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Borrowed blunders

When I was in college, I served for a couple of years on the Cheating and Plagiarism panel. It was a group of students, faculty, and administrators who acted as judge and jury for formal charges of plagiarism. I sat in judgment on quite a few of my peers, and in the process learned just how serious it is, to represent someone else's words, someone else's ideas, as one's own. And in those many cases, there was only one case where I regretted my vote.

I was the swing vote in the case of a young lady who had stolen her roommate's paper and submitted it as her own. I had to choose between an F in the course, and a one-term suspension. I voted for the failure, but I always wondered if the suspension would have been better for her. She had been overwhelmed by the pressure and panicked, and perhaps that suspension would have given her a break to get her head together. In that case, I was not thinking of punitive measures, but simply the best way to help her regain her balance and succeed.

So it is with that background that I find myself looking at the Katie Couric "notebook" scandal, and find myself wondering if CBS has, in its efforts to dig itself free of yet another scandal by their lead anchor, simply dug itself in deeper.

To recap: Katie Couric regularly broadcasts her "notebook" -- essays and commentaries on various and sundry issues. One of her most recent ones was lifted largely from a colum in the Wall Street Journal. CBS has said that the producer who wrote the piece has been fired -- but won't name him or her.

CBS seems to hope that by tossing this anonymous producer under the wheels, the scandal will go away. But the real scandal here is not that the column was plagiarized, but that Katie Couric didn't do it.

According to CBS' official story, Katie Couric routinely passes off others' work as her own. This exposure of her second-hand plagiarism has revealed her regular commitment of first-hand plagiarism.

On CBS' website, Katie Couric posts her stuff under the title of "Katie Couric's Notebook," under her name, and concluding with "that's a page from my Notebook." It's written in the first person, and there is not the slightest indication that the words are not actually written by Couric.

So, let's hear the excuses. I'll start it off.

"No one expects that Couric actually writes everything she says." True enough. But here, it's being presented as her own work, an expression of her thoughts and feelings. And if we can't trust her to get her own words and feelings honestly, how the hell can we trust her on anything else?

"Ghost writing is a long and established tradition." It's still a lie, and still raises a stink when it is revealed.

I own every word I've ever written here. (Well, not in a legal, copyright sense, but in every other way that counts.) I've never taken anyone else's words or ideas and presented them as my own. I've come darn close on occasion, by accident, and apologized for them -- it's a danger for any blogger who reads others for source material. Sometimes notions, phrases, or observations stick in the back of one's mind, resurfacing without the proper associations and attributions. But I've never once taken a whole article from someone else and presented it as my own without giving proper credit.

So, will CBS rename the project to "Katie Couric's Staff's Notebook, as approved by and presented by Katie Couric?" I think not. They've paid too much for their talking head, and to reveal the unhappy truth that that head is hollow but for a speaker that blats out whatever she's told to regurgitate would be to admit their mistake.

But they should.


Comments (21)

But Jay Tea - she's so PERK... (Below threshold)

But Jay Tea - she's so PERKY!

She looks like Jack Nichols... (Below threshold)
nikkolai:

She looks like Jack Nicholson's Joker in the first Batman movie.

Interesting that the first ... (Below threshold)
PJ O'Rourke:

Interesting that the first two posters comment about Ms Couric's appearance and not the subject of the post. Is this typical of this blog?

As for the substance, I agree that Ms Couric should be accountable for what she posts and what she says. Obviously, TV persona have interns and producers who do research and writing, but the bottom line is one needs to stand behind one's words.

Katie who?I don't ... (Below threshold)
BillyBob:

Katie who?

I don't watch See BS news. I doubt Ms. Katie had much creditability to begin with.

Anything that makes Katie C... (Below threshold)
Jo:

Anything that makes Katie Couric look bad is fine with me. She's been getting away with being a volunteeer DNC anchor posing as an impartial journalist for waaaaaay too long.

So Katie's CBS journal was ... (Below threshold)
_Mike_:

So Katie's CBS journal was fake but accurate ?

I think that this incident ... (Below threshold)
Lee:

I think that this incident makes it perfectly clear that Couric is nothing more than a talking head; mouthing and vocalizing the words that CBS puts in her mouth. That's true on camera as she reads the news off of the teleprompter - and now we know it's true also when she records her "notebook".

The fact that the words on this particular video were ripped off from someone else is not Couric's fault. She's just doing what she normally does and is paid to do - read the teleprompter.

However, this does underscore clearly that Couric appears on CBS airwaves not as a "journalist" -- she's a paid talking head, and CBS should cease any reference to Couric as a "journalist". That's gross misreprentation.

