By David Canfield
February 07, 2019 at 05:57 PM EST
Credit: Simon Leigh; Simon & Schuster

After being accused of plagiarism, Jill Abramson is admitting to making various sourcing errors in her book Merchants of Truth, which traces the evolution of media outlets The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, and Vice. In a statement provided to the Associated Press, the author and former New York Times executive editor said that there were notes that needed fixing and that some of her phrasings “should have been cited as quotations in the text.”

“The notes don’t match up with the right pages in a few cases, and this was unintentional and will be promptly corrected,” Abramson wrote to the AP. “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, “In writing Merchants of Truth, 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.”

EW has reached out to publisher Simon & Schuster for comment.

On Wednesday, Vice News Tonight correspondent Michael C. Moynihan revealed via Twitter several examples of apparent plagiarism in Merchants of Truth, comparing passages of the book to passages from publications such as The New Yorker and The Columbia Journalism Review. EW reviewed Abramson’s passages in question, as well as the sources from which she’d been accused of plagiarizing. In a comment provided on behalf of Simon & Schuster, executive director of publicity Cary Goldstein wrote, “If upon further examination changes or attributions are deemed necessary we stand ready to work with the author in making those revisions.”

One of the clearest examples of the alleged plagiarism was found between a section from Merchants of Truth and an article in The Columbia Journalism Review about Facebook’s quality news algorithm. Abramson wrote, “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 TCJR’s Mathew Ingram wrote last May, “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.”

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 told Fox News in an interview shortly before, still unfamiliar with Moynihan’s claims, “I certainly didn’t plagiarize in my book.”

Earlier Thursday, Ingram posted an article in response titled “I was plagiarized by Jill Abramson,” referencing what Moynihan first uncovered. “I checked the end notes of Abramson’s book and couldn’t find any reference to my post (no footnotes appear in the body text, at least not in the Kindle version),” he wrote. “Do I feel as though something has been stolen from me? Not really. It was a factual description, not something creative that I agonized over for weeks. And yet, it’s still irritating that there seems to be no mention of where it appeared at all. Would it have been that hard to say ‘as mentioned in CJR’? That’s in part what plagiarism is — not a law, but more of a standard of behavior that we (hopefully) uphold, especially as journalists.”

In the lead-up to its Feb. 5 publication, the book also weathered controversies related to alleged misquoting and erroneous information, particularly in its chapters about Vice News. “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,” Abramson told the AP Thursday. “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.”

In its statement Wednesday, Simon & Schuster added, “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.”

Abramson is the former executive editor of The New York Times, and was fired from her post in 2014. She currently teaches creative writing at Harvard University. Merchants of Truth was bought by Simon & Schuster in a competitive deal, and the publisher has marketed the book as “the definitive report on the disruption of the news media over the last decade.”

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