Review: ‘Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and The Fight for Facts,’ by Jill Abramson

Abramson details ‘wrenching transition’ of a new media world

Reviewed by Carolyn Schurr Levin

 Jill Abramson’s “Merchants of Truth” received a great deal of attention when it was published in February 2019. But, not for the right reasons. A day after its release, Vice News correspondent Michael Moynihan posted on Twitter paragraphs about his news outlet from Abramson’s book, side by side with similar paragraphs from The New Yorker, the Columbia Journalism Review, Time Out magazine, and other works. Abramson, who is the former Executive Editor of The New York Times, initially denied the allegations of plagiarism, claiming that some Vice News employees were unhappy with her portrayal of Vice in the book. Yet, she promised to carefully review the questioned passages.

After that review, Abramson acknowledged “citation errors” in the book, conceding that some passages included language that is “way too close for comfort” to its source material “and probably should have been in quotes.” In an interview with CNN, she said, “I made some errors in the way I credited sources, but that there was no attempt to pass off someone’s ideas, opinions and phrasings as my own.” Bill Keller, Abramson’s predecessor as the New York Times’ Executive Editor, tweeted support for his colleague: “Jill Abramson is a journalist of courage and integrity. She has written a great book on the profound transformation of the news business, richly documented and full of insight. It’s distressing that some apparent carelessness in attribution might overshadow her achievement.” Others were not as forgiving. 

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