It's beyond embarassing. M... (Below threshold)
Mitchell:

It's beyond embarassing. Maybe that's what's behind the shoddy news stories today--the premise comes first, the "news" after it has been massaged.

Damn, _Mike_ nailed a line ... (Below threshold)

Damn, _Mike_ nailed a line I should have gotten, and Lee is being reasonable. Maybe it's time I retired or took a vacation or something.

J.

"It's the pressure of this ... (Below threshold)
drjohn:

"It's the pressure of this chauvinistic environment. If a man did this no one would notice."

- Katie

Actually, if a guy did this... (Below threshold)
hermie:

Actually, if a guy did this, there would be no hesitation to nail his hide to the wall. But because it's 'perky' Katie, she'll be forgiven because of her gender and the 'pressure' she has as a woman in 'journalism'.

"It's beyond embarassing... (Below threshold)
Lee:

"It's beyond embarassing. Maybe that's what's behind the shoddy news stories today--the premise comes first, the "news" after it has been massaged."

Couric's "notebook" is not "news" - it's a fluffy feature that has nothing to do with reporting the facts of a news story. The fact that Couric "reads" the news, and that Couric has now been shown to be willing to read whatever words are placed in front of her (and is even willing to represent them as her own when they aren't) does not mean that the news Couric reads is biased, inaccurate, or "massaged" in any way. There is no link.

"...does not mean that t... (Below threshold)

"...does not mean that the news Couric reads is biased, inaccurate, or "massaged" in any way."

No, it doesn't mean that, but it is.

Why don't we do what they d... (Below threshold)
Susan:

Why don't we do what they do in Britain? Instead of annointing these folks with the weighty (heh) title of Anchor, why not simply call them Newsreaders? That's what they are; that's what they do.

She gets paid 15 milion a ... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

She gets paid 15 milion a year, by CBS and doesn't to write a word.. If she was writing anything, she probably would get paid alot less, perhaps in line of what you are making, Jay. We worry about Imus and the integrity of his 3 ill-chosen spur of the moment spontaneous words...Far safer in America to take an enormous paycheck, and any responsibility for whatever you say or write falls on a hapless anonymous producer. To rewrite Kipling 'Power without responsibility: the preogative of the newsanchor ." in this age.

Ah, Lee and Stevie and the ... (Below threshold)
The Listkeeper:

Ah, Lee and Stevie and the rest... experts at excusing bad behavior.

Journalism 101, boys and girls... You, and you alone are responsible for what goes out with your name on it. I've checked, and yes, it's still a mainstay of the Ethics of Journalism.

"Journalism 101, boys and g... (Below threshold)
Netvocates:

"Journalism 101, boys and girls... You, and you alone are responsible for what goes out with your name on it. I've checked, and yes, it's still a mainstay of the Ethics of Journalism."

Except when it's certain Wizbang bloggers who post rumors and lies from web sites that rhyme with "sludge" "Pichelle Palkin" and "Not Fair", and then when called on the accuracy of the post, disavow responsibility.

Editor's note: The commenter now calling himself "Netvocates" has been previously posting as "Reality." I am choosing to interpret his adoption of the new name as an admission that his comments here have been for commercial gain, and he's been whoring out his "opinion" for some time now.

And his confusing "plagiarism" with explicitly quoting and citing sources that he does not approve of shows just what they got for their money.

Finally, while tempting, I'm not going to ban his IP just yet. He's destroyed whatever credibility he might have had, with not a bit of assistance from anyone else.

J.

I think the problem is also... (Below threshold)

I think the problem is also that CBS has seemingly placed her 'above' needing to comment or take responsibility for the plagiarism. It's ok to have a staff help you. But if you and your staff plagiarize, you take responsibility. Katie is the Managing Editor on the CBS Evening News. She should behave like one and face the music.

Netvocates: regardless of ... (Below threshold)

Netvocates: regardless of how you want to twist it, that is not plagiarism. Items quoted and referenced with links are not plagiarized. You have a problem with content? Go to the source of whatever it is you disagree with.

Wait ... why am I bothering?

Jay,Once again you... (Below threshold)
Corky Boyd:

Jay,

Once again you have his the nail on the head.

This is not about plagiarism. It is about Katie Couric giving a patently false, first person feel-good story. Not only was it false, but was done knowingly. While the revelation of plagiarism exposed the story, it is being used to deflect the blame away from the main perpatrator of the untruthful news, Ms. Couric herself.


"I own every word I've ever... (Below threshold)
Herman:

"I own every word I've ever written here." -- Mr. Tea

No one else can take the blame, huh?




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