After Plagiarism Claims, Ex-Times Editor Says Her Book ‘Will Be Fixed’

Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of The New York Times, responded on Thursday to accusations that her latest book, “Merchants of Truth,” contains passages that were plagiarized or not properly attributed to the original source material.

“I was up all night going through my book because I take these claims of plagiarism so seriously,” she said in a statement issued by the book’s publisher, Simon & Schuster. “I tried above all to accurately and properly give attribution to the many hundreds of sources that were part of my research.”

She added: “The notes don’t match up with the right pages in a few cases and this was unintentional and will be promptly corrected. The language is too close in some cases and should have been cited as quotations in the text. This, too, will be fixed.”

A Simon & Schuster spokesman said the company would work with Ms. Abramson to make corrections and clarify the sourcing in future print editions and in the e-book.

On Wednesday evening, a reporter for Vice News, one of the four news organizations Ms. Abramson chronicles in her book, alerted readers to passages that appear to have been lifted from other sources, in some cases word for word. The reporter, Michael Moynihan, revealed the similarities in a series of tweets.

In one instance, he cited a 2005 article from Ryerson Review, a news site run by journalism students, in which a paragraph describing Gavin McInnes, a founder of Vice News, reads: “McInnes wrote a column in ‘The American Conservative,’ a magazine run by Pat Buchanan. In the magazine, he called young people a bunch of knee-jerk liberals (a phrase McInnes and his cronies use often) who’ll believe anyone with dark skin over anyone with light skin.”

The similar passage from Ms. Abramson’s book reads: “He wrote a column in ‘The American Conservative,’ a magazine run by Pat Buchanan, calling young people a bunch of knee-jerk liberals (a phrase McInnes and his ilk often used) who would believe anyone with dark skin over anyone with light skin.”

Nicolle Weeks, the author of the 2005 article, said in an interview, “I’m concerned that she’s written a book about truth and journalism, and she has done something dishonest.”

Other examples cited by Mr. Moynihan include sentences or paragraphs that appear similar to those from articles published by The New Yorker and the Columbia Journalism Review.

Ms. Abramson, who was fired from The Times in the spring of 2014, after less than three years in its top job on the editorial side, sold the book to Simon & Schuster in 2015 after an auction with multiple publishers. Reviews for “Merchants of Truth,” a 500-page examination of how newsrooms, both new and established, are grappling with the changes brought on by the rise of digital media, were largely positive, including in The Times.

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A Simon & Schuster spokesman said the company would work with Ms. Abramson to make corrections and clarify the sourcing in future print editions and in the e-book.CreditJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

Vice is one of the media companies that Ms. Abramson focused on, and when galleys of the book circulated last month, many of its staff members pointed out inaccuracies on social media. In response to those complaints, Ms. Abramson made corrections in time for the final version.

The inaccuracies and apparently cut-and-pasted lines were surprising, given the subject of her book, which came with the subtitle “The Business of News and the Fight for Facts.” In the parts of “Merchants of Truth” focused on her tenure as executive editor of The Times, Ms. Abramson described her concern that the line between the business and news departments was starting to blur.

The majority of the book is not memoir, but a work of deep reporting driven by the thesis that the new breed of digital outlets — specifically, Vice and BuzzFeed — are somewhat lacking in their commitment to traditional journalistic values.

“The irony is, it’s the people who didn’t have a culture of fact-checking who are the ones fact-checking her work,” Kyle Pope, the editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, said in an interview.

Plagiarism is a cardinal, and sometimes career-ending, sin in journalism, but the practice of approving borrowed phrases gets a pass in the book world, except in egregious instances. Several prominent authors who stood accused of plagiarism, including the poet and memoirist Jill Bialosky and the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, have emerged relatively unscathed, their mistakes chalked up to haste or sloppiness rather than intellectual dishonesty.

“Book publishing has almost adopted the role of that of a Facebook, saying, ‘We’re just a platform,’” Mr. Pope said. “Which I think is wrong.”

Jane Mayer, a writer for The New Yorker who collaborated with Ms. Abramson on “Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas,” defended the author. “I’d be hard pressed to find a more honest and hardworking reporter,” she said in an email. “Anyone can make a few mistakes, but it’s a distortion to devalue a lifetime of outstanding work because of this.”

Mr. Moynihan, the Vice correspondent, said he uncovered evidence of apparent plagiarism when he started looking closely at the book to determine whether Ms. Abramson had gotten facts about Vice wrong because she had come upon them elsewhere.

Thomas Morton, a reporter for Vice, said he was surprised to read a chapter about himself that included incorrect details about his high school years that he did not recall discussing with Ms. Abramson during their phone interview.

She described him as a teenager who wore skinny pants and ironic T-shirts and listened to Southern gangster rap, none of which were true, he said in an interview. In another section included in the book’s first printing (but not in the current e-book version), Ms. Abramson described how Mr. Morton traveled to the mountains outside Cartagena to report on a tribe that has a tradition of having sex with donkeys.

The problem, Mr. Morton said, is that he was not the correspondent of the donkey story. It was covered by another correspondent.

Ms. Abramson did not respond to requests for comment.

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