Last evening, Fox News aired a Bill O’Reilly interview with Ted Koppel. It began with the question, “What do you have against Fox News and me (Bill O’Reilly)?” Koppel easily defused the potentially volatile question in his signature non-flustered style.
First of all, he said he had nothing against the news organization or his host. He did point out, however, that Bill O’Reilly has a tendency to cut off his guests’ answers! 🙂 O’Reilly tried to defend his actions, but was unsuccessful as Koppel maintained a polite, yet unshakable opposition.
He expressed his concern at the level of politicization which the news media has turned to. He said that it had made “reaching across the aisle in Congress” for compromise almost impossible. O’Reilly accurately asserted that members of Congress should be competent enough to carry out their responsibilities in spite of this. Still, it became clear that the mood of the public does indeed influence the legislative process through voting and activism.
Koppel brought up how it was different in the generation of Walter Cronkite. Back then, Cronkite’s political leanings were not known. O’Reilly interjected that “the viewer in Iowa” didn’t know his views, but that everyone at CBS (where he had worked) knew his political beliefs and that it impacted the daily decision-making there.
Even so, Koppel maintained that it was generally accepted that a news anchor should not make it obvious that he was liberal or conservative. After some give-and-take, Koppel was able to have O’Reilly admit that news broadcasting has become a business where ratings come more from the emotion it invokes than from unvarnished facts. After which, Koppel concluded with “at one time, we thought it (journalism) was a calling.”
Ted Koppel is so right. News objectivity has faded severely since Walter Cronkite Era ended when he retired in 1981. So has an overriding sense of civility, not just with many journalists, but in the social media which have evolved since. Mr. Koppel, you certainly deserve your retirement, but we miss you more with each passing year.