The Grand Old Man of Journalism
(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)
"U.S. troops are in a part of the world that produces a huge amount of oil and natural gas. We will have U.S. troops in that region for years to come, whether we want to or not. … And with the price of oil going up to a 4.5 dollars a gallon, imagine what would happen to the price of oil if we precipitously pull troops out of the Persian Gulf." - Ted Koppel on This Week, July 6, 2008
Trivia quiz: Which guy in this video is the real newsman? If you answered the guy on the right, the one who got fired by MSNBC for not picking up his pom poms fast enough, you'd be right.
After Walter Cronkite's retirement, Ted Koppel used to be America's de facto "most trusted man in America" then a funny thing happened on the way to lionization and the title of Grand Old Man of American Journalism: He simply sold out and accepted the Bush lies about Iraq as truth. If you can stand to watch the whole thing, the depth of Koppel's deluded state of mind regarding Iraq is breath-taking.
Then two days ago in an op-ed in the Wa Po, he made the mistake of lambasting Keith Olbermann and Bill O'Reilly, uniting the two ancient enemies by providing them with a common enemy. In it, Koppel blamed the degeneration of the news on partisans like O'Reilly and Olbermann without seeming to make any distinction between which man or which network, Fox or MSNBC, was the more honest and factual. Olbermann, in his rebuttal, laid it out succinctly by reminding Koppel that MSNBC doesn't make up facts. And, when they're wrong, they fess up to it.
If it wasn't for we bloggers' nonchalance about restating and overstating the obvious with viral echo chambers, Olbermann could single-handedly wipe out the liberal blogosphere because of the depth and righteousness of his commentary segments. But there are a few more points I can make.
Back when he'd taped that segment on Phil Donahue's soon-to-be-yanked show, he spoke authoritatively about Saddam's possible nuclear weapons program even as Donahue was trying to hold his feet to the fire and remind him of the absurd hypothetical in his and the Bush administration's argument. He even made the colossal mistake of using his own son in law, the Brooking's Institute's Kenneth M. Pollack, "one of the world's leading experts on Iraq", and his 2002 book that proved to be more wrong about Iraq than virtually any book ever written on any subject.
Back in 2004, long after the war had started to go south, Ted Koppel told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now that America didn't deserve an apology from either him or the networks who rah rah, sis boom bahed us into war with Iraq. Koppel's position back then hasn't changed a bit: That while the networks could've "been more critical", it's not their place to apologize for helping the Bush administration beat the war drums.
Koppel completely misses the point: In his fetish for straight, unbiased journalism (and invoking the spirit of Edward R. Murrow as Republicans embrace the skeleton of Joe McCarthy and any dead Democrat with whom they momentarily agree), Koppel conveniently overlooks the main function of journalism, which is to employ its critical faculties and to speak truth to power when government propaganda doesn't pass the smell test.
This is another example of how wrong he was after we'd invaded Iraq, when he told the late Tim Russert that withdrawing from Iraq would be a mistake and result in a regional civil war that would inflame the entire Persian Gulf and, yes, make oil prices spiral out of control.
And here's Koppel telling us yet again during the '08 election that if we pull out of Iraq, it'll disrupt the flow of oil and natural gas and plunge us into a global depression. Essentially, he said, we're staying in Iraq because of the oil and natural gas but not in any critical sense. Duh, you think, Ted? Don't you think that maybe the oil and natural gas industry in the Persian Gulf was destabilized and that our illegal meddling in their nationalized oil industry had made us retroactively indispensable?
But in the waning years of his career as a relevant newsman, Koppel because a passive pro-corporate tool who once wrote an alarming op-ed in the NY Times entitled "These Guns For Hire" in which the opening sentence was, "There is something terribly seductive about the notion of a mercenary army."
Less than a year and a half later, such a seductive mercenary army had killed 17 Iraqis at Nisour Sq. on September 16th.
So Ted Koppel, who was once an admirable journalist who faithfully reported for 444 days during the Iranian hostage crisis, is in no position to be chiding anyone about taking sides, especially when he consistently takes the side of the corporate sector that made him a rich man and helped confer on him the title of the Grand Old Man of American Journalism, a status that was denied his hero and so-called model Edward R. Murrow.
Koppel is spot-on correct in saying that news is becoming infotainment. But that was a trend that began back in the 50's and early 60's and Murrow was the first to speak out about it. But to conflate Olbermann with O'Reilly and, like Jon Stewart of late to make false equivalences between left and right is one of the biggest blunders he ever made. And when a "straight newsman" like Koppel consistently and unapologetically gets it wrong and sleeps with the wrong people time and again, it's symptomatic of why we trust "straight" news less and go to partisan commentators and cable comedians for our news by the millions.