Longtime anchor Ted Koppel talks state of American journalism

November 2, 2017 GMT

In the late 1960s, when Ted Koppel covered the Vietnam War as ABC News’ war correspondent, he would ship his film by air back to the network’s New York studios, a journey that took two to three days.

By 2003, when he began covering the Iraq War, Koppel could broadcast from the desert, bringing news to his viewers the same day it happened.

Now, Koppel said Wednesday in a lecture at Trinity University, half the American public gets its news immediately on Facebook.

“What social media does is give all of us the opportunity to say anything at any time at any length about anybody, without regard to fact-checking or its accuracy,” he said. “That’s something totally new.”


In his lecture about the state of journalism in America, Koppel offered a grave assessment of political polarization in the U.S. while underlining the importance of factual accuracy.

“When I would write a script, my script would be read by the executive producer, by a senior producer, by a fact-checker, before I could put it on the air,” he said. “And I felt wonderful about that.”

He later added that “a nation like ours cannot survive in freedom if we are incapable of agreeing on something as simple as what is factual.”

He also urged media outlets to focus on fact-based reporting rather than analysis.

“I believe it is the responsibility of journalists at this time in our history to do what has been their responsibility throughout every other time in history,” Koppel said. “And that is to report the facts. And get away from all the analysis.”

He added that papers should continue to have op-ed pages and networks need not get rid of all analysts, though not to the exclusion of reporting.

“Report what’s important, report it accurately, get it fact-checked, make sure that what you’re saying is right,” Koppel said. “And then let the chips fall.”

An anchor for nearly 26 years of the late night news show “Nightline,” Koppel began his career in 1963 when he became ABC Radio News’ youngest correspondent. Coming onto the national scene with his coverage of the Kennedy assassination that year, Koppel, now 77, went on to cover Richard Nixon’s administration, traveling with the president to China in 1972.

He now contributes to CBS News Sunday Morning.

Koppel on Wednesday also said journalists should not cover the investigation into the alleged ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government at the expense of other news stories.


“It’s not important to the exclusion of everything else,” Koppel said. “It’s an easy thing to talk about. Every day offers us a new evolution in this story. And it’s a lot less complicated than talking about cybersecurity and the danger of cyberattacks.”

In 2015, Koppel released a book on cybersecurity called “Lights Out,” which he also discussed during his lecture Wednesday.

“The internet, in addition to being an extraordinarily valuable tool and a wonderful addition to our lives, also has the potential of being a weapon of mass destruction,” Koppel said. “We have already seen what … people with bad intentions using or misusing the internet (can do).”

He also warned of the tenuous nature of the nation’s power grids, divided into three sections — including one devoted entirely to parts of Texas — and how easily other countries could hack into the grids.

“If a foreign government could get inside one of those … systems, it could shut down an entire power grid,” Koppel said.

jscherer@express-news.net | Twitter: @jaspscherer