On Feb. 6, Vice News' Michael C Moynihan took to Twitter to discuss former New York Times editor Jill Abramson's latest book, Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts. Moynihan criticized the book's depictions of Vice, contained over three chapters that he claims "were clotted with mistakes. Lots of them." Those chapters also allegedly contained material plagiarized from Time Out, The New Yorker, and the Columbia Journalism Review. Another writer, Magic Is Dead author Ian Frisch, said that "Abramson plagiarized [him] at least seven times in her new book."
Moynihan and Frisch's assertions about Merchants of Truth were not the first sign of a problem with Abramson's new book. Uncorrected galley copies contained numerous inaccuracies, such as the location of Charlottesville, Virginia and the gender identity of writer Arielle Duhaime-Ross. Duhaime-Ross tweeted about the book, saying: "I met [Abramson] in June ‘17 in the VICE office. We chatted for less than 40 minutes. She took handwritten notes. I have not heard from her since, by which I mean she did not contact me for a fact-check."
An interview with Abramson, published Feb. 5 on The Cut, lent credibility to Duhaime-Ross' claim about the other writer's interview strategies. In the interview, Abramson insists: "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."
In a statement to The Washington Post, Abramson said that errors in Merchants of Truth's "70 pages of footnotes" led to the "claims of plagiarism," and that those errors would be corrected. "The notes don’t match up with the right pages in a few cases and this was unintentional and will be promptly corrected," Abramson told The Post. "The language is too close in some cases and should have been cited as quotations in the text. This, too, will be fixed."
According to The Washington Post, Abramson's work has drawn attention previously for its similarity to that of other writers. The Post cited the case of a 2018 article that contained an unattributed quote from a 2016 Think Progress piece by Ian Millhiser.
Well, there you have it, folks — all the scandals that have rocked the world of U.S. publishing in 2019 so far. Although these controversies have left a bad taste in many mouths, they have also broadened conversations on diversity in publishing, mental health, fact-checking, and more. Hopefully, those conversations can lead to meaningful change.