer can cultivate renown: stealing the words of another, the New Yorker’s Jill Lepore, and touting them as his own. Instead, we are treated to excuses from friends: Zakaria is so gosh-darned busy (“I wish I had one-tenth of the energy and productivity he has”) and profound (“He’s one of the premier global intellectuals”) and always thinking at laser speed (“a phenomenally fast and lucid writer”) that, of course, he inadvertently “confused” his own prose with “notes” taken from two separate sources on the subject. 

Adds the Times, helpfully: “He often writes his research in longhand.” 

None of which is the least bit persuasive. But that doesn’t stop the Times from trying. The reader is treated to the spectacle of an Aspen symposium on the Iraq war, hosted by a Beverly Hills power couple and featuring George Soros, Queen Noor of Jordan, Sen. Dianne Feinstein—and Fareed Zakaria (“I am just so thrilled he -exists,” declares his hostess). Then we are informed, as we might have suspected, that his tenure as editor of Newsweek International had more to do with career management than journalistic enterprise (“Former colleagues .  .  . said he was involved in choosing covers and generating ideas but did little line editing and was more the public face of the magazine”). 

And finally, we learn the lesson: Our hero is such a treasure, such a force of nature, such a boundless resource for the beautiful people from Manhattan to Aspen to Beverly Hills, that he must slacken his pace, take personal stock, and preserve the Fareed Zakaria brand. Accordingly, he has announced that he “plans to cut back work with groups like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Little Shakespeare Company, and the Yale University governing board”—translation: drop the commitments that don’t promote wealth/celebrity. 

Well, all of this proves two things, from The Scrapbook’s perspective. First, in the media stratosphere, the stars will protect themselves, no matter what, and protect one another. And second, celebrity confers immunity: This self-protective, self-sustaining, self-perpetuating state of mind will persist, ad infinitum, in the media—even when one of their number is exposed as a thief.

A rare dissenter, Steven Brill, makes the point memorably in a column for Reuters:

Suppose I steal my neighbor Jill’s flat-screen television and install it in my living room. Jill or one of her friends who knows about Jill’s missing television comes over to my house a few days later, notices the television and asks, “Hey, isn’t that Jill’s television?”

I immediately confess. “Yes, it is,” I say. “I’m really sorry. It was a mistake.” Jill or any interested observer or even the police might ask, “What do you mean by ‘mistake’? Did you mistakenly break into her house and mistakenly haul her huge flat-screen into your living room and set it up on the wall?”

Well, so far, most of the press seems content to let a colleague—Fareed Zakaria .  .  . get off with exactly that explanation.

 

Verily not Cosmo

The passing of the, it turns out, not immortal Helen Gurley Brown this month at the age of 90 seems a fitting occasion to welcome a newcomer to the ranks of women’s magazines. Gurley Brown built Cosmopolitan into the hugely successful bible of “fun fearless females,” whom it encouraged to dress sexy, strive at work, be careful with money, and slough off like last year’s fashion fad any vestigial scruples about sleeping with married men. 

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