In Monday's New York Times, Christine Haughney has the first explanation directly from Fareed Zakaria about why he copied paragraphs from The New Yorker's Jill Lepore: Apparently, he mixed up his notes, which is an explanation others have used before. Per Haughney: "The mistake, he said, occurred when he confused the notes he had taken about Ms. Lepore’s article — he said he often writes his research in longhand." It's not exactly the most original plagiarism excuse ever given: As Slate's David Plotz pointed out in 2002 (in reference to the Stephen Ambrose scandal):
No matter what they steal, they fall back on the same excuses, as Thomas Mallon shows in his wonderful plagiarism book Stolen Words. Before the computer age, they blamed their confusing "notebooks," where they allegedly mixed up their own notes with passages recorded elsewhere. These days, plagiarists claim they mistake electronic files of notes with their own writing.
And there's also the case of The New Republic's Ruth Shalit, who, as Mother Jones reported in 1996, "blames her own sloppy computer habits--accidentally splicing together published stories with her own notes--for the previous incidents." The Daily Beast's Gerald Posner offered the same explanation for his own borrowed copy in 2010.
In the case of Zakaria, it's unclear how a writer can jot down a complete paragraph from The New Yorker in longhand then type that same passage into his column without any attribution, but everyone works a little differently. (As excuses go, it's a bit better than when Maureen Dowd explained in 2011 how she lifted a paragraph from Talking Points Memo by blaming it on a conversation with a friend). What Haughney's piece also indicates that Zakaria has one research assistant and drawing quotes from past co-workers, infers that Zakaria writes everything himself ("I wish I had one-tenth of the energy and productivity he has," Gideon Rose, a former colleague said; "I figured he just never had to sleep," said Boykin Curry, a former classmate)--putting to bed the theory (for now) that Zakaria's flub was actually the fault of someone else. Haughney adds that Zakaria has begun stripping down his schedule and work outside of journalism, in what seems to be penance for his transgressions, despite the numerous quotes asserting his tireless work ethic). For example, he's back to work at CNN this Saturday.