Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 15, 2010

KOPPEL LAMENTS 'THE DEATH OF REAL NEWS'.... Ted Koppel, a long-time giant of broadcast journalism, had a rather lengthy rant yesterday, incorporating complaints about Keith Olbermann into a larger tirade about "the death of real news." Some of his concerns were compelling, but most fell into familiar traps.

Koppel was right, for example, to lament major news organizations closing international bureaus, but he points the finger in the wrong direction. As he sees it, it's the fault of Americans, especially younger news consumers, who have no appetite for international affairs, and who prefer opinion-based programs.

I have a hard time believing that news consumers' attitudes have really changed that significantly in recent decades. For that matter, Koppel said ABC's "bean counters" started applying cost-benefit ratios to overseas bureaus in the "mid-90s," which largely pre-dates the very opinion-style programs he disapproves of.

More important, though, was Koppel's condemnation of the cable news outlets, especially their prime-time lineups.

We live now in a cable news universe that celebrates the opinions of Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly -- individuals who hold up the twin pillars of political partisanship and who are encouraged to do so by their parent organizations because their brand of analysis and commentary is highly profitable.

The commercial success of both Fox News and MSNBC is a source of nonpartisan sadness for me. While I can appreciate the financial logic of drowning television viewers in a flood of opinions designed to confirm their own biases, the trend is not good for the republic. It is, though, the natural outcome of a growing sense of national entitlement. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's oft-quoted observation that "everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts," seems almost quaint in an environment that flaunts opinions as though they were facts.

And so, among the many benefits we have come to believe the founding fathers intended for us, the latest is news we can choose. Beginning, perhaps, from the reasonable perspective that absolute objectivity is unattainable, Fox News and MSNBC no longer even attempt it. They show us the world not as it is, but as partisans (and loyal viewers) at either end of the political spectrum would like it to be.... It is also part of a pervasive ethos that eschews facts in favor of an idealized reality.

There are some legitimate concerns about news consumers having the option of surrounding themselves only with news they want to hear, but Koppel is painting with an overly-broad brush.

For one thing, he's confusing ideology and partisanship -- Rachel Maddow is a liberal; Sean Hannity is a Republican. MSNBC's lineup criticizes President Obama and congressional Democrats nearly every day on ideological grounds; Fox News' lineup wouldn't dare chastise their Republican brethren.

For another, Koppel insists MSNBC and Fox News are somehow mirror images of one another. This remains the laziest and most unpersuasive observation in all of American media criticism. Fox News is a Republican propaganda outlet, plain and simple. MSNBC is a straight-news network, with some opinionated program in the early morning (a former Republican congressman gets three hours a day) and in prime time.

As for Koppel's insistence that all of this is "part of a pervasive ethos that eschews facts," I can only assume that he hasn't actually watched MSNBC's prime-time lineup, or he'd know this is plainly false.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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Kopperl is a tool. He's suffering from the same malaise that the present news outfits spread. That is there are always two sides and that facts are just moving targets open to interpretation.

Posted by: Gandalf on November 15, 2010 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

Currently, given the conservative bent of the networks, CNN and a good portion of MSNBC, and the far right wing bent of Fox, there are aboutfour programs on the air that speak to liberals. Koppel would prefer there be none. That seems fair and balanced to me.

Posted by: candideinnc on November 15, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Koppel's been pissed since "Politically Incorrect" followed his show and did well in the ratings. ABC wanted to replace Nightline with PI, which is part of the reason he left.

Posted by: osceola on November 15, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Koppel is ignoring the fact that MSNBC got to where it is now because they (and by "they" I mean "Olbermann") were the only ones willing to address some rather glaring facts that were consistently being ignored by the network news bureaus as they fellated GWB along for 8 years.

Posted by: Brautigan on November 15, 2010 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Ted Koppel, incoherent and wrong. So what else is new?

Posted by: An Outhouse on November 15, 2010 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

This takes us back to Stewart's complaint of ideological programming and the red/ blue perspective on the news.

