Fareed Zakaria’s Poverty of Ideas

Globe-trotting journalist Fareed Zakaria is on suspension from his posts at CNN and TIME magazine after he admitted to plagiarizing sections of a column on gun control.

But the physical plagiarism isn’t the real problem with Zakaria’s work. He could have solved that with some quotation marks and a hyperlink. What should be a larger concern is the left’s general plagiarism of ideas.

Zakaria stole paragraphs from a piece in The New Yorker, after all, not Guns Ammo. It was a foregone conclusion that his column about guns would favor gun control. He wasn’t even going to look for another view.

This same problem appeared in a February Zakaria blog post about poverty in the U.S. He starts with the assumption that poverty is a major problem in the U.S. and goes from there.

“We rank 31st of the 34 countries that make up the OECD in terms of the percentage of our population that qualifies as poor,” he wrote. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says 17.3 percent of Americans, about one in six of us, live in poverty.

But Zakaria then undercuts his own argument. “In case you’re wondering how the OECD defines poverty, it calculates the number as the percentage of people who earn less than half of the country’s median wage. It’s an easy way to compare data across countries.”

Sure, it’s easy. But it’s bogus. The OECD says median income in the U.S. is $31,000. Thus a person could earn $15,500 here and would be said to be living in poverty. Meanwhile, the same earnings would be more than the median income in 10 other OECD countries, including Israel, Poland, and the Czech Republic.

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As Heritage analysts Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield wrote last year:

For most Americans, the word “poverty” suggests near destitution: an inability to provide nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter for one’s family. However, only a small number of the 46 million persons classified as “poor” by the Census Bureau fit that description. While real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity.

They also cite a 2009 study from the Department of Agriculture that found that:

  • 96 percent of poor parents stated that their children were never hungry at any time during the year because they could not afford food,
  • 83 percent of poor families reported having enough food to eat, and
  • 82 percent of poor adults reported never being hungry at any time in the prior year due to lack of money for food.

Poverty is a problem—in the U.S. and worldwide. “Nonetheless,” Rector and Sheffield conclude, “anti-poverty policy needs to be based on accurate information. Gross exaggeration of the extent and severity of hardships in America will not benefit society, the taxpayers, or the poor.”

Diversity is a watchword on the left. “We strive for a professional environment that values divergent voices, encourages innovative thinking and expression and rewards individual and collective accomplishment,” CNN insists on its careers Web page. But that doesn’t come through on Zakaria’s program. His opinions on gun control and poverty, among other issues, are cribbed directly from the left-liberal playbook.

As Ronald Reagan put it: “It isn’t so much that liberals are ignorant. It’s just that they know so many things that aren’t so.” And they all seem to know the same things that aren’t so. That’s a plagiarism problem that can’t be solved with a hyperlink.

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Source material can be found at this site.

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