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Koppel Denies He's Against War, But Lectures on Sharing Its Cost --5/01/2004


1. Koppel Denies He's Against War, But Lectures on Sharing Its Cost


Koppel Denies He's Against War,
But Lectures on Sharing Its Cost

At the conclusion of Friday's controversial 35-minute Nightline devoted to Ted Koppel announcing, over matching pictures, the names of servicemen killed in Iraq over the past 13 months, he contended that "the reading tonight of those 721 names was neither intended to provoke opposition to the war, nor was it meant as an endorsement." Koppel acknowledged, however, that "some of you doubt that" and "are convinced that I am opposed to the war." He insisted: "I'm not."

But he did offer a personal opinion which seemed to integrate the liberal criticism of the Bush administration for not asking for sacrifices, such as raising taxes: "I am opposed to sustaining the illusion that war can be waged by the sacrifice of a few without burdening the rest of us in any way. I oppose the notion that to be at war is to forfeit the right to question, criticize or debate our leaders' policies."

After watching the show, I'm not sure I can offer any profound assessment on the political agenda, or lack of one, in Koppel's production. I'm sure many families and friends of those listed were appreciative of the recognition, while many others, who don't personally know anyone killed in the war, were moved by the long recitation of sacrifices by others. But by airing the list of names and pictures on the eve of the one-year anniversary of President Bush's much media-ridiculed "Mission Accomplished" speech and aircraft carrier landing, ABC still raised suspicions about the motives behind the effort, especially when combined with how the list ignored those killed in Afghanistan and Koppel's comments at the end of the broadcast about how too many Americans are not presently burdened enough by the cost of the war.

Details on what viewers saw and what Koppel said:

The program had three ad breaks, but they totaled a mere three-and-a-half-minutes of air time, much less than the usual ad inventory of at least eight minutes, as ABC apparently pulled its national ads, leaving only local ads and promos. The first two ad breaks lasted just one minute and the third a minute and a half.

Suggesting that ABC reduced the ad time and dumped its paid ads: On WJLA-TV in Washington, DC, the first ad break began with a public service announcement (PSA) from "Volunteers of America," but that was quickly cut off and replaced by a spot for "Cover the Uninsured Week.org" followed by a ChevronTexaco ad. The second break consisted of two 30-second spots which were clearly local, a "U.S. Liquidators" auction at the Sheraton Premiere in Tyson's Corner and Mattress Discounters. For the 90-second-long third ad break, Washington, DC area viewers saw two 15-second "ABC 7 News" promos, a 30-second spot for Toyota, and 15-second spots for The Jewelry Factory in Bethesda and the local "Booz/Allen Classic" golf tournament.

As of 9am EDT this morning, I can find no articles which mention the lack of ad time in the program or how ABC dumped national advertising. Wire stories do, however, assert that the show lasted 40 minutes. It did not. It went for exactly 35 minutes, including Koppel's "Closing Thought," which consumed 2:20.

The April 30 pre-taped broadcast began with a cold opening sans any music or the usual Nightline opening sequence. Up on screen ABC put "The Fallen," a black images on white background graphic with those words next to a soldier's helmet on top of rifle, the symbol of a fallen soldier. To see the graphic: abcnews.go.com

Koppel then appeared, against a plain black background without any on-screen graphics.

He explained: "This was never intended to be about us and, for all the controversy that's swirling around this program, tonight is just going to be about the men and women who have died in Iraq since the war began a year ago last March."

Koppel outlined how the Nightline staff had "gone to great lengths" to get the pronunciations of the names correct, but he apologized in advance if he were to get any wrong, and he thanked the Army Times for their assistance in obtaining photos.

He added that they originally intended to list only the names of those who died in combat, but after receiving a plea from a father whose son was killed in a truck accident in Iraq, decided to feature the names of all of those who died in Iraq no matter the cause of their death.

Koppel wrapped up his introduction by previewing what he would say afterward: "If you're still with us and you're interested in knowing what my intentions were for this broadcast, I'll try to spell them out. But the names, and the faces, of the fallen, tell their own story. And here it is."

As Koppel read each name, ABC displayed two photos on screen, side-by-side, with the branch of service, rank, name and age of the fallen serviceman listed below each photo. The two picture spots alternated so the photo on the left would change while the one on right would remain and then one on right would change as the one on the left stayed up and so on with each picture displayed for about two seconds. This way, just as each picture came up, Koppel said the name.

For most, ABC showed the official color military photo, but other kinds of pictures were mixed in, such as high school graduation pictures and other casual photos. For those without a photo, ABC inserted a picture showing several flag-draped caskets.

In the background, filling in the screen space not occupied by the photos: A gray image of a floating or lightly waving U.S. flag.

Going into and out of each of the three ad breaks detailed above, Nightline displayed "The Fallen" graphic. Returning from the three ad breaks, after a few seconds of the graphic, without any other comment, Koppel resumed reading the names.

Following the 721st name and picture, Koppel appeared on camera again, against the same black background. He reported that the Pentagon put the total number of servicemen killed in Iraq at 737, including two Marines killed on April 30, but that 16 names have yet to be released.

Koppel then delivered some comments, parts of which could be perceived as condescending, that lasted about 2:20:
"Now, a closing thought. There is no easier applause line in American politics than to invoke the brave men and women fighting in our behalf. As for those who've died, they can be used with equal cynicism by the hawks and the doves. You want to whip up support for the war? It goes something like this: 'We owe it to the men and women who have died in the cause of freedom that we complete their mission with honor.'
"You oppose the war and want to pull the troops out? It's one variation or another of this theme: 'Too many brave men and women have already died in a war that never should have been fought in the first place.'
"Our goal tonight was to elevate the fallen above the politics and the daily journalism, to let their names and faces remind us of what has always been true: When the American people fully understand the cause for which our troops are fighting, and when they accept that it is essential to our national welfare and security, no burden is too heavy, no cost is too high. It may well be that the war against terrorism, which is all too real, does require that our troops spend many more dangerous years in Iraq.
"At times, there is no alternative to war. During World War II more than 16 million Americans served in uniform and over 400,000 of those died. Most Americans believed then and believe now that the sacrifice was necessary.
"The reading tonight of those 721 names was neither intended to provoke opposition to the war, nor was it meant as an endorsement.
"Some of you doubt that. You are convinced that I am opposed to the war. I'm not. But that's beside the point. I am opposed to sustaining the illusion that war can be waged by the sacrifice of a few without burdening the rest of us in any way. I oppose the notion that to be at war is to forfeit the right to question, criticize or debate our leaders' policies. Or, for that matter, the policies of those who would like to become our leaders.
"Nightline will continue to do all of those things in the weeks and months to come. But not tonight. That is not what this broadcast was about."

Please note: AP and Reuters stories on Saturday morning contained brief quotes from Koppel which overlap with what I've quoted above, but do not match exactly. For the above quotes from Koppel at the beginning and end of Nightline, I transcribed it myself, and so it matches exactly what he really said on the air.

As of now, since neither Nexis nor ABC News have posted a transcript, and probably will not until sometime Monday, this is the only transcript available anywhere of Koppel's words on his controversial program.

-- Brent Baker