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Posted by on Apr 11, 2007 in Media | 18 comments

Producer Fired For Lifting Couric Notebook Item From W. S. Journal

One-time NBC morning news megastar Katie Couric’s troubled tenure at CBS News has just gotten more troubled with the supremely embarrassing story that a “notebook item” touted as her personal remembrance was in fact cribbed from a Wall Street Journal piece — and the producer responsible for it has been fired.

News anchors have an extremely difficult job because not only do they garner an audience by the quality of reporting on their programs, their accumulated personal imagery matters. And this one is not going to help Couric’s one bit. The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz:

Katie Couric did a one-minute commentary last week on the joys of getting her first library card, but the thoughts were less than original. The piece was substantially lifted from a Wall Street Journal column.

CBS News apologized for the plagiarized passages yesterday and said the commentary had been written by a network producer who has since been fired.

The CBS anchor “was horrified,” spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said. “We all were.

The problem: this item was passed off as a personal “notebook” item. And while many who are savvy in the ways of the news biz know that such items are usually written for highly busy media news personalities, this one turning out to be in essence plagiarized is going to lend to the image that Couric is basically a “rip and read” celebrity — which does her a huge disservice since she is also a skillful interviewer. Kurtz continues:

The “Katie’s Notebook” items are distributed to CBS television and radio stations, including WTOP (103.5 FM and 820 AM) in Washington, and posted on the news division’s Web site. Genelius said it is “very common” for the first-person commentaries to be put together by staffers without Couric’s being involved in the writing, but that she does participate in topic selection. Her recent commentaries have ranged from the Iraq war and the paucity of female columnists to the movie “300” and many girls discarding dating for “hooking up.”

In an Editor’s Note posted online and distributed to CBS stations, the network said “much of the material” in the library commentary came from Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow, “and we should have acknowledged that at the top of our piece. We offer our sincere apologies for the omission.”

What made the ripoff especially striking was the personal flavor of a video — now removed from the CBS Web site — that began, “I still remember when I got my first library card, browsing through the stacks for my favorite books.”

If you boil it down you get this: in other words, Katie Couric can still remember what was in Zaslow’s memory? AND:

Much of the rest of the script was stolen from the Journal. Couric said: “For kids today, the library is more removed from their lives. It’s a last-ditch place to go if they need to find something out.”

Zaslow wrote in March: “The library is more removed from their lives. It’s a last-ditch place to go if they need to find something out.”

Couric said: “Sure, children still like libraries, but books aren’t the draw.”

Zaslow wrote: “Sure, there are still library-loving children, but books aren’t necessarily the draw.”

Kurtz has more — but how long do you want to keep watching a slow motion car crash?

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Copyright 2007 The Moderate Voice
  • I think there’s one more item you need to add into this mix, Joe. Viacom, the parent of CBS, is suing YouTube for copyright violations even while CBS is violating WSJ’s copyrights. This is than simple hypocrisy.

    Copyrights are, by definition, anti-market acts of law. “Creators” secure them to enlist the government to their aid in restricting the market. It’s a way of restraining competition.

    Plagiarism is another way of dealing with competition. The real message here is that media companies are as a matter of simple practicality willing to do anything in the name of competition.

  • AustinRoth

    Yes, another example of ‘fake, yet accurate’.

  • JJ Smith

    Viacom is no longer the parent company of CBS.

  • Robert Bell

    If I understand the facts correctly, there is a personal morality issue here as well. The fact is, Ms Couric flat out lied. That was *NOT* her personal remembrance, and yet she went on national TV and passed it off as if it were.

    Now, at the moment she went on camera, she had a choice – i.e. “I’m either going to lie about this, or I’m not”, and she made the wrong choice. It seems to me that everything flows from that.

  • C Stanley

    I don’t know if I’d go that far, Robert Bell. I think that many of us DO remember excitement over getting our first library card. And if it is common practice for producers to write this stuff for the anchors, then Couric could have either asked for something to be written about this (as it may well have been generally her memory) or the producer brought it to her and she did in fact identify with the memory and sentiment it contained. In other words, it really is a common shared memory, it’s just the way the actual words were lifted that’s a problem.

  • Robert Bell, I would agree, except for…

    while many who are savvy in the ways of the news biz know that such items are usually written for highly busy media news personalities

    Would you argue that a film that says “20 years ago” at the start is ‘lying’ when, in fact, the story didn’t happen at all? Just an invention? It’s a trick used by many in literature and movies. To make it more personal.

