Ted Koppel is out there, once again, talking out of both sides of his mouth.
ABC’s “Nightline” anchor is bemoaning the new competition his network and other establishment media outlets are getting from the Internet.
“The Internet is a medium that has brought to life the saying, ‘Anybody can be a journalist … and often is,” he writes in an essay in the fifth anniversary issue of Forbes ASAP. “The bane and glory of the First Amendment is that everybody in the U.S. has the right to call themselves a reporter. Today, anybody can sit at a keyboard and, with the Internet, have access to millions of people.”
Koppel characterizes news on the Internet as unreliable and sensational.
Now let me get this straight. Less than a year ago, I had the misfortune of sitting in a room listening to Koppel explain that his news organization, ABC News, and his program in particular, “Nightline,” simply didn’t have the resources to do serious investigative reporting.
“We only have 50 people on staff,” he said.
In fact, he said that the only serious muckraking actually being done in this country was being performed by small independent “fringe” news organizations. I deduced by his condescending use of the term “fringe” that he was referring to me and my organization, the Western Journalism Center. Now, Koppel is bemoaning the fact that others have begun trying to do what he admits ABC News cannot do.
At the very same time Koppel is criticizing the Internet’s new role in news dissemination, he’s also attacking the U.S. media establishment for not being serious enough and for not covering foreign news.
Now, let me tell you, the Internet has been a breath of fresh air for those of us savvy enough to understand that we’re not getting even close to the full story from the establishment press. The Internet allows us to scour news from disparate sources scattered all over the globe. And it’s astonishing how much news is being broken on a regular basis that simply does not make its way through the news filters here in the U.S.
“We have the responsibility to do more: to focus on foreign events and explain to the American public how and why those events have an impact on us — to resist and reject the comfortable illusion that Americans don’t care about what’s happening overseas,” he told the International Press Freedom Awards dinner. “They don’t care only because they’ve been lulled into believing that what happens overseas will have no real impact on their own lives.”
Koppel’s comments were so well-received in some quarters that they were reprinted in the leftist publication the Nation. But he is critical of his colleagues for all the wrong reasons.
The major problem with the U.S. press is not that it doesn’t cover foreign stories. And it isn’t that it tries too hard to be entertaining rather than informative. The major problem with the press is that it has lost sight of its mission.
Try this out on any journalist you know. Ask him or her: “What is the central role of a free press in a free society?”
My guess is that you will get a blank stare and then a vapid response such as: “To keep people informed.”
But there is a precise and correct response to this question — one every would-be journalist should learn in “Reporting 101.” The answer is: “To serve as a watchdog of government.”
That’s where the press is falling down today. We’ve fallen so far, Ted Koppel and most of his colleagues can’t even see where we’ve fallen from.
Our Founding Fathers understood how vital the institution of the press was to maintaining a free society. Government needed watching — constantly, they understood. They built checks and balances into the system, but the press, they knew, was the independent Fourth Estate needed to expose corruption, waste, fraud and abuse that would only be covered up by the political class.
Today, the press establishment has gotten into bed with the political and corporate establishment. Who could expect Ted Koppel to see it? He’s a part of it — a big part.
Ironically, Koppel told the group that only foreign journalists are “risking personal and political peril in upholding the highest standards of their profession. We celebrate their courage even as we exhibit increasingly little of our own.”
Well, it’s certainly true that Ted Koppel and most of his colleagues exhibit precious little courage in their work. But, let me tell you, Ted, you don’t have to look abroad for journalists placing themselves in personal and political peril in upholding the standards of their profession. There are journalists — a handful of them, anyway — right here in the United States who have risked everything in pursuit of the truth. Because you and your establishment friends have callously chosen to ignore their work and their plight, their lives are a little more dangerous each and everyday.
For that you should truly be ashamed.