Jill Abramson Book on Truth in the Media Accused of Fake Content


It would be ironic if it were not not from a journalist

The members of the media sure do enjoy talking about and reporting on themselves. (Reminder: Jim Acosta’s book arrives this coming June). Jill Abramson, formerly of the New York Times and currently of Harvard has a new book out, “Merchants Of Truth”. In it she details the course taken in the new era of digital media of two stalwart outlets — The NY Times, and Washington Post — and two new media outlets — BuzzFeed, and Vice.


As she is currently making the media rounds to promote the release Abrams is having to answer some rather pointed charges. “I endeavored to accurately and properly give attribution,” she says in one tweet, “to the hundreds of sources that were part of my research.” She follows with another; “I take seriously the issues raised and will review the passages in question.” What Jill is responding to here is that the accusation of plagiarism has reared up from one of her subjects, Vice.

Michael C. Moynihan has presented the case that passages in Abramson’s book are wholly lifted from other sources.The journalist has taken a rather defensive position, and tries to dismiss this as nothing more than lashing out by a scorned subject. “The attacks on my book from some @vicenews reflect their unhappiness with what I consider a balanced portrayal.

Except these are not simply accusations. A case has actually been made. Moynihan is a correspondent for Vice News Tonight, the news outlet’s program appearing on HBO. In a detailed thread Moynihan has set out numerous examples pulled from “Merchants Of Truth” that seem lifted and unattributed. He sets the table with how the inspection began from the side of Vice.


Abramson has recently given some insight to what one main problem might be. In an interview with The Cut she revealed her note-taking process thusly: “I do not record. I’ve never recorded. I’m a very fast note-taker. When someone kind of says the “it” thing that I have really wanted, I don’t start scribbling right away. I have an almost photographic memory and so I wait a beat or two while they’re onto something else, and then I write down the previous thing they said.”

Far be it from me to say this is a recipe for journalistic disaster, but how many problems are in this brief snippet?! And how exactly doess a photographic memory get applied towards what was spoken?

This deeply flawed methodology seems to have found its way into her book, and Moynihan picked up on it. He proceeds to provide a tally of multiple examples where either whole passages are lifted from outside sources, or the slightest modifications are made to appear as original thought.


As can be seen, these are not selected, random phrases that can be interpreted. These are wholesale entries provided, with select modifications seemingly made to veil the pilfering of passages. Moynihan has more.

The irony turns dark here, as there is the seeming use of plagiarizing in a segment where Abrams is discussing, of all things, the ethics of her profession.


Abramson has denied the entries are cribbed in any fashion. Her publisher, Simon & Schuster, issued this non-denial statement in response to the allegations:


The evidence remains to be fully vetted, but so far it looks rather damning. What has to be chilling for S & S here is the detail Moynihan gave, that these attribution problems he is citing came only from the segment concerning his news outlet. He did not comb through the entire volume for additional examples.

The hilarity that a writing professor and former journalist would resort to the most base crime of journalism, and do so in a book that purportedly explores the state of fact-finding in contemporary media, is almost too rich to savor. That she did so and still delivers a tone of condescension towards her subject matter takes that irony over the top.

As the Vice reporter closes out, all of the issues are self-evident. Michael Moynihan offers up this nice mic drop.



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