Jill Abramson, the former New York Times executive editor who has been weathering controversy surrounding her new book Merchants of Truth over the past month, is now being accused of plagiarism.
Merchants of Truth has been pitched by publisher Simon & Schuster as “the definitive report on the disruption of the news media over the last decade,” and specifically zeroes in on the evolution of four major media outlets: digital upstarts BuzzFeed and Vice, and legacy newspapers The Washington Post and The New York Times. Abramson compares and contrasts each company’s journey through changing technologies, standards, and economics in the news media space.
On Wednesday, Vice News Tonight correspondent Michael C. Moynihan claimed that he found several examples of apparent plagiarism in the finished copy of Merchants of Truth, all within the three chapters about Vice. In Twitter screenshots verified by EW, he compared passages of the book to passages from Time Out, The Ryerson Review of Journalism, The New Yorker, and The Columbia Journalism Review.
Excerpts of Merchants of Truth which Moynihan pinpointed feature significant language and phrasing overlap, at times identical sentences. One example: A section from the book on Facebook’s quality news algorithm reads, “London’s Daily Mail rose to fourth from seventh, and a site called Daily Wire, which specialized in conservative news, climbed to eighth with 14 million engagements,” while a piece from The Columbia Journalism Review in May of last year reads, “The Daily Mail rose to fourth from seventh and a site called Daily Wire, which specializes in conservative news, climbed to eighth with 14 million engagements.”
In response, Simon & Schuster’s Executive Director of Publicity Cary Goldstein said in a statement, “Jill Abramson’s Merchants of Truth is an important, exhaustively researched and meticulously sourced book about the media business in a critical moment of transition. 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. If upon further examination changes or attributions are deemed necessary we stand ready to work with the author in making those revisions.”
Abramson addressed the accusations herself on Twitter Wednesday night, writing, “The attacks on my book from some @vicenews reflect their unhappiness with what I consider a balanced portrayal.” She then added two more tweets, saying, “I endeavored to accurately and properly give attribution to the hundreds of sources that were part of my research,” and later, “I take seriously the issues raised and will review the passages in question.”
She was also asked about the allegations during an interview on Fox News. She said she hadn’t yet seen Moynihan’s tweets but did note, “I certainly didn’t plagiarize in my book,” and that she has 70 pages of footnotes.
Moynihan responded on Twitter, “The very first example I cite isn’t mentioned in the end notes at all, nor is the Time Out one,” adding that citations do not mitigate his charges of plagiarism.
Shortly after, Ian Frisch, journalist and author of Magic Is Dead: My Journey Into the World’s Most Secretive Society of Magicians, also called out Abramson, saying she plagiarized him “at least seven times in her new book.”
Since being acquired in a major deal over a year ago, Merchants of Truth has been a consistent source of controversy. The book first made the news in early January, as reports circulated that the book claimed The New York Times‘ “news pages were unmistakably anti-Trump” under Abramson’s replacement, Dean Baquet. (Abramson was fired from her post in 2014.) President Trump celebrated the excerpt as proof of his “fake news” claims against the newspaper, to which Abramson retorted on Twitter, “Anyone who reads my book, Merchants of Truth, will find I revere [The New York Times] and praise its tough coverage of you.”
Weeks later, several journalists either currently or formerly affiliated with Vice began speaking out against the book and the way it depicted employees and the company as a whole. Climate and environment reporter Arielle Duhaime-Ross alleged on Twitter that “in that one paragraph there are SIX errors and several false implications,” including wrongly identifying her as trans and claiming she had “no background in environmental policy.”
Danny Gold, now a special correspondent at PBS News Hour, meanwhile took issue with Abramson’s claim that “in a story about an Ebola clinic in Africa,” he (then a Vice correspondent) wore no protective clothing while Times reporters on the same beat did. Gold called this “a straight up lie.”
As similar allegations mounted, Abramson posted a response: “The photos of pages circulating from my book are from uncorrected galleys, which have a clear disclaimer saying ‘Please do not quote for publication without checking the finished book,'” she wrote. (EW can confirm Abramson has seemingly addressed some of the alleged falsehoods about Vice in the finished copy, while others remain unchanged.)
In a lengthy blog post dated Jan. 27, however, Vice writer and contributing editor Thomas Morton spoke out against the “entire chapter” about his 15 years working for the company, adding on Twitter that Abramson had “[fictionalized] my last 15 years of work & altering the entire history of Vice to make us look like a bunch of boobs who like boobs.”
Abramson again raised eyebrows in an interview with The Cut which went online Feb. 5, the day of the book’s publication. “I do not record. I’ve never recorded,” she said, revealing she doesn’t tape her interviews. “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…”
Merchants of Truth is now available for purchase.