A simple reminder of what the news consisted of before Olbermann and Maddow came along should render Koppel and Stewart's point moot: The drumbeat for War in Iraq that ran into almost no opposition or scrutiny from the supposedly objective press each wants to return to.

In fact, Ashley Banfield and Phil Donahue were fired for their - prescient - criticism of the rush to war... BY MSNBC! For God's sake, MSNBC should be applauded for their turnaround, not criticized.

Posted by: Kiweagle on November 15, 2010 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Even if we accept the thesis that the cable yakkers are basically equal (if ideologically different) in their culpability in the debasement of the MSM, these shows still command a fairly small percentage of all TV news viewers. The really sad thing is that the cable yakkers have become the source of news for the other, more broadly seen outlets.

In a similar vein: when you watch your non-local news on local broadcast networks, try to keep track of the non-identified yakkers who show up on the pre-packaged items presenting opinion (and badly skewed opinion at that) who are blithely present what is—and, by omission—is not) news)

Posted by: jhm on November 15, 2010 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Koppel's comments reveal just how profoundly he is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Posted by: bluestatedon on November 15, 2010 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

"Koppel said ABC's "bean counters" started apply cost-benefit ratios to overseas bureaus in the "mid-90s," which largely pre-dates the very opinion-style programs he disapproves of."

That's when it started...with OJ Simpson and the hysterical coverage of the Clintons and the rise of Rush Limbaugh.

I agree with him. No, MSNBC is not a mirror image of Fox News, but both promote hosts who seem to matter more than the "news" they're reporting. It's become a cult of personality. That's dangerous.

Posted by: SaintZak on November 15, 2010 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

Daniel Patrick Moynihan's oft-quoted observation that "everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts," seems almost quaint in an environment that flaunts opinions as though they were facts.

What facts has Ms. Maddow gotten wrong? I bet she has gotten a few wrong along the way. Did she correct them? How severe were they? Koppel doesn't say. Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck recently pushed the "Obama's India trip is $200 million" story. Was that true? Have they gotten other facts wildly wrong? Koppel doesn't say.

And how about rhetoric which cannot be classified as true or false? Is one side worse? Glenn Beck regularly compared Obama to Hitler and Stalin and said he "hates the white culture" and "is a racist". Sean Hannity wrote a book with a title comparing liberals to terrorists and calling them "evil". What has Ms. Maddow said which approaches that level of extremism? Keppel doesn't say.

I'm willing to accept that "both sides do it", but it would seem to even the most casual of viewers that one side is far, far worse than the other. That Very Serious People such as Mr. Koppel can't acknowledge this is unfortunate to say the least.

Posted by: ed on November 15, 2010 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

Phuck you, Ted. You and your holy shitheads allowed Bush to lie his way through 2000, to lie us into war in Iraq, to sell the US to the rich, etc. We don't need dipshites like you.

Posted by: F Off on November 15, 2010 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

On Nov. 1, the day before the election, I spent an hour watch Headline News and making a record of how much time they spent on each story. Here is what I came up with:

Commercials 17:30
Cargo Terror Incident 5:15
Negligence lawsuit against 4-year olds 5:00
Calif. Law Against Violent Video Games 4:30
Local Story - Early Retirement Scams 4:30
Jim Leyritz Trial 3:45
Gonzalez Murder Trial in Florida 2:45
Bret Favre 2:45
Teasers 2:30
Elizabeth Smart Case 1:45
“Off the Beaten Path” 1:45
Clark Howard Advice - Car Service 1:30
Election - only about the CNN poll results 1:00
Parents leaving kids in casino parking lot 1:00
Suicide following Webcam Incident 0:45
Arizona Immigration Law 0:30
Airbag Malfunction 0:50
Randy Quaid 0:40
Lancet Study on Alcohol v. Cocaine 0:40
Space Shuttle Launch 0:20
Steam line explosion in Utah 0:20
Indonesia Volcano 0:20

Note this was the day before the election. The ONLY political story involved CNN's own poll of the President's popularity and the generic ballot. And they did a 30 second spot on that every half hour.

