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Aug 21 2012

Fareed Zakaria and the ghost world of punditry

There have recently been a few high profile cases of plagiarism, the latest being Fareed Zakaria, who quickly admitted to the offense and apologized and whose TV show was initally suspended for a month as a punishment but quickly brought back. He has also resigned from Yale University’s Governing Board.

As regular readers of this blog know, I have a very low opinion of the professional pundit class that populates the mainstream media (the usual suspects of Will, Krauthammer, Dowd, Friedman, Cohen, Roberts, etc. in addition to Zakaria) and long ago stopped reading them, seeing them as not only largely serving as water carriers for the one-percenters, but uninteresting and unoriginal to boot. The only thing that impresses me about them is their extraordinary productivity and prodigious output. In addition to hosting and appearing on TV shows, they churn out op-eds, articles, and books, and give talks to large groups while still having time to be regular attendees in the international conference circuit and browse the buffet tables and socialize with the glitterati during the seemingly endless cycle of parties that characterize the oligarchy.

Although I am a fairly fast reader, it takes me a long time to digest the news, articles, and books that I use just for these blog posts which, in addition to the physical act of writing, is the limiting factor on my output. It is quite mentally exhausting.

I knew of course that these high-profile media figures did have access to researchers (paid staffers and unpaid interns) who did a lot of the background work, and they had others to take care of the normal household chores of home life that slow down ordinary working stiffs who are entirely on our own. Zakaria has three children aged 4 to 13 and that alone would take up an enormous amount of time for even a casual parent. I myself started blogging only after my children went off to college. I would never have had the time before. But even with all the extra help at their disposal, I did think that these pundits were the ones who put it all together so that the final product was their vision, which was still pretty impressive.

But investigative historian Eric Zuesse has an interesting article where he says that my admiration for just that one quality is also misplaced. He says that these people are not only merely spokespersons for the 1%, they are often not even the authors of a lot of the stuff that goes out under their names but are largely editors who merely supervise the work of nameless underlings who are the ones who actually research and even write the stuff, and this is why these acts of plagiarism seem to abound.

When Fareed Zakaria was suspended on Friday from Time and CNN, for plagiarism, this wasn’t merely justice, it was poetic justice: it rhymed. What it rhymed with was his own lifelong devotion to the global economic star system that he, as a born aristocrat in India, who has always been loyal to the aristocracy, inherited and has always helped to advance, at the expense of the public in every nation. He was suspended because, as a born aristocrat, who is a long-time member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group, and many other of the global aristocracy’s primary organizations, he is so well-connected that his writing-commissions are more than any one person can possibly handle, and he consequently cannot possibly actually write all that is attributed to him. He certainly cannot research it all.

Like many “writing” stars, he has a staff perform much of the research and maybe even actual writing for him, and many in his situation are actually more editors than they are writers; but, regardless, he cannot let the public know that this is the way things are, because this is simply the way that the star system works in the “writing” fields, and because the public is supposed to think that these stars in the writing fields are writers, more than editors.

So, he’s clearly a very busy man, with a considerable staff; he can’t possibly do everything himself.

But he needs to appear as if he does. He needs to present everything “he” does, as “his.”

Fareed Zakaria knows the way it works. So, he cannot afford to admit when he is being credited with the work of his employees. Far less damaging to him is to admit that he has done plagiarism himself, as he has admitted in this particular case — regardless whether it’s true.

If Zakaria didn’t actually do this plagiarism, could he very well announce to the world “I didn’t do it; I didn’t even research or write the article”? No. Romney and the Republicans say that the “job creators” at the top are the engine of the economy, and the aristocracy need to maintain this myth. It’s very important to them — that they are the stars, and that the people who might be the actual creators who work for them are not.

Zakaria wouldn’t want to burst the bubble atop which he is floating. To people in his situation, it’s a bubble of money, and it’s theirs. They don’t want to share it any more than they absolutely have to. (They despise labor unions for that very reason.) And their employees are very dependent upon them, so no one will talk about it — not the stars, not their workers.”

The aristocracy are a web, and we are all now caught up in it — and the spider is working on its meal. Zakaria is part of that web, not part of the spider’s meal. He’ll be back soon.

