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Ted Koppel Longs for the Old Media and an 'Objective Accounting' of 'What's Really Important'

Former Nightline host Ted Koppel appeared on Sunday's Reliable Sources and wistfully called for a return to "more serious objectivity" and the need for reporters who can tell audiences "what's really important in the world."

This is the same Ted Koppel who once stopped just shy of calling Rush Limbaugh "hateful," who in a commentary said of enhanced interrogation techniques, "You know, it's almost the moral equivalent of saying that rape is an enhanced seduction technique."

Talking to CNN anchor Howard Kurtz on Sunday, Koppel proclaimed, "I think the journalism requires, and our times require, a little more serious objectivity." He added, "And I think there has to be a willingness on the part of the public to accept that journalism is trying to do an honest job of giving them an objective accounting of what's going on in the world and an objective appraisal of what's really important in the world."

Kurtz and Koppel then recounted a 2010 battle the veteran journalist had with MSNBC's Keith Olbermann over coverage of the Iraq war.

Through the years, the MRC has compiled many examples of the ex-ABC host offering standard liberal talking points.

For example, on August 18, 1992, as he opened Nightline, Koppel casually insisted, "Let us not for a moment be confused into believing that this is only a conservative Republican thing, this business of some people feeling threatened by smart, assertive, professional women."

Here are some examples of Koppel's bias:

"To call something an 'enhanced interrogation technique' doesn't alter the fact that we thought it was torture when the Japanese used it on American prisoners, we thought it was torture when the North Koreans used it, we thought it was torture when the Soviets used it....You know, it's almost the moral equivalent of saying that rape is an enhanced seduction technique."

- Ted Koppel in a commentary for the BBC's World News America, May 11, 2009.

"It's a sign of the times: Thirty-five years ago, he [George W. Bush] joined the Texas Air National Guard to stay out of Vietnam. And now, he's going to Vietnam to stay out of Washington."

- Ted Koppel joking about the President's trip to an economic summit in Vietnam, on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, November 15, 2006.

Ted Koppel: "There were some fairly contentious issues and he was a fairly controversial President - we've more or less overlooked much of that over the past week. But I suspect as his friends and supporters try to raise to him to the very heights there, and perhaps find a place for him on Mount Rushmore, that some of that controversy and some of the debate will come back."

Peter Jennings: "No doubt about it."

- Exchange during ABC's live coverage of Reagan funeral events about 7:45pm EDT on June 11, 2004.

"When you say he's 'a good and decent man,' I don't know him that well personally myself, I have no way of judging one way or the other. But I must tell you I often listen to him when I'm driving into work, and what I hear on the radio is frequently - I don't want to say hateful, that's going a little too far - but he says and does things on the radio that are so disparaging of homosexuals, African-Americans, the homeless. As I say, I think it's clearly part of the act, but it's not gentlemanly, it's not kind."

- ABC's Ted Koppel on Nightline Oct. 2 2003, rejecting talk show host G. Gordon Liddy's description of Limbaugh

"At the same time, he will have to find a way to disassociate himself from the President's extremely low personal approval ratings. It shouldn't be that difficult. Al Gore has been perhaps the most active Vice President in American history, and there's not a hint of scandal associated with Gore's personal behavior. So much for logic."

- ABC Nightline host Ted Koppel previewing Al Gore's convention address, August 14, 2000.

"Let us not for a moment be confused into believing that this is only a conservative Republican thing, this business of some people feeling threatened by smart, assertive, professional women....Women who speak their minds in public are still swimming upstream in this country."

- Ted Koppel opening Nightline, August 18, 1992.

Predictably, Koppel on Sunday also lamented a loss of money for NPR as a result of cuts by congressional Republicans. He predicted that the "smallest stations in the communities that have the fewest options" would suffer the most.

A partial transcript of the March 27 Reliable Sources segment can be found below:

HOWARD KURTZ: Let me ask you about a Washington Post opinion piece you wrote a while back that caused a bit of a stir. You said you were saddened by the partisanship in prime time-

KOPPEL: Right.

KURTZ: -on Fox News and MSNBC. Why saddened? A lot of people say, well, look, by evening time, people know the headlines, they've seen them online, they've read the newspapers, they like opinion.

KOPPEL: Again, if we're only talking about it through the prism of entertainment, I take the point. But if the purpose is to provide some journalism, then I think the journalism requires, and our times require, a little more serious objectivity. And I think there has to be a willingness on the part of the public to accept that journalism is trying to do an honest job of giving them an objective accounting of what's going on in the world and an objective appraisal of what's really important in the world. In the face of what Fox is doing, and in the face of what MSNBC is doing, there's no reason for the public to assume anything other than that what we're doing is putting forth our own opinions.

KURTZ: You particularly went after Keith Olbermann pretty hard. You said that he was avowedly, unabashedly and monotonously partisan.

KOPPEL: Well, I went after- I went after Mr. Olbermann at that time because he was very much in the news. You may recall at that point, he had been suspended for, what was it, two days or three days?

KURTZ: It ended up being two days for contributing money to three Democratic candidates. And, in fact, the fallout from that episode led pretty directly to his leaving MSNBC.

KOPPEL: Right.

KURTZ: Did that-

KOPPEL: I mean, I could just as easily have picked on someone over at Fox, or other people at MSNBC. It-

KURTZ: As you know, he came back at you pretty hard.

KOPPEL: He did. He did.

KURTZ: And he wrote among - he said on the air, among other things, that you were "worshipping the false God of utter objectivity." That's a word you've already used. And then he brought up the run-up to the Iraq War.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: The stories of Mr. Koppel's career will emphasize the light he's so admirably shown on the Iran hostages. Those stories though will probably not emphasize that in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 and 2005, Mr. Koppel did not shine that same light on the decreasingly coherent excuses presented by the government of this nation for the war in Iraq.

KURTZ: I'm sure you'd like a chance to respond.

KOPPEL: Well, I'm not sure I feel I need a chance to respond. He clearly didn't see all the Nightline that we did and most particularly, he cannot have seen a 90-minute or even two-hour town meeting that we did, the title of which was sort of self-explanatory, "Why Now?"

And we did that in early March of 2003, literally a couple of weeks just before the war began. And the whole point of the program was, why is it so important that we go in and that we invade Iraq? So I don't expect Mr. Olbermann to have seen all the programs. But before he makes a wide-ranging charge like that, I do expect that he'd have someone else do the research.

...

KURTZ: From this very office you do commentaries for National Public Radio.

KOPPEL: Right.

KURTZ: Obviously, NPR suffered a big embarrassment with the hidden camera video that found a top executive making very disparaging remarks about the Tea Party. An NPR chief executive resigned this week, which helped fuel a debate that was already on the way, which is why should, at a time of huge budget deficits, an organization like NPR get taxpayer dollars?

KOPPEL: Well, I must confess, I'm not the best person to tell you about the financial breakdown. But my understanding of it is-

KURTZ: Ten to 15 percent of its budget.

KOPPEL: Yes. But most of the stations that will be hardest hit are, by definition, as I understand it, the smallest stations in the smallest communities. And that those stations tend to get as much as 50 percent of their annual budget from that congressional funding, whereas NPR itself, I think, gets a relatively minor amount. It's not NPR per se that is going to be most damaged by this. It's going to be the smallest stations in the communities that have the fewest options anywhere, that probably don't have a local newspaper, that may not have a radio or a television station with a news department that depends almost exclusively on NPR for any sort of insight into what is happening both in the country and in the world outside. They're the ones that are going to be hardest hit.


- Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.