I would submit that none of this is "real news," except, perhaps, the coverage of the "cargo terror incident," which by then had happened 3 days earlier, and the coverage consisted mainly of experts relating how many holes in our security there are when it comes to air cargo.

Did Koppel say anything about this crap? Or is he only concerned about newspeople expressing opinions about the news?

Posted by: The Gloves Are Off on November 15, 2010 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Koppel is only p***ed because of the rise of MSNBC. Count on it - if it were just Faux News and the corporate-Republican shamestream news media, he'd be happy as a clam about the state of journalism today.

MSNBC finally - finally! - saw there was an untapped market of non-right-wing viewers, and produced content for it. Everybody else was still chasing after the same diminishing pool of aggrieved white men. MSNBC did good, both commercially and absolutely.

Folks like Koppel who are part of the right wing's Mighty Wurlitzer (even if he doesn't realize it) can't stand it. Bias is only bad if it's on the other side. That's why he named the entire MSNBC lineup before tossing a gratuitous Hannity or two.

Posted by: zandru on November 15, 2010 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

False equivalency at its best . Rachel said it : We are just like Fox news except we don't lie and make shit up.

Posted by: John R on November 15, 2010 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

It's hard to take Koppel seriously on the subject after he repeatedly went on Sean Hannity's radio show to pimp Koppel's Discovery Channel specials. Hannity's entire career is built on attacking the journalistic principles that Koppel claims to believe in, but you'd never know it from the way the two of them pal'd around on the air.


Posted by: MBunge on November 15, 2010 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

There was a popular published article revealing social insight of the manners in which Mr Koppel maintained his personal distance from the objects of his night time news magazine . This was around the time of its departure from being broadcast . In particular the debonair Kopple appeared to share far more assumptions about the need to disguise his own intimacy with those he presented than should be comfortable , in the common understanding of reporter assuming the role of reporting . The ease in which one felt insight grow into Mr Kopple's warping of what might simply be understood as conflict in his presentations , past the point of absurdity , was unfortunately the primary issue if memory serves .

Posted by: FRP on November 15, 2010 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe Ted is channeling John Stewart after the Maddow interview. Opinions aside, which "news" network lies 24/7 there Ted? Care to be brutally honest or are you just being asked for your biased opinion?

Posted by: Trollop on November 15, 2010 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

SaintZak - The traditional news anchor absolutely was a personality. The holy triumvirate of Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, and Dan Rather would be eternal if not for the biological necessity of death.

Posted by: inkadu on November 15, 2010 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

I remember decades ago, Howard Stern criticized TV critic Kay Gardella for criticizing one of his pay per view specials...WITHOUT ACTUALLY WATCHING IT. Even got her on the phone to invite a comment about it. Her comment, roughly, was "I hear about what you do; I don't need to see it to know I don't like it."

I suspect Koppel is dealing with a similar bias. I suspect he's not really watching MSNBC, nor is he really watching Fox, because the jury is out, the word is final, they are two sides to the same opinion-based coin, and thus he doesn't need to watch to know he doesn't like it.

Of course, were he to objectively watch a random day of programming from both networks (OK, a random WEEKDAY, you can only deal with so many "life in prison" specials), and assuming he's keeping up with genuinely current events, Koppel would probably notice that, when MSNBC's anchors deviate from a discussion of the facts and into opinion, those are opinions based...ON THE FACTS. Not strawman arguments, not speculation over how things would be different if someone else were in charge (one of my biggest pet peeves about Fox was about how they continued to use Gore as a whipping boy, even after losing the election, by wondering how poorly HE would've handled 9/11 and the Iraq War, all based on nothing but biases and a desire to make Chimpy look majestic in comparision to fiction). When Olbermann s angry, it's because a person or a thing made him angry and his gravitas notwithstanding, he articulates his point. Ditto Rachel, without so much of the gravitas. To compare what they do, and why they sometimes get angry, to Beck's wide-eyed schtick or O'Reilly & Hannity (and supposed legitimate news person Megyn Kelly) bringing people on their show specifically to tell them to shut up, is laughable. But that's the common wisdom. It's so well-known, it doesn't have to be true. And it will continue to be well-known even if Olbermann & Maddow & O'Donnell were to do nothing more than read news straight off a teleprompter.

