CBS bungles the Couric plagiarism case

Three days ago, I commented that CBS appeared to be trying to sweep the Katie Couric broadcast/podcast incident under the carpet.

We now know more of the story, and it again calls into question the ethical standards at CBS, coming in the same week as the company’s obvious reluctance to fire shock jock Don Imus despite his having made racist/sexist insults on the air.

In the Couric case, a producer has been fired for plagiarising the work of a Wall St Journal columnist when she prepared the April 4 edition of Katie’s Notebook, a daily commentary presented by Couric. No surprise there, instant dismissal is the customary and predictable consequence for such a serious breach of journalism standards.

The New York Sun yesterday named the producer who wrote the commentary, although the network won’t confirm the name.

Indeed, secrecy seems to be a theme in this story. The video clip was removed from the CBSnews.com site, being replaced with a bizarre Editor’s Note offering a “correction” and claiming there had been an “omission”. Those are quite inappropriate terms to use when describing plagiarism, which is obviously an error of commission. Here’s what the note, from Couric & Co editor Greg Kandra, said:

Correction: The April 4 Notebook was based on a “Moving On” column by Jeffrey Zaslow that ran in The Wall Street Journal on March 15 with the headline, “Of the Places You’ll Go, Is the Library Still One of Them?” Much of the material in the Notebook came from Mr. Zaslow, and we should have acknowledged that at the top of our piece. We offer our sincere apologies for the omission.

The note hints at plagiarism but is sufficiently ambiguous to raise more questions than it answers. Moreover, CBSnews.com will not accept comments on the Editor’s Note posting, although it solicits comments on every other posting on the Couric & Co page.

So, after all this, two big questions remain:

  1. Why does CBSnews.com characterize this incident as an “omission” instead of as “plagiarism”?
  2. Why does Katie Couric present as her own thoughts material written by other people? She ends each of these commentaries with “That’s a page from my notebook” and they appear on CBSnews.com as “posted by Katie Couric”. The implication is that the words are hers.

The answer to the first question can be inferred: some senior journalists at CBS don’t consider themselves to be accountable. They choose to obfuscate and then to deny readers an opportunity to ask questions or make comments about what they’ve done.

As for the second question: well, that’s show business – a theme explored by Timothy Noah at slate.com.

Imus fired for racist comments

CBS has sacked radio shock jock Don Imus in a welcome display of good judgment. Pity it took such a huge public outcry.

Rob Hyndman suggests CBS Radio was waiting to gauge the financial repercussions as advertisers deserted the Imus show – and that, unfortunately, is exactly how it appears.

* My earlier post on the Imus affair.

* April 13 update: An audio feature on the Imus controversy from NPR’s On the Media.

* April 14 update: The Wall St Journal details how the decision to take Imus off the air was made. It all began with a blog.

CBS under cloud after pulling Couric podcast

CBSnews.com has pulled the April 4 edition of a daily video podcast by its very high profile news anchor Katie Couric, under circumstances that have to raise eyebrows.

CBS says there was an “omission” in failing to acknowledge that “much of the material” in Katie’s Notebook came from a column by Jeffrey Zaslow in the Wall St Journal.

Is CBS saying Couric plagiarized from the WSJ? If that’s what happened, then this is a very serious breach of ethics. Unfortunately, the editor’s note posted on the Couric podcast page gives very little information.

The CBSnews.com blog Public Eye has at least some of the story.