Jill Abramson Shows Us How Not to Deal With a Huge Journalism Scandal

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This was supposed to be a triumphant time for Jill Abramson.

The former New York Times editor has a new book out about the media industry called Merchants of Truth. The book appears to be doing decent business, and Abramson is on a very high-profile promotional tour to sell it. She even went on Splinter fave The View!


There’s just one problem: Everyone who takes more than a casual glance at the book comes away aghast.

Abramson has already been forced to make one round of corrections after staffers from Vice pointed out a blizzard of basic factual errors in a pre-publication copy of the book. On Wednesday, though, things got much worse, when Vice News Tonight correspondent Michael Moynihan accused Abramson of multiple instances of plagiarism. Here’s a sample:

Oof. But that wasn’t it. Writer Ian Frisch also accused Abramson of the same journalistic crime. Another sample:


There’s clearly some wiggle room for Abramson there in terms of the endnotes, but this is still not a great look.


So how did Abramson handle this? Also...not great. First, in an interview last night on Fox News, she dismissed the complaints before she even had a chance to review them. (When Fox News is quizzing you on journalistic ethics, you know things are going wrong.)

“I certainly didn’t plagiarize in my book,” she said. “There are 70 pages of footnotes showing where I got the information.”


“Do you think this is a footnote issue?” host Martha MacCallum asked. “I don’t think it’s an issue at all,” Abramson said. Asked if she stood by her work “100 percent,” she said, “Yes.” Then she added that she thought people from Vice were attacking her because they “don’t like the portrayal” of their outlet in her book. But then, she admitted, “I haven’t looked at [the claims] yet.”

Clearly, that wasn’t going to fly, so Abramson tried again:


Hmmm, so this is all spite from Vice staffers, but also she tried her best to “give attribution.” (This is when the fact that we’re talking about the former executive editor of the New York Times comes into play—if anyone should be on top of that stuff, it’s Abramson!) And, now that she thinks about it, she should probably look into all of this. Yeah, maybe!

For Jill Abramson—who used to run the most revered newspaper in the world, and presumably had research and fact-checking resources available to her that most writers could only dream of—to be caught in this mess in a book about the media is just wild. Presumably, she is racing to sort all of this out, but the fact that we’re here in the first place is an utter disaster, and her attempts to brush off these accusations are just not going to cut it.


Update, 3:41 p.m. ET: Abramson told the Washington Post on Thursday that she had been “up all night” looking into the claims. Here was her explanation:

The notes don’t match up with the right pages in a few cases and this was unintentional and will be promptly corrected. The language is too close in some cases and should have been cited as quotations in the text. This, too, will be fixed.

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.

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.


Abramson also received some qualified support from her predecessor at the top of the Times, Bill Keller.

Deputy Editor, Splinter