And it's deliberate.

Fox News knows their base will believe them if they reported that Jesus shouldn't be trusted if he were a liberal and everyone should convert to Beckism (and I'm not too sure they don't have that in the works as a holiday special). All they have to do is make the people who DON'T believe them, or who are only payig marginal attention at best, be equally suspicious of any other source of news as being the "liberal media" or a reaction to the "facts" coming from Fox. Keep throwing it out there, and eventually some of it sticks, like, you know, poop. And that poop, as it sticks to people, develops a bacterial infection on those people to whom the poop has stuck, and they spread it to other people who didn't get the original poop stuck on them, and they spread it to others and so on and so on and next thing you know Dems stay home during the midterms, we have a bunch of right wing radicals in the House and supposed Smart Fellows like Ted Koppel bemoan opinion-based news on Fox *AND* MSNBC. They don't need to watch to know what it is, after all, everybody knows it.

And the Repulbicans win. Again. Thanks to people who are "too smart" for their own good.

On a worthless personal note, I had an opportunity to see Ted Koppel speak once. If memory serves, it was the summer of 2005 and Koppel was filling in for an ailing Peter Jennings who had taken a turn for the worse. It was a convention of people who work in cable, and for whatever reason no one wanted to be the first to ask Koppel a question. So I rocked the mic (that is what the young kids call it, right? God, I want to be hip so bad), and asked if he thought the proliferation of 24-hour news networks made it that much harder for real news to cut through the clutter, speaking anecdotally (sp?) of the days of The Big 3 when breaking news would actually stop everything, and everyone would stop everything, too, to share evenets as they happen. And now (well, now in 2005), no one wants to interrupt programming unless it's something the size of 9/11 because people can get their news from so many other sources, but (I argued) that perhaps diminishes the importance of the news. Sometimes, you need an authority figure to say "Shut up, stop what you're doing, this is important," to know to stop and pay attention. He didn't exactly agree on all my points, but admitted that he wishes sometimes more news cut through the clutter. So, to see him offer an opinion that, to me, indicates that he's not paying nearly as close attention as he likes to think he is (or claim he is) only makes me sad. Because if he's not paying attention, but thinks he is, the dumbing of America is picking up speed.

Posted by: slappy magoo on November 15, 2010 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

the gloves are off, thank you for your report on what really goes on with "serious news." It's very demoralizing because, honestly, people's ignorance about issues and their potential solutions is the source of most of our problems.

Posted by: Sapient on November 15, 2010 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: hells littlest angel on November 15, 2010 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Maddow should invite Koppel onto her show to compare and contrast the content of the MSNBC lineup vs. that of Faux News.

Then they should debate what transpired to create this situation. The elimination of the Equal Time Rule, perhaps?

When a "news" program is allowed to restrict the debate to one side or a narrow range of perspective that benefits its ideological objectives, journalism is dead.

At least Rachel Maddow has an open invitation to ANYONE to argue their POV. Faux News? Not so much.

Posted by: bdop4 on November 15, 2010 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

"MSNBC is a straight news network"? Stop insulting our intelligence.

They're just as partisan as Fox. Stop this hypocrisy just because you agree with their positions.

Koppel actually covered and ANALYZED news, without preaching one side over the other.

The pathetic 'analysis' of today is partisan pablum, announced at higher and higher volume because that makes it more 'authoritative', reinforced by others who share your particular side, and juvenile name-calling.

