UPDATE: Jill Abramson says she will address plagiarism accusations in book
Former executive editor of the New York Times Jill Abramson on Wednesday denied allegations that she plagiarized portions of her new book, ‘‘Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts.’’
Abramson was confronted about the allegations — which are outlined in a Twitter thread by Vice News’ Michael Moynihan — during an appearance on Fox News. When asked by host Martha MacCallum if she had any comment on the numerous similarities detailed by Moynihan, Abramson replied, ‘‘I really don’t.’’
‘‘All I can tell you is I certainly didn’t plagiarize in my book and there’s 70 pages of footnotes showing where I got the information,’’ Abramson said.
In a statement to the Globe on Thursday, Abramson said in writing the book, she “tried above all to accurately and properly give attribution to the many hundreds of sources that were part of my research.”
She also acknowledged that the “passages in question involve facts that should have been perfectly cited in my footnotes and weren’t.”
She said the book has “70 pages of footnotes, and nearly 100 source citations in the Vice chapters alone, including the New Yorker, the Columbia Journalism Review, The Ryerson Review of Journalism, and a Masters’ thesis, the sources from which Mr. Moynihan says I plagiarized.”
“The notes don’t match up with the right pages in a few cases and this was unintentional and will be promptly corrected,” she said. “The language is too close in some cases and should have been cited as quotations in the text. This, too, will be fixed.”
So...Jill Abramson's book has finally hit bookstore shelves. A few weeks ago, reading a galley copy, I noticed an egregious error about my colleague @adrs. She tweeted it out, a shit storm followed, Abramson corrected the mistake.— Michael C Moynihan (@mcmoynihan) February 6, 2019
*All three* chapters on Vice were clotted with mistakes. Lots of them. The truth promised in Merchants of Truth was often not true. While trying to corroborate certain claims, I noticed that it also contained...plagiarized passages.— Michael C Moynihan (@mcmoynihan) February 6, 2019
The following examples from the final book—not the galley—are only from the Vice chapters (I didn’t check the others). So let’s begin...Here is Abramson on Gavin McInnes (whom she interviewed) and the Ryerson Review of Journalism https://t.co/hx0XcyZ89k pic.twitter.com/qroN59gyVk— Michael C Moynihan (@mcmoynihan) February 6, 2019
This paragraph can be sourced to two places: a *masters thesis* and a 2013 New Yorker piece by Lizzie Widdicombe https://t.co/ZWX5RgKxlahttps://t.co/Ux6gdDO9Qg pic.twitter.com/tSIKyRoKDP— Michael C Moynihan (@mcmoynihan) February 6, 2019
This example is from one source--the New Yorker again--though the two sentences are separated by a page.https://t.co/Ux6gdDO9Qg pic.twitter.com/m3dnsQaOmv— Michael C Moynihan (@mcmoynihan) February 6, 2019
Here Abramson--in a treatise on journalistic ethics--copies a passage from...the Columbia Journalism Reviewhttps://t.co/mZZlA4odqw pic.twitter.com/gZVxQ1dc3Z— Michael C Moynihan (@mcmoynihan) February 6, 2019
There’s lesser stuff too; still problematic. At various points in Merchants of Truth, rather than toil in the archives, reading old issues of the magazine or watching old Vice videos, Abramson liberally borrows from those who have: https://t.co/Ux6gdDO9Qg pic.twitter.com/mEvufhFJ3J— Michael C Moynihan (@mcmoynihan) February 6, 2019
There’s plenty more--enormous factual errors, other cribbed passages, single or unsourced claims--but this should give a sense.— Michael C Moynihan (@mcmoynihan) February 6, 2019
The book ends with a final wag of the finger, reminding me that my colleagues apparently don’t possess “the expertise to compete on the biggest news stories.” If Abramson is the arbiter of ethics & expertise, I think we’re doing just fine.— Michael C Moynihan (@mcmoynihan) February 6, 2019
Moynihan’s tweets went viral Wednesday and brought a lot of attention to Abramson’s book, which was mired in controversy even before it was published this month. The thread, which focuses on three chapters Abramson wrote on the media company Vice, highlights paragraphs containing language that appears to be lifted from material published in Time Out, the New Yorker and the Columbia Journalism Review.
Moynihan wrote in the Wednesday night thread that there are ‘‘plenty more’’ examples of ‘‘enormous factual errors, other cribbed passages, single or unsourced claims.’’
When asked by MacCallum if there could’ve been an attribution or footnote issue in the book, the former Times editor replied: ‘‘No, I don’t think this is an issue at all.’’
‘‘Many people from Vice have been taking issue with the book,’’ she said. ‘‘I think they don’t like the portrayal of Vice although I think it’s a very balanced portrait and I have a lot of praise for some of their journalists and some of their stories. I like their fresh approach to news.’’
The attacks on my book from some @vicenews reflect their unhappiness with what I consider a balanced portrayal.— Jill Abramson (@JillAbramson) February 7, 2019
I endeavored to accurately and properly give attribution to the hundreds of sources that were part of my research— Jill Abramson (@JillAbramson) February 7, 2019
I take seriously the issues raised and will review the passages in question— Jill Abramson (@JillAbramson) February 7, 2019
Ian Frisch, author of ‘‘Magic is Dead’’ and freelance journalist, said after reviewing Moynihan’s thread he did some digging of his own. He compared what Abramson had written in her book about Vice’s Thomas Morton, who Frisch profiled in 2014 for a magazine he founded, called ‘‘Relapse.’’
He then posted a similar thread, highlighting what appear to be passages and quotes lifted without proper attribution. Although Relapse discontinued, Frisch said in an interview Wednesday night his profile on Morton was accessible for a couple of years on his website before he took it down.
‘‘The whole situation is quite troubling, especially from someone who looked up to Jill and people like her as sort of the institutional leaders,’’ Frisch said. ‘‘I came up with, and I still do read the New York Times every single day. To go through those passages and to see how similar they were to my own writing — for her to attribute a quote to Thomas as if he was speaking to her, when he was speaking, to me — it’s just very disheartening.’’
Cary Goldstein, executive vice president of publicity at Simon & Schuster, which published Merchants of Truth, said in a statement it was ‘‘an exhaustively researched and meticulously sourced book.’’
‘‘It has been published with an extraordinary degree of transparency toward its subjects; each of the four news organizations covered in the book was given ample time and opportunity to comment on the content, and where appropriate the author made changes and corrections,’’ Goldstein said in the emailed statement. ‘‘If upon further examination changes or attributions are deemed necessary we stand ready to work with the author in making those revisions.’’
The Washington Post reviewed end notes in the back of Abramson’s book, which refer to pages where she used material that was not her own. There is no indication in the main text of the book showing which passages require attribution.
The Post could not review all of the citations, but found some citations that appear to refer to Frisch’s work as well as examples pointed out by Moynihan. The citations are not referenced in the passages where the sourced material was used, and instead are listed with page numbers and organized by chapter. They key to specific quotes or terms in the passages and refer to articles, websites and books.
‘‘I’ve been shown that small snippets of my story have been credited in the endnotes, but the endnotes do not go into the depth of how much this section about Thomas relied on my article,’’ Frisch later wrote on Twitter. ‘‘She quotes Thomas as if he’s speaking to her directly. This would not fly for a mag article.’’
Speaking with The Post, he added, ‘‘I worked so hard to stick to the foundation of journalism which is truth and accuracy, and it’s difficult for me to see such brazen similarities in Jill’s work and my own.’’
Danny McDonald of Globe staff contributed to this report.