CBS news has fired an “unnamed” Producer for plagiarizing an essay originally published in The Wall Street Journal which news anchor Katie Couric read as a video blog on her CBS News site “Couric & Company”. Couric does not appear to be in any trouble because she read from a prepared script.
Plagiarism is a foul deed. As anybody who has labored in front of the blank screen knows, that blinking cursor is the impatient toe-tapping of the Muse. You sit and stare at it, wondering from whence the next few words will come – wondering if they will come at all and if they do, whether they will be worth a damn. You wonder if The Muse has deserted you. The sad fact is – writing’s not only hard work, it’s indiscriminate hard work. The same quart of sweat that produces a good piece can also produce crap, which is unfair as hell. Effort should be rewarded.
Comedian Robert Klein put the dilemma quite well when he said that writing is agonizing for ten minutes over a single word in a sentence, wondering “should it be an ‘and’ or an ‘or’?”, only to realize that most readers are going to skim over the damn thing anyway and will never know the difference. He’s absolutely right.
How bitter, then, to agonize over a thousand words only to have them lifted blithely by someone else and passed off as their own. Of course, in some industries what we would consider plagiarism prima facia business as usual. The comic who reads jokes written by a paid staff is not a plagiarist, even though he reaps the laughs. The politico who gives a speech penned by a paid writer is not a plagiarist, although the words seem his own. Actors who aren’t waiting on tables make a living delivering lines written by others.
The rules for people who speak written material aloud are looser and this flap proves it. Many are asking why Katie presented an essay on her blog as her own, yet was written by another? In fact, the topic seems to have a personal one – it began (as did the original essay in the WSJ), “I still remember when I got my first library card, browsing through the stacks for my favorite books.” Those twelve people who actually went to Couric’s blog and saw the video probably assumed she had written the piece herself, since it was presented that way. Who wouldn’t?
But of course she didn’t and neither did the producer who loaded it into the TelePrompTer. Those memories weren’t hers, plagiarized or not. And while she probably didn’t know that the words scrolling up the screen in front of her were stolen from somebody else, she must have known that she was claiming memories of events that did not belong to her. How jaded!
The Beast was twelve when the Vietnam war ended – if he were to write a story about his experiences under fire at Khe Sanh he’d be a liar would he not? These anchor blogs are a fraud and so is Katie. One may assume that these first person essays, if not written word for word by Katie and her ilk, are at least read and edited by them. Obviously not. Bloggers, in contrast, may be not be as smooth and professional as the MSM, but at least you can be pretty damn sure that the words, opinions and recollections you read belong to them.