The question of whether it was others wrote the things that he plagiarized was put to Zakaria and he has denied it. I found Zuesse’s point that for these people, plagiarism is considered less damaging to their ‘brand’ (how I hate the mentality behind that word) than admitting to putting your name to other people’s work interesting. It would be interesting to see if this episode prompts a closer investigation of this practice. Of course, since the employers of these people also want to protect their ‘brand’, it may be hard to get at the truth unless some disgruntled lowly writer decides to take a possibly career-ending risk and spill the beans.

Zuesse’s full article is well worth the read.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    slc1

    He was suspended because, as a born aristocrat, who is a long-time member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group

    I find it interesting that the far left finds the same bete noirs as the far right. All three of these outfits are the targets of the far right whackjobs. Articles pillorying them as agents of international conspiracies can be found on any number of far right wing web sites.

  2. 2
    Ahcuah

    So you’re saying that PZ must have paid staffers and unpaid interns? :-)

    ‘Cause I sure can’t figure out how he produces so much.

  3. 3
    kural

    My biggest problem with George Will is not his troglodytic ignorance of modern scholarship or his dress sense, especially his ugly bowties. For a person who went to Oxford he just can’t write even a few lines about cricket!

  4. 4
    Marcus Ranum

    The only thing that impresses me about them is their extraordinary productivity and prodigious output.

    I have a theory about that! Useless people who just make loud noises, run meetings, call committees, etc., specialize in finding places where they aren’t really needed because those are low-load regions and therefore it’s easier to “make a difference” since there’s nothing at stake. Meanwhile, people who are busy doing useful stuff (which tends to be hard) are too busy because useful stuff tends to be hard. In this manner the useless noisemakers have lots of time to make a disproportionate amount of noise, and they rise to the top. This promotes, even further, the niche of useless noisemakers, resulting in more useless noise until that niche suffers a micro-ecological malthusian collapse.

    For me the quintessential cases are pundits (as you point out) and marketing. Marketing, because it’s sometimes examined and expected to produce results – which instead produces the result of marketing professionals always chasing the new new thing so that their paymasters have trouble figuring out that the old new thing never worked and merely cost a bunch of money and produced more marketing. The only thing marketing professionals know how to sell is marketing. And the only policy that pundits can honestly be said to usefully influence is the policy of punditry-use.

  5. 5
    Marcus Ranum

    Damn it! They must be (shudder) centrists then, if they are hated by both the left and the right!

  6. 6
    Marcus Ranum

    I wrote:
    resulting in more useless noise until that niche suffers a micro-ecological malthusian collapse.

    Case in point: when was the last time you saw an expert analysis of curling strategy, or a hurley game? Once upon a time there were too many curling pundits offering expert analysis, but one day they both drank too much beer, got in a snit, and have been “on strike” ever since.

    Joking aside – the reason politicos take noisemakers seriously is because they’re noisemakers themselves, so they value noise. In fact, as the top of the noise-pyramid, they value it disproportionately, iteratively opening increasing vistas of noisemaking opportunity for the chattering class.

    I used to theorize that the Inca perhaps used human sacrifice as a way of culling their pundit population, but judging from the collapse of their civilization it appears to have been the pundits in charge. You can usually tell when a civilization transitions to being run by the chattering class. It stumbles and performs a slow-motion pratfall.

  7. 7
    M can help you with that.

    No, no! Centrism has nothing to do with the left — it’s the exalted status of having no ideology beyond a state of perfect compromise between the right and the center-right. The left is insufficiently concerned with corporate profitability to be an acceptable object of consideration.

  8. 8
    Jeff Hess

    Good morning Mano,

    Two points:

    First, I have a writer friend who has made a very nice living over the years ghosting op-ed pieces for corporate CEOs and their ilk. Her work regularly appears in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and many other newspapers and magazines.

    Second, in his early days I greatly enjoyed the writing of James Patterson, but as soon as I began seeing his byline appearing over the names of other authors (in much smaller type) I stopped reading him.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff

  1. 9
    BUSTING THE GHOST IN THE MEME… | Have Coffee Will Write

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