  • C Stanley

    Exactly, Mvdg, and that’s why I really don’t fault Couric much here. If someone presented me with that story to read, it would be true for me too. Assuming that she didn’t know that the words weren’t written by her producer, I don’t find it to be a big deal that she spoke words written by her producer for her, which were probably true for her. This isn’t the same thing as “fake but true” like in the Rather/Bush controversy, because that was hard news while this is sentimental fluff.

    Now if someone comes forward and says, “I’ve known her since she was 5 years old and little Katie Couric never wanted to go to the library, she hated books and reading”, then she really would be caught out in a lie and that would be scandalous! LOL

  • AustinRoth

    Whoa, CS and Mvdg. To claim that presenting events that never happened as your own personal experience is a far cry from a fictional film starting ’20 years ago’. I cannot believe you even made that comparison.

    This is not the end if the world, but it is quite frankly another example of the loss of journalistic standards (you know them, the ones that say bloggers are untrustworthy, but the MSM is) and the triumph of entertainment over news.

    Having writers assist in writing copy is one thing, but if you are going to present to the public that what you are about to say is from your personal history and recollections, a little higher standard needs to be applied.

  • Well, CS, the whole Rather Bush fiasco, in fact, was fairly moot, since the claims about the typewriter not being available in the early 70s were disproven.

    That said, I like Katie Couric, she’s a nice lady, but as a journalist she’s as deep as Oprah Winfrey- America’s reigning poobah of inanity. In sum, as a journalist, she has great legs.

    [You goddamn sexist!, go the cries!]

  • DLS

    Maybe Couric should share liberal media flagship air time with April Oliver.

  • I mean, was this meant as ‘news’ or just as a television column? Because if it was meant as a column, again, I don’t consider it to be something to blame her for.

    In sum, as a journalist, she has great legs.

    [You goddamn sexist!, go the cries!]

    what’s sexist about that? If she’s got great legs, she’s got great legs.

  • CaseyL

    Oh, dear jeebus, people!

    We can be as post-modern and ironic and knowing-ist as we want about the basic inauthenticity of today’s “personality”-driven media, but when a news show makes a point of running a segment that’s supposed to be “my” memories from “my” notebook, is it really too goddamn much to ask that the memories actually be Couric’s and that she be the one to actually write them??

    Just another reason to ask what the f*ck people like Couric actually DO all day, that makes them worth the 8-figure salaries they earn.

  • C Stanley

    I don’t know, lots of people seem to be missing my point: I simply don’t see this as a memory that was not Katie Couric’s. It certainly is consistent with my memory of getting a library card as a kid, so I’m assuming that it was true for her too. That the copy was not original is a problem and the producer’s at fault for that (and really: how dumb can you be? At least if you’re going to steal an idea, change the freaking words a bit! LOL Even a junior high school kid writing a paper knows better) [disclaimer: I’m not condoning plagiarism, just acknowledging that it is commonly done].

    In other words, this is a memory that is not only ‘truthy’ but literally true, for many of us. So in that sense, it’s not as though she was telling a story and attributing it to her own memory when it never actually happened to her (at the risk of being accused of bashing Bill Clinton, I can’t help but mention that this was the kind of thing he was famous for: remember those black churches that he saw burning in Arkansas, which no one else seemed to remember and there was no record of?)

    cosmo: Even if you don’t believe the Bush documents were forged, it still works as a theoretical example of the difference of importance in the two cases. In one case you’re making the case that the POTUS went AWOL and in the other case, what’s at stake is whether or not a young lass was really that excited over her first library card. The first is a hard news investigative journalism piece where evidence is important, while the latter is the kind of sentimental story where license should be permitted (though direct quotes without attribution ought not be).

  • CS: I agree re Couric. I have no idea if the Bush papers were forged or not, simply that claims that they could NOT be genuine were disproved. They could or not. I don’t care, one way or the other, for even if they were genuine, they are irrelevant to his disastrous Presidency.

  • C Stanley

    Well, I can’t really disagree with you, cosmo, about the relevency to the Bush presidency but there’s still relevancy to standards of journalistic ethics and impartiality, so I can’t say that I share your nonchalance about the Rather brouhaha.

  • kritter

    Couric has always seemed like a bit of a light-weight for the evening news- I always wondered why CBS hired her instead of someone like Diane Sawyer. That said, this seems like a tempest in a teapot- if the producers usually write her material, and they plagiarized someone elses work, then it seems logical to hold them responsible, unless she knew ahead of time about it. I do think she is better suited to fluff shows like Today.

  • White Agent

    If other people write your material for you, they better be competent and they better be your friend. In a capitalist society, you can trust no one.

  • Rather relied on his underlings, like Couric did; but the actual meat of the Rather-Bush story is in doubt. But, even were the meat solid, it was not relevant to Bush’s re-election.

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