By Wilberne Persaud, financial Gleaner Columnist
Last week's column discussed Fareed Zakaria's suspension and reinstate-ment by Time Magazine and CNN after his admission of 'a terrible mistake' and 'a serious lapse', entirely '[his] fault' — actually a plagiarism charge, on an incident earlier identified by Internet checkers.
It is only after I had submitted the document that I realised my omission of a key aspect of the episode which I had planned to highlight: the issue of reputation and trust.
The revised last paragraph should have read: "So, if Mr Zakaria uses research assistants and ghostwriters, he has to let them know their feet remain inches from the fire. The experience may also mean he might have to get by with either a little less sleep or a little less exposure. The brand he possesses is fragile in the new media world — a demanding if adoring stage may also be forgiving. But he should take note of Iago's words: 'Who steals my purse steals trash. But he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed'. Shakespeare knew the stage perhaps better than anyone of his time and since. This is a reputational issue requiring vigorous care.
Having not made this change, the original contained no explicit reference to reputation and trust.
I don't know if this might have satisfied some of my correspondents among a few, who did not at all agree with my take on the matter. I reproduce one here.
The first comment deals with the possibility that Zakaria may have forgotten to note the reference.
"I have a problem with your two scenarios on Zakaria and plagiarism: No 1 - Hard to believe that someone who is academically trained and very aware of the media's attention to what he is writing, would 'forget', when taking sections of an article, to note the source, publication and date — this is second nature — cannot buy it."
The suggestion that research assistants or ghostwriters may have been at fault is also roundly dismissed.
"... If this is the scenario, wouldn't he also instruct these research assistants, many of whom - as you point out - are probably semi-employed academics in their own right, to be writing and researching at this level would certainly know the regulations and the tremendous pitfalls given media exposure, scrutiny and ability to check? Just like a student writing a paper, they would have noted citations/ sources with what they sent 'the boss'. No corporation wants a big lawsuit and the bad publicity that follows — and further, Zakaria is the one that would be the most exposed, since with the net, etc, it is so easily checked and the person on whom the crime was perpetrated, especially if they write for a big media house as well, as opposed to a journal from Podunk U. Tennessee, can make big noise and big trouble. The corporation would have in place all the does and don'ts — especially not to be caught! Zakaria has the most to lose.
"So what are we left with? People like Zakaria, who have made it in corporate media and are 'stars' often have inflated egos. In his case, it is only a small section of the total piece and by the time he has massaged it, it is 'his'. Your empathy for him because his analysis and'insightfulness' is closer to yours than most of the right-wing so-called analysts is blinding you to the obvious: people of your ideological beliefs, working in major media, where they become 'giants', like many of various political persuasions, have egos that, if they are too blinded, will demonstrate their clay feet.
"Actually, unlike you, I find the fact that he has been 'exonerated' reprehensible yet typical of corporate media. 'Whitewash' it and it will be forgotten by the public. Do we hear anything about either the New Yorker or the lady herself suing? If not, is there word on the street of an out-of-court settlement? Not sure it is quite over yet. Even if exonerated by the big guys in corporate media, Zakaria's readers may not at all be so forgiving. This is a big blot on his credibility. What is the lesson of all this? I don't think you really make it clear."
Whereas I have been willing not to judge, because I do not have all the facts, my correspondent takes the entirely opposite line buttressed by the view that rapid exoneration by the big media houses smacks of cover-up.
I thought I would share this with readers and, if the lesson of all this was not made clear, I should rectify the omission now: Plagiarism is indeed theft. It is a blot that even if not defined in the criminal code, should cause those found guilty of its commission to suffer consequences.
As Shakespeare noted in Othello, the stolen purse is one thing, lost reputation is the really big issue. Imagine not losing, but throwing away with one's own hands, squandering one's reputation by plagiarism. That is the essence of dumb. Alas, it does happen.
Wilberne Persaud is author of 'Jamaica Meltdown: Indigenous Financial Sector Crash 1996'. Email: email@example.com