Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Katie Couric’s CBS legacy is plagiarism, ethical violations, hypocrisy, and Sarah Palin

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The government may shut down soon, Medicare may go down the tubes, and Glenn Beck is leaving his show, but not Fox. But there was only one story to write about this week: the Katie Couric/CBS era is coming to an end.

It’s no often — or ever — that a nightly news anchor would move on to a syndicated talk show, but this is why Couric was never suited for the CBS Evening News chair. The comparisons ran to Barbara Walters and Tom Brokaw, like Couric, former “Today” hosts — and Walters and Brokaw went on to host the evening news. But Walters and Brokaw had a news background and a news sense; Couric never had either one.

Now, I thought this going into the gig — Couric would be a lightweight, wouldn’t be interested in news angles that didn’t involve herself. And these came true. What we hadn’t counted on was flat out plagiarism and ethical violations.

Funny how the tributes to Couric leave that out.

Let’s start with the major ethical violation: Katie Couric substituted a different answer in an interview with John McCain. The different answer was designed to make McCain look better. The policy was a direct violation of CBS News policy and basic journalism decency. But no one was punished, much less fired.

Then, the plagiarism: Katie Couric read essays on the air as if she had written them. She didn’t write any of them, and a producer plagiarized one of them. The producer was fired, but Couric wasn’t punished in any way.

Followed by the hypocrisy: Katie Couric lashed out against sexism in the coverage of the Hillary Clinton campaign, yet Couric had the most prominent sexist line asked of Clinton. Who was the reporter who asked Hillary Clinton, “Someone told me your nickname in school was ‘Miss Frigidaire’. Is that true?” Katie Couric.

And that Clinton interview, outside of the sexism, was horrendous, and interviews are supposed to be Couric’s specialty.

Who earned $15 million a year to languish in 3rd place in the TV news race, yet had to have Bob Schieffer sit at the political desk to help her when she clearly didn’t know what she was doing? Katie Couric.

We should note that Couric’s legacy with CBS does include the Sarah Palin interview. You could argue that Couric got lucky, both with a naive simpleton for an interview subject and that the previous interviews didn’t draw out that much of the subject. Credit where credit is due: Couric pulled off a good interview.

And these are the skills she used on the “Today” show and she will use in her syndicated future. The truth won’t be as important, her ratings might not suffer, and she’ll still be making too much money.

Whoever takes over the CBS Evening News will have to overcome the taint that Couric has given to the program. The legacy of Edwards, Cronkite, and Rather was significantly damaged by Couric. But CBS now has a low threshold that the next person can re-establish some of that credibility. What we know for sure is that CBS can’t do any worse than Katie Couric in the evening news chair.


3 Responses

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  1. I see in several journals that you’re not a Couric fan. I’m curious. Why would her actions taint the legacies of those before her though. Tieuel Legacy! Motion

    Tieuel Legacy! Motion

    April 26, 2011 at 4:10 pm

  2. Excellent question. CBS Evening News, above the other two, has had a sterling reputation in the TV news field. This is part of why there was a smear campaign against Dan Rather, who got released for telling the truth. No one ever said what he said wasn’t true. No one.

    The “CBS Evening News” has been tarnished in a way that the other two have not suffered. Scott Pelley, or whoever gets the chair, will have lots of work to do to fix that damage.

    It’s not Douglas Edwards or Walter Cronkite’s legacy at stake, just CBS’ legacy.


    April 26, 2011 at 10:25 pm

  3. […] As for Katie Couric, well, who else did you think we were talking about. Couric told People magazine — somehow the fitting place — that is leaving the CBS Evening News. Her future is in syndication, which would have been for journalism and the planet if only she had gone that route 5 years ago. Katie, you will not be missed. […]

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