Posted by: JEA on November 15, 2010 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

I have a more sanguine opinion about Koppel's opinion piece (although it's true he may not be totally familiar with the lineup these days). Let's not knock Koppel; he like Rather had a lifelong commitment to objective reporting; his concerns may seem old-fashioned to the Internet generation, but they are not to be dismissed.

My main criticism of Koppel's approach is his embrace of embedded journalism during the Iraq war. He did the job he was supposed to: he helped to create a compelling narrative about how the war mattered to the troops. That is a legitimate function of the press. The problem though is that it can end up turning war into an adventure reality show. I don't accuse Koppel specifically, but the months before the war TV networks focused on irrelevant things and not the casus belli or the political implications of this war.

I'm all for keeping bureaus overseas (although to be fair, the Internet makes it a lot easier to access reports from faroff places without needing the major networks to cover it). But if the main purpose of an overseas bureau is to embed journalists with troops, then I question its value.

Posted by: Robert nagle on November 15, 2010 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

The Gloves are off: that is a fascinating summary of what shows up on cable news.

For a more humorous take, see Jon Stewart's summary of what a 24 hour news day at a cable news channel looks like .

Posted by: Robert Nagle on November 15, 2010 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

Koppel is correct to bemoan the decline of straight news, but like so many others, he refuses to admit his own role.

During Campaign 2000, Ted ran away and hid when candidate Bush's fiscal claims didn't add up because "all those numbers" just made poor Ted's head hurt. He also joined in the Washington insider clique where alleged "journalists" became close pals with those they were supposed to cover. See his muscle car joy rides with Colin Powell.

Of course, Somerby has the details.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on November 15, 2010 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

MSNBC is "straighter" then Fox New is. First off, MSNBC gives 3 hours in the morning to a Republican host. How many Democrats host shows on Fox?

Midday MSNBC news shows play the news fairly straight, they report facts and talk about the facts, sure the hosts may be liberals, but they are not making shit up. Fox midday shows come up with something like this: "So I read online that Obama still has not presented his birth certificate. Interesting." Then the nighttime lineup takes that and does a whole show on it and if anyone questions them, they say "It was reported on the news, look it up!"...yeah, sure, their own news!

Also, the hosts of the MSNBC lineups consistently ask Republican guests to appear on the show, especially the Rachel Maddow show...and Republicans almost always refuse to even call the producers back. MSNBC tries to get them to come on and explain their points of view. When does Fox prime-time lineup have Democratic guests of any worth? Instead they find these pseudo-liberal guests who are whackos and then they just attack them...or in O'Reilly's case, scream over them and cut their mikes off.

Posted by: Joe D on November 15, 2010 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

I like how he names the "leftists" first. Yeah, they're the ones who started it. And they're the ones who make stuff up, and put the wrong letter (D for R) behind the names of reThug screw-ups.

BTW, there is still one good unbiased news show on TV - the PBS News Hour. And Alan Simpson is all set to drive it off the air.

Posted by: Mouse Brain on November 15, 2010 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Koppel should lament the MSM's unwillingness to state facts. Reality has a liberal bias and bias is unacceptable to the paragons of the illusion of objectivity!

Posted by: Michael7843853 on November 15, 2010 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Ted Koppel gave us "America held hostage" nightly even when there was no news to report. When it got a good audience it morphed into Nightline after a year. He gave us Ronald Reagan by portraying the country as weak.

Posted by: hornblower on November 15, 2010 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Back in the 60's we were told never to trust anyone over 30.

That is still good advice today. (and I am a card carrying geezer. . .)

Posted by: DAY on November 15, 2010 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Koppel blithely ignores the fact that MSNBC has actually broken news, for example, Maddow's reporting on C Street and The Family, and on the 'kill the gays' law in Uganda that the Senators who are C Streeters support. That's not news? And that Olbermann, whenever he finds he has made an error comes on camera to apologize and set the record right? Does FOX ever do that???

