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Ron Radosh

Ted Koppel’s Delusions About TV News

November 14th, 2010 - 5:23 pm

This truth, Koppel tells us, “is a source of nonpartisan sadness for me.” Yes, some commentators are indeed guilty of mistaking their opinions for facts. Beck, as the most recent controversy of his coverage of George Soros has made clear, is most guilty of this charge. But Moynihan’s comment that “everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts” is itself somewhat flawed. The problem is that, as historians know, one chooses which facts to emphasize and hold as important when one makes an argument. Often those with a contending view will emphasize other facts they believe contradict their opponent’s argument. Very infrequently is the issue of distorting a “fact” the real issue at hand.

Indeed, Koppel ends his piece by making an argument — one that conservatives make a lot and that liberals dismiss. He writes:

But when our accountants, bankers and lawyers, our doctors and our politicians tell us only what we want to hear, despite hard evidence to the contrary, we are headed for disaster. We need only look at our housing industry, our credit card debt, the cost of two wars subsidized by borrowed money, and the rising deficit to understand the dangers of entitlement run rampant.

Where have I heard this kind of argument before? Oh yes — I believe it was by someone talking on Fox News! Perhaps Mr. Koppel should consider applying to them for a new job. A lot of people would like to see him on a major network again.

Yes, he is correct that one problem is that the news division is now seen in the same way as the entertainment division, and like them, they have to show a profit or make budget cuts or face cancellation. Originally, they were supposed to be supported by the entertainment division, and were exempt from the same rules.

But we live in a new age, and the news executives have no choice but to take reality into account. No one hardly watches the big three (CBS, ABC and NBC)  7 pm news shows anymore, and in fact, with the internet and cable, there is no need to. And by the way, were Koppel or the other anchors willing to save their bureaus and correspondents by taking cuts in their average $8 million a year salaries — an act that alone might have prevented the loss he so bemoans of the overseas bureaus?

As for his claim that the old broadcasts “offered relatively unbiased accounts of information,” it is simply not true. Nor is Koppel’s claim that the reporters were only “motivated to gather facts about important issues.”

And so we learn that Mr. Koppel is now an analyst for BBC America. Isn’t the BBC that wonderful outfit that is so biased and one-sided — especially in its treatment of Israel — that most critical listeners and viewers know immediately to take anything it says with a grain of salt? Perhaps Ted Koppel is not aware of this and, recalling the reputation of old that the BBC once had, thinks of it the same way he thinks of the networks in our country in the ’40s , ’50s, and ’60s.

Maybe we should all wait for Al Jazeera America to finally get on the cable channels. Then we can all find a true objective source we know we can trust.

Update:

It has been pointed out to me by the indomitable Jack Shafer of Slate.com, who wrote about Koppel here, as well as in an e-mail from retired top editor Ed Kosner,  that the truth is that LBJ never made the statement that has been so widely quoted- including by me above-that “if we lost Cronkite, we’ve lost the country,” or whatever version of that quote has made the rounds. The real story has been discussed by press critic W. Joseph Campbell at his “Media Myth Alert” blog. As Campbell writes, “the frequency with which the quote attributed to Johnson is invoked certainly has made it among the most famous, if most dubious, turns of phrase in American journalism.”  A lesson learned. We all have to check and re-check our sources before citing a quote, no matter how many others have made the same mistake.

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