Friday, May 07, 2004

Updated on May 7, 2004, 11:30 am.

Leftward Ho with Ted Koppel, Nightline and ABC-- Time to say Good Night to Nightline

In a May 3, 2004 entry on his blog (, Chicago Tribune Columnist Eric Zorn tells us he had anticipated being quite moved by last Friday’s Nightline, in which Ted Koppel recited the names of more than 700 men and women who have died in Iraq.”

But, instead, Zorn discovered,

“The names -- along with pictures -- came too fast to permit any kind of contemplation of an individual name or face. Each photo stayed on the screen for about four seconds, but shared the screen with the next photo as Koppel moved along at a clip of about 30 names a minute. Television, for all its capabilities, power and immediacy, turns out to be a lousy medium for such a tribute.

It doesn't allow the viewer to linger, to pause over a name or a face for a minute or five minutes and imagine the life cut short, the dreams that died, the grieving relatives, the hole that will always yawn in many lives.

After about 10 minutes of watching the speedy litany, I felt numb to the entire exercise, unable to process it or even really feel it--kind of the way I feel when I read about hundreds dying in a third-world typhoon. And that can't be the effect ABC was hoping for.”

Nope, Eric, it wasn’t. Koppel had told us before the show that he thinks it is the job of journalists to remind viewers of the great cost of war [but not to remind them of any of the benefits]. It is Koppel’s conceit, as Bill Kristol has reminded us, that Koppel thinks that if he doesn’t list 721 dead military personnel in Iraq, one by one, the American people are too stupid to understand the costs of war.

On the other hand, Koppel can’t comprehend that viewers might want some context to the deaths. Perhaps they would like to know something about some of the individuals, even if time did not permit a full biography for each.

Perhaps Koppel should start watching some other television programs. He might learn something about reality. ABC's “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” on Sunday closed it’s one hour show with its usual “In Memoriam,” listing of names and small chunks of information about famous people who have died that week, along with the names of ten military personnel who died last week and whose names had been released by the military. However, This Week gave a moving tribute to a fallen marine who had died in action in Iraq on Good Friday. When his body was returned to his hometown in Wyoming, a fellow Marine from that same hometown volunteered to accompany the body from Dover to the hometown, and In Memoriam, he spoke of that emotional journey. The fellow Marine read from his letter reflecting on the personal effects of his colleague, the ribbons his fallen colleague had been awarded for his bravery and that were placed on his uniform and the fellow Marine spoke of the casket being pulled by a horse drawn carriage to the cemetery—saying, “it had been an honor to take Chance Phelps to his final post…I miss him.” You see, Ted, by giving the viewer a little more than a name, we might get a sense of the deceased and why he might have been proud and happy to die for his country, a concept that is apparently alien to those who work at Nightline. George Stephanopoulos is no Mr. Fair and Balanced, himself, but he did get it right last week on "This Week."

Kristol, on last Sunday’s Fox News Sunday said again that Koppel had used his program on the dead military personnel in Iraq to make a political statement- an anti-war statement. Fox's Brit Hume, sitting as a panelist on that show, was more gracious, saying viewers will take what they want from the program, and that we can’t really know Koppel’s motives and perhaps even Koppel doesn’t know his motives. Yes, I suppose that’s true, but if I had to guess, I’m going with the anti-war motive on the part of Koppel (See, below, as to Koppel bias). Fox News Sunday this week will take a different tack from Koppel, Chris Wallace said last week. That is, this Sunday’s program will present some of the benefits of the War, e.g., what have the military done to make Iraq a better place for its people?

Remember the days when Nightline used to be known for presenting both points of view, with Koppel asking challenging questions of both sides. Well, yes, it has been so long it is hard to remember. Somewhere along the way, Ted decided one view was enough. For example, some months ago, Koppel had Warren Buffett on his program to trash supply side approaches, tax cuts, elimination of the estate tax and all things Bush. The argument on the other side—in favor of tax cuts, etc.? It just wasn’t presented. It sure as heck was not represented by Koppel—he has neither the ability nor the inclination to do so.