Posted by: jjm on November 15, 2010 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

Reading throught the comments, wondering if anyone would go that far back... hornblower finally did.

Koppel started this sensationalized news shit with his every night "AMERICA HELD HOSTAGE: Day Whatever the Fuck" in 1979 during the Iranian hostage "crisis".

Anyone who grew up with Murrow or Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley knew at the time that Koppel's crap was changing the face of TV news for a long time to come. Fox is simply two or three generations down from what Koppel began.

And now he has the gall to criticize. What a fucking putz.

Posted by: cr on November 15, 2010 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK
Koppel actually covered and ANALYZED news, without preaching one side over the other.

Yep. That's why he ANALYZED Bush being handed the presidency (despite the numerous illegalities of his campaign's funding, and the insanely dubious SC decision), and spent weeks ANALYZING the run-up to the Iraq War and how it was a bunch of horseshit.

Oh, wait ...

Koppel may not have been as overt in his company-line-repeating ways, but that doesn't mean he didn't do so.

Posted by: Mark D on November 15, 2010 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

If the idea is that Old Media provided facts whereas New Media marinates in bias, prejudice and opinion then Koppel owes it to his audience to provide at least some facts to show that Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow are the evil liberal twins of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.

My guess is that Koppel tried but could not find examples where MSNBC was the equal of Fox in its fear-mongering and race-baiting. So he settled for a plague on both your houses collection of general accusations and abstract assertions about media bias instead.

Yes, Keith and Rachel are unabashed liberal advocates for liberal values and a liberal worldview. But they are advocates in the same way that a lawyer is an advocate for his client in a courtroom, bound by certain rules of procedure and evidence. That's what's entirely missing from Fox, where they just make stuff up or cynically push certain hot-button issues, as when they attack President Obama for "disloyalty" when he admits American mistakes in order to build bridges of trust with countries that doubt America's word and motives.

To watch a Rachel Maddow's date-driven take-down of Fox or Republicans is a far different thing than listening to O'Reilly or Hannity bloviate about "that traitor" in the White House or hear Glenn Beck turn American history on its head by pretending that Thomas Jefferson declared a Christian Nation instead of one with a wall of separation between Church and State.

I get Koppel's point that we would all be better off if we placed a higher value on facts and evidence than prejudice and self-interest in order to support a democracy that places a higher value on reason and deliberation than venting its spleen.

And I also understand Koppel's tactical need for attacking Fox and MSNBC equally to earn credibility as an impartial arbiter in order to be heard by liberals and conservatives alike across the partisan divide.

But Koppel does violence to the truth and undermines his own case when he engages in these facile and false equivalencies which treat Rachel and Keith as no better than the shameless demagogues at Fox.

Posted by: Ted Frier on November 15, 2010 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

Bigtime TV reportors/anchors/producers seemed to get very comfortable with bigtime salaries. How many bureaus, writers, fact checkers could be kept on with just a small portion of their take? Probably not interested in rocking that boat.

Posted by: mjm on November 16, 2010 at 3:49 AM | PERMALINK

Olbermann's response:

Watch and learn.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on November 16, 2010 at 8:32 PM | PERMALINK

To put Maddow and Olbermann in same group as Beck and O'Neil is a travesty; Beck and O'Neil aren't hateful snots, ego maniacs absolutely, but not buffoons.
What about all the other news networks that are obviously leaning left? Let's take Katrina with Bush and the Oil Spill disaster with Obama, which one do you still hear about? and which one was obviously swept under the rug by all? The biggest environmental disaster and Obama hid out took hardly any heat for it.
I will give Teddy one thing, Fox kills MSNBC in the ratings wars, look at Nielsen, it is because people are looking for a more non-slanted news source and you mostly have leaning left news outlets. How about an ABC or CBS that is more centrist? Or at least have more than the token righty in their discussions.

Posted by: JV on November 23, 2010 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK



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