Billionaire Bill Ackman, a prominent Harvard University donor and graduate who helped oust ex-university president Claudine Gay, had a meltdown over the weekend after his wife faced plagarism accusations similar to Gay.
Gay, who stoked controversy for her handling of antisemitism on campus in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in Israel, ultimately stepped down from her role last week after allegations of plagiarism surfaced.
Various reports found nearly 50 instances in which Gay misused academic sources, ranging from taking verbatim text from another source without putting it in quotation marks to paraphrasing without attribution.
A report from Business Insider accused Ackman’s wife, Neri Oxman, of making similar errors.
The initial report found that Oxman—a tenured professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab—plagiarized multiple paragraphs of her 2010 doctoral dissertation. A day later, a separate article from Business Insider found 28 additional instances of plagiarism in her dissertation and other papers, including paragraphs taken from Wikipedia.
Ackman took to X to express his fury that his wife had been brought into his feud with Gay, writing on Sunday in a series of very lengthy posts that “It has been the case since as far as I can remember in business and in media that family was off limits, unless of course the family is directly involved in the business.”
“Do we want to live in a world where journalists go after your life partner and your kids?” he added later. “In that world, one would respond to an attack on one’s wife and family by going after the owner of the media company and his wife and family. Ask yourself, who would want to advertise on a media property where they go after people’s families? No one. Because eventually they will go after your family.”
Ackman was vociferous in his campaign to oust Gay, posting nearly daily about the scandal, fomented in part by right-wingers upset over “wokeness” in college campuses.
Ackman also theorized that Business Insider went after his wife because she is Israeli and the editor of the investigations team is a “known anti-Zionist.”
In a later post the same day, Ackman said Business Insider gave Oxman very little time to respond to the allegations but found some citation errors and acknowledged the mistake online, which prompted the publication to run another article about Oxman “admitting” to plagiarism.
He added that ahead of Business Insider’s report on the 28 additional instances, Ackman’s company was sent a 12-page long email with little time to investigate and review the allegations, penning a lengthy hypothetical about the situation asking readers to step into his and his wife’s shoes.
“There is no time to run down these references, let alone read the 6,961 word email. Many of the manuals are no longer available and a substantial number of the references the reporter has given you do not appear to be correct,” he wrote.
Ackman went on: “In fact, until this moment when you are writing this post, you never had a chance to read the email in its entirety. At 6:51pm, one hour and 32 minutes from the time stamp on the reporter’s email, Business Insider publishes a story entitled: Academic Celebrity Jane Doe plagiarized from WikiPedia, Scholars, a Textbook, and Other Sources Without any Attribution.”
Following the reporting on Oxman and subsequent backlash from Ackman and others, Business Insider’s parent company Axel Springer announced it would “review the processes” leading up to the articles’ publication.
“While the facts of the reports have not been disputed, over the past few days questions have been raised about the motivation and the process leading up to the reporting—questions that we take very seriously,” the statement from Axel Springer read.
Business Insider global editor-in-chief Nicholas Carlson pushed back against the need for review, telling employees in an email that he stands by the story “and the work that went into it,” according to the Washington Post.
“I know that our process was sound. I know our newsroom’s motivations are truth and accountability,” he wrote.
Ackman wrote on X that they “expect to dispute a substantial number of facts in the story” but were “never given the opportunity to analyze the facts before Business Insider published its story 90 minutes after alleging plagiarism in a 6,900 word email.”
“Once we have completed our analysis we will revert with corrections of the record,” he added.