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Ed.: 032817 – Words: 1011 – Audio: 10:04

Ted Koppel, back in the day of more neutral news reporting.

In my recent post regarding media literacy contributing to critical thinking I tried to explain about the viewer/listener perspective of news being mixed with opinion thus giving the impression of news bias.  In the last 24 hours, specifically as reported on CBS Sunday Morning, veteran journalist Ted Koppel verbally duked it out with Sean Hannity of Fox News.

Ted Koppel, for those readers too young to recall, was the news anchor for the 25 year running “Nightline”, a program directly spawned from the Iranian Hostage Crisis back in the 70’s.  One iconic legacy is the “America Held Hostage” countdown clock often used in various venues to emphasize a political point.  I have this countdown clock on this blog header.  On “Nightline” it was used on each evening’s show counting the days the U.S. embassy hostages were being held by Iranian guards in an effort to not let America forget them.  After the hostages were freed “Nightline” continued with its popularity for 2+ more decades.

After his retirement Ted became a tough critic on the “new” news format of opinionated journalism, most notably the conservatism of Fox and the liberalism of MSNBC.  He feels that the partisan programming, while making news “entertaining” and bringing in ratings and revenue, has been the primary reason for the nation’s divisiveness.

The CBS Sunday Morning show had a 10 minute analysis segment attributing the growing rise in political divisiveness to the Federal Communication’s 1987 revocation of the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to present contrasting views in matters of public interest.

According to Libby Hill’s article in the LA Times recently…

“In the wake of the revocation, highly politicized personalities and networks were given room to thrive, leading to an environment where individuals on either side of the aisle are unable to agree on what are the facts.”

You can do a search to watch the video, but here is the text…


“You’re cynical,” Hannity said on CBS Sunday Morning.

“I am cynical,” Koppel responded.

“Do you think we’re bad for America? You think I’m bad for America?” Hannity asked.

Koppel didn’t miss a beat. “Yeah,” he said, and continued over multiple interruptions from Hannity:

Koppel: “In the long haul I think you and all these opinion shows —”

Hannity interupted: “Really? That’s sad, Ted. That’s sad.”

Koppel: “No, you know why? Because you’re very good at what you do, and because you have attracted a significantly more influential —”

Hannity again interupted: “You are selling the American people short.”

Koppel: “No, let me finish the sentence before you do that.”

Hannity: “I’m listening. With all due respect. Take the floor.”

Koppel: “You have attracted people who are determined that ideology is more important than facts.

And there it is.. succinctly put…. “Ideology is more important than facts.”  That’s the mantra of the conservative right.. and, as Ted lamented, the far left liberals… together forming the nation’s Ignorati.  Who do we have to blame?  I guess it depends if there is a “blame” to assign, which is a matter of political perspective itself.  It would appear that the nation’s divisiveness was fed by successful television programming and that spawning the nation’s vulnerability to Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric.


The following is from The Washington Post…

In a March 2016 appearance on Fox News’s “O’Reilly Factor”, Koppel scolded host Bill O’Reilly about the political debate surrounding then-candidate Trump, who had just triumphed in the Super Tuesday primaries.

O’Reilly told Koppel he had interviewed Trump on many occasions. “Not an easy interview,” he said. “How would you do it?”

“It’s irrelevant how I would do it,” Koppel fired back. “And you know who made it irrelevant? You did.”

O’Reilly, seemingly unfazed, asked him to elaborate. And Koppel did — in an exchange not unlike his discussion with Hannity on Sunday.

“You have changed the television landscape over the past 20 years. You took it from being objective and dull to being subjective and entertaining,” Koppel told O’Reilly. “And in this current climate, it doesn’t matter what the interviewer asks him. Mr. Trump is going to say whatever he wants to say, as outrageous as it may be.”

Regardless, what Ted Koppel echos is the idea that media literacy has been lost in favor of ideology over facts.  Hence all the diatribes of fake news, fake facts, alternative facts… it all represents that “facts be damned, I know what I know”.  Yeah.. you KNOW nothing because ignorance is bliss.  The right buries facts it does not like into conspiracies.


Old Retired Anchors –

While I respect Ted Koppel as a reliable news journalist in the old tradition you will note that after the traditional anchors have retired they have occasionally returned to voice their opinions over the changing news reporting climate over the years.  I recall Walter Cronkite, after his retirement, lamented about the demise of the “old” days of radio and TV journalism reflected in the likes of Edward R. Morrow, in favor of large newsrooms, pretty faces, and a loss of news “reporting”.  Dan Rather, like Koppel, are representative of a bygone day of reporting.  To be honest, this is the evolution of society, and humanity.  The influence of instant news being passed along by instant media to the public, between the public, has changed the entire fabric of news reporting.  So while I admire the old guys because I grew up with their believability as journalists and their objective reporting, times do indeed change.  I would not want to return to those days because I never felt I received enough information to make a solid opinionated decision as I do now.

But Koppel is absolutely correct.  Ideology (T)rumps facts.

Critical thinking and media literacy is apparently a passing art.  But I refuse to surrender to the Ignorati.

Update:  Since this post both Hannity and O’Reilly have left FOX over sexual abuse allegations (not between each other).

Carry on, America.