Former NYT Editor Responds to “Errors”

Ronn TorossianFormer NYT Editor Responds to “Errors”, CEO, 5WPR

Jill Abramson has been a big mover and shaker in the media world for years. As a former executive editor at The New York Times, Abramson led one of the most important media publications on the planet. Now, she is being accused of “plagiarism” due to passages from her recent book, “Merchants of Truth.”

According to various reports, certain sections “closely resemble” work previously published in Time Out and The New Yorker, among other sources. The initial report of this came via Twitter, originating from Vice correspondent Michael C. Moynihan.

Abramson immediately responded to the flurry of scrutiny that followed. In an email submitted to the Associated Press, Abramson admitted that “some sourcing notes needed to be fixed” and “should have been cited as quotations” in the text.

In her statement, Abramson reportedly said:

“I wouldn’t want even a misplaced comma so I will promptly fix these footnotes and quotations as I have corrected other material that Vice contested… The book is over 500 pages. All of the ideas in the book are original, all the opinions are mine. The passages in question involve facts that should have been perfectly cited in my footnotes and weren’t.”

As an opening salvo, this was a good one. Someone with Abramson’s experience and background is going to be held to very high scrutiny, especially considering the subject of her book. Vice has been particularly detailed in its public scrutiny, and Abramson has gamely risen to the challenge. Making corrections and admitting mistakes without making excuses.

Abramson did offer a defense after she admitted the omissions and promised to correct them. She stated that her book has “extensive endnotes” as well as web links to other sources. She said some of the citations should have been placed in the text, however, the end notes made it clear no kind or plagiarism was not intended.

“The language is too close in some cases and should have been cited as quotations in the text. This, too, will be fixed…” she added.

It’s not surprising that Abramson’s book would come under harsh scrutiny from certain media outlets. After all, the book is subtitled “The Business of News and the Fight for Facts,” and in it, she takes a hard, unflinching look at the work of several major media outlets, including the Times, The Washington Post, and one of her current harshest critics, Vice.

In countering the inference that some of the work in the book was not her own, Abramson said: “I tried above all to accurately and properly give attribution to the many hundreds of sources that were part of my research. My book has 70 pages of footnotes and 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.”

Vice co-founder Suroosh Alvi fired back, directly accusing Abramson of plagiarism: “Imagine plagiarizing for a book on ethics — riddled with factual errors — and then calling it ‘Merchants of Truth.’ Hats off to you Jill Abramson!”

Clearly, Vice is not about to let this go. It will be interesting to see when and if Abramson chooses to respond directly to Alvi, or if she will continue to offer her defense and rebuttal through unaffiliated media sources. 

Ronn Torossian - Former NYT Editor Responds to “Errors”About the Author: Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading NY PR agency.