Integrity is an important aspect of society and an essential one for journalism. People who become journalists join a long-standing agreement with readers and viewers and listeners in trust. The public has faith in the media, and the media must, in turn, respect and honor that trust and not abuse its power.
Fareed Zakaria, a CNN host and Time editor-at-large, broke that trust when he plagiarized in a Time magazine column on gun control, an act he admitted to on Friday.
He has rightly been suspended by both CNN and Time, and readers will probably question the validity of his future — and past — articles, as well as those by both entities. Zakaria, who before this incident appeared to be a great journalist with valuable insight, deserves a second chance.
He should not be fired and certainly not be used as a scapegoat for an industrywide problem. Yes, Zakaria is completely at fault for borrowing, without attribution, from a piece in The New Yorker, but he is by no means the only one culpable. It was a failure of not just Zakaria but the journalism industry evolving in this digital age.
We expect more from Time, CNN and the mainstream media as a whole. There is an expectation that articles go through standard editing and fact-checking processes: How is it that this was not caught? How many other people out there are plagiarizing and not getting caught?
This failure is one of several of late that goes far beyond Zakaria and Time Warner, the conglomerate that owns CNN and Time. A writer with The New Yorker resigned on July 30 after a series of plagiarism incidents. When the Supreme Court delivered its ruling on President Obama’s health care law, both CNN and Fox News, in a rush to deliver the news first, initially reported that the individual mandate was struck down.
Journalists need to take a deep breath and slow down. It’s not about being first — it’s about being right. Only in extreme cases does breaking news a few minutes before a competitor make any significant difference. A well-researched, original article is undoubtedly superior to a hastily written but earlier-published one, plagiarism or not. And laziness should never be accepted when fastidiousness is a viable option.
Part of being a journalist is questioning the ethics of others, whether it be heads of state or a face on the street. It is therefore essential that journalists hold themselves to the highest ethical standard. Plagiarism delegitimizes news, and a journalism industry with integrity is a must in society.
The fact that anyone can get caught plagiarizing is a lesson for students as well. The consequences for plagiarism here at UC Berkeley are especially harsh and can be detrimental to future academic and professional endeavors.
Don’t take the lazy, easy way out — not in school, not in journalism. Not at all.