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Stelter Grills Ex-NYT Editor Jill Abramson Over Plagiarism: ‘That’s Word for Word Stealing Other Peoples’ Work’

CNN’s Brian Stelter interrogated former New York Times editor Jill Abramson on her book Merchants of Truth, making for a stunning interview in which the two sparred over the allegations of plagiarism made against her.

“Wouldn’t these examples meet the Times definition of plagiarism?” Stelter asked on Reliable Sources, after noting that he worked with Abramson when he was a media reporter at the Times.

“It would meet the Times definition of things that should be promptly corrected,” Abramson replied. “And sometimes, you know, a quote isn’t attributed correctly in the newspaper and that’s corrected. That’s what I have endeavored to do here.”

“I would never purposefully take credit for the work of another journalist or writer,” she continued, arguing she simply missed out on attributing “a few” passages in the footnotes.

“But even if I include a footnote, I still can’t steal their words, word for word the way that you did,” Stelter contested.

“Well if you give them proper credit you can, in a book” Abramson said.

“It doesn’t matter if I put a footnote 300 pages later,” Stelter said. “If I do that in a book, that’s plagiarism. That’s word for word stealing other people’s work.”

“Well, you know, that’s your position, I don’t see it that way,” Abramson said after a pause.

“But it meets the Harvard definition of plagiarism, and you work at Harvard,” the CNN host pressed. “It meets the New York Times definition of plagiarism where you work. You’re saying you didn’t plagiarize?”

“I’m saying that I made some errors in the way I credited sources, but there was no attempt to pass off someone’s ideas, opinions and phrasings as my own,” Abramson replied. “These were all factual passages that unfortunately did not match up exactly to the right footnotes, but they are credited in the footnotes elsewhere.”

“Right they’re credited at the very end of the book, but the words are stolen from other sources,” Stelter replied. “You would have called me in and punished me if I had plagiarized, by accident, in the New York Times.”

“I know you insist on calling it that, but if you had not attributed a quote properly, or a phrase put in quotes…” Abramson said.

“It was paragraphs,” Stelter replied.

At the end of the interview, Stelter asked Abramson what she wanted readers to take away from her book. When she replied with a analysis of the “fragility of quality news,” Stelter asked a final searing question: “In that world, shouldn’t we hold the bar as high as humanly possible — the highest possible standards — and isn’t this book an example of failing to do that?”

Watch the full segment above, via CNN.

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Aidan McLaughlin is the Managing Editor of Mediaite. Send tips via email: aidan@mediaite.com. Ask for Signal. Follow him on Twitter: @aidnmclaughlin