Ted Koppel’s guide to the media

Ted Koppel’s guide to the media

Ted Koppel, the 25 year veteran anchor of Nightline and former Managing Editor of Discovery Channel, used to appear on John Stewart’s The Daily Show as the standard of journalistic integrity, his disembodied "giant head" advising Stewart on what today’s hyperactive media could learn from the good old days. FP spoke with Mr. Koppel about this month’s media news, from Apple to Limbaugh to Kony; edited and condensed for clarity.

Mike Daisey’s Fabrication

The temptation to makes things up becomes even greater when you’re in a setting like China, where you don’t have ready access to as many sources as you do in the United States. There’s probably not a foreign correspondent alive who hasn’t had a conversation with a taxi driver from the airport to the hotel and then incorporated what the taxi driver told him under the general rubric of ‘local sources,’ here in fill-in the blank. It’s fair game if you make it clear in your story what you’re doing. I think that happens more often in a dictatorship, where it’s hard to get people to talk, and you’re going to make the most of what little contact you have with the population.

Daisey’s story falls into no man’s land. That Daisey raised public awareness of conditions in an Apple plant has some positives, but the damage that he has done to journalism in general has not.

The worsening of bi-partisan bickering

Issues end up being magnified, first the blogs, than the radio talk shows, than cable TV talk shows, all of it processed and re-processed endlessly on a succession of idiotic programs, on the left and on the right. They go just so far beyond the bounds of civility and good taste. It’s sad. I despise it when I see it with Limbaugh, and Maher; it’s bad for the country, bad for our national dialogue.     

Limbaugh and Maher, at a time when they’re being criticized, claims he’s just an entertainer, yet each of them revels in their political influence, and takes on serious of political issues, and has millions of viewers who listen to what they say and are influenced. You can’t have it both ways; can’t excuse every outrage by wrapping yourself in the cloak of entertainer.

Viral scandals

In this age where you have (Kony 2012 filmmaker) Jason Russell, when you are able to attract and in some fashion influence 70 million people, and it then turns out that not everything you did is above board, there’s a huge chance that those 70 million people are going to be negatively affected in their view of what’s been reported. Whatever good Russell may have done by drawing attention to Kony’s atrocities depends on your ability to take him at his word. If any of those aspects turn out to be overstated, misstated, untrue, you undermine everything.


I do not recognize the value of Twitter, with very few notable exceptions, as a valuable instrument of news coverage, precisely because most of the time you know nothing about the provenance of a tweet…I think we make a grave mistake when we give Twitter too much influence as a medium of journalism; it hasn’t quite matured into that yet, I don’t know if it ever will.

Mass media coverage of China

Mass media are under-reporting China. It’s a very complex story, and I think one of the lamentable things about American media today is that they give foreign news short shrift. It’s much easier to spend hours of cable time covering the Casey Anthony trial. People watch it. Charlie Sheen goes on his binge and that gets documentary time. The networks and Cable TV devote one hour specials to it. Surely not because it’s the most important thing going on in the world today; it’s cheap, it’s easy, and it draws a huge audience.