Then a few weeks ago, Koppel had ABC’s paid consultant, Richard Clarke, famous book huckster and Clinton hold-over and, of course, sharp critic of Condi Rice on Nightline to do what?—why to sit with Koppel and analyze, frame by frame, Condi’s testimony before the 9/11 commission. It was really quite remarkable—Clarke, who is a principal in the build-up and aftermath to 9/11, sitting there with Koppel and analyzing another principal’s testimony. And, of course, no opposing point of view. Certainly not from Koppel. What was Koppel, paid by ABC, to do, shoot down ABC’s other paid consultant? I don’t think so. Conflict anyone? Bias Anyone? Of course not, the media critics would say. Fox can be criticized for its conservative bias. But criticize ABC, its White House Correspondent Terry Moran, its network news anchor Peter Jennings and its Nightline’s Ted Koppel for their liberal bias? Not a prayer (if prayers were allowed that is).

Which brings us to last night’s (May 6) Nightline. Koppel, having been frustrated that his reading of the list of military dead in Iraq didn’t seem to have its desired effect of turning every last American against the War was back for Round Two. The program was titled, “Hanging in the Balance: Is Iraq an unwinnable war.”

Having looked around a bit, Koppel found himself an anti-war General to tell us the War was one big mistake.

Koppel starts out by misleading his audience, stating his guest, Retired General William Odom, expressed “serious doubts about the Iraq war before it began and now says we have already failed in Iraq.” Well, that is a bit of an understatement, Ted. As Koppel tells us later in the program, General Odom was opposed to the War from the beginning. That would be a little more than “serious doubts.”

Of course, Odom’s statements are not such breaking news, the majority of which already appeared in the April 29, Pravda (Yes, Pravda) and apparently around the same time in the Wall St. Journal, or so Pravda says.

On Nightline, Koppel seems unsure of who this guy is:

Koppel: Just to give people a little bit of a sense about who you are and what your background it, I mean you are a former—you were a four star?

Odom: No, I was a three star, Lt. General [One would think Koppel could at least get this right.]

Koppel: Almost impossible to believe you are in principle anti-war?

Well, no Ted, it is not really impossible to believe that. The General is not just anti-war, but is a bit goofy. Yes, as you tell us, he is a former director of the nation’s largest intelligence agency. Although you tell us the agency was the National Security Agency, you don’t tell us that was 16 years ago, when Odom was perhaps a little more “with it.” He is now 71 and that appears to be an “old 71.” Koppel tells us that Odom was a director of the Nation’s “largest intelligence agency,” kind of implying that the NSA is on a par with or perhaps more important than, say, the CIA. Well, I am not an expert on the NSA, but it deals with signals intelligence and communications security, and it may be large—but is not the CIA. And, even if it was, having once headed up an intelligence agency is not much of a "credentials boost" these days.

Odom tells us that he didn’t vote until 1972 (when he was 39- another Blair Hull?), apparently in an attempt to show he is not a partisan, but instead that and the fact that he says he always voted for the Presidential candidate who “was not in power,” suggests, instead, he is, well, a bit goofy, at least now. Odom tells us that he used to work for Jimmy Carter’s NSA Assistant Zbigniew Brzezinski, but that was as a military assistant- so he claims the Carter/Zbig can’t imply any partisan leanings. Perhaps, but listening to the guy-- he does sound like he subscribes to the Jimmy Carter/Rodney King School of foreign policy—“Why can't we all just get along.” It does sound like he would like to make the U. S. military a fully owned subsidiary of the United Nations. Quite a General is Mr. Odom.

Odom: When I say [we should] get out [of Iraq], I would go through the procedures of going to the UN to encourage a UN force there and I would be quite prepared to participate in that for a while if we can get our allies and others to come in but then I would make it clear that I am slowly moving that responsibility to this [UN] force and withdrawing the United States over 6 months, or so.

Koppel: …in less than a minute, what is your solution:

Odom: It is to withdraw and eat some humble pie with the UN and our Europeans; Iraq is not worth Europe [Ed. Note, by Europe, he means Germany and France?] Re-establish our strong relations with Europe, try to improve our position in the Far East and encourage an over-all strategy to the region in the next 3, 4 or 5 years as we recover from our one down position as a result of this unilateralism.

Koppel: It was another deadly day in Iraq, I’ll have the details. [Ed. Note, Yes, Ted, I'll bet you will]

Nightline, May 6, 2004.

So, it was another deadly night for fairness on Nightline, which is starting to follow PBS in covering what they see as the whole spectrum of thought-- from the center to the far left. ABC did have the right idea two years ago-- time to pull the plug on Koppel.