CBS says Couric unaware video essay plagiarized

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric may vividly recall her first library card, but the network says she was unaware that her online video essay about the virtues of libraries was largely a work of plagiarism.

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CBS News said this week the April 4 installment of “Katie Couric’s Notebook” consisted mostly of passages lifted verbatim from a Wall Street Journal column by Jeffrey Zaslow that was published in March.

The producer responsible for Couric’s piece was fired on Monday night, hours after the Journal contacted CBS News to complain, network spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said on Tuesday.

The essay was immediately removed from the CBS News Web site, and a correction was posted in its place. The network did not identify the producer who was fired.

Although the text for the minute-long video was written in first person -- introduced by Couric with the line, “I still remember when I got my first library card” -- Couric did not compose the piece herself and was unaware that much of it was plagiarized, Genelius said.

“She was stunned, and very upset,” Genelius said on Wednesday. “It’s the same reaction we all had.”

The mishap comes as CBS continues to lag in third place in the network news ratings, behind ABC and NBC, seven months after Couric’s much-ballyhooed debut as the first woman solo anchor of a major U.S. evening newscast -- for a salary reportedly worth $15 million a year.

Couric, who gained celebrity status co-hosting America’s top-ranked morning show “Today” on NBC for 15 years, has had no comment of her own on the plagiarism episode.

Some Internet-based media watchers took issue with the language CBS used in its correction, which acknowledged that “much of the material” in Couric’s piece “came from Mr. Zaslow” without attribution, but referred to the transgression as “an omission.”

“This is a case of plagiarism, not omission,” wrote the Web site Regret the Error, which reports on issues of accuracy and ethics in the media.

The author of The Daily Background blog, Arlen Parsa, faulted Couric for letting others write her own commentaries.

Genelius said Couric met with a group of producers weekly to discuss upcoming topics for her “Notebook” video essays, and “she does write some of them herself.”

“Sometimes the text is written by the producer,” she added. “That’s the way television generally works. It’s a very collaborative medium.”