Olbermann Attacks Koppel For Not Being As Anti-war As He Is

Keith Olbermann on Monday attacked Ted Koppel for not speaking out against the Iraq War as vehemently as he did.

During his Special Comment, the "Countdown" host arrogantly claimed "Koppel and everybody else in the dead, objective television news business" failed the previous decade for not reporting "the utter falsehood and dishonesty of the process by which this country was committed to the wrong war" (video follows with commentary and transcript at end of post):

As NewsBusters previously reported, Koppel wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post Sunday wherein he accused Olbermann and other opinionated television commentators of being the death of real news.

Clearly feeling the need to protect his large but incredibly fragile ego, Olbermann struck back at the former "Nightline" host despite having never said anything unkind on MSNBC about Koppel with the exception of once claiming he wasn't entertaining.

On February 26, 2009, Olbermann said:

NBC pages are real people who work in this building. And many of them go on to successful careers. They work like heck. Ted Koppel was a page.

In August 2005, as he commemorated the death of Peter Jennings, Olbermann said, "Ted Koppel, who had almost single-handedly established ABC`s news credentials with the still-novel 'NIGHTLINE,' was offered the anchor chair first and turned it down."

Now, five years later, after the man "who had almost single-handedly established ABC`s news credentials" spoke out against Olbermann, a man lacking any news credentials struck back:

Just as the story of Mr. Murrow`s career emphasizes McCarthy but not the fact that the aftermath of the McCarthy broadcast buried Murrow`s career, the stories of Mr. Koppel`s career will emphasize the light he so admirably shown on the Iran hostages. Those stories, though, will probably not emphasize that in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 and 2005, Mr. Koppel did not shine that same light on the decreasingly coherent excuses presented by the government of this nation for the war in Iraq.

From January 1, 2002, through December 31, 2005, Koppel did over 500 "Nightline" segments about Iraq, many of them expressing as strong an opposition to the incursion as Olbermann. As the Media Research Center's Brent Bozell wrote March 11, 2003:

As war against Saddam creeps ever closer, anti-war partisans are feeling powerless and underappreciated. To them, the media seem dominated by a White House war machine that is intimidating sheepish reporters. Helen Thomas, who doesn't ask questions so much as accuse the administration of heinous motives and declare that President Bush is the worst leader in our history, is their kind of “reporter.”

Some in the press are hearing these left-wing complaints and rushing to counter-program against the apparently oppressive grip of Bush media dominance. Last week, the anti-war media forum of choice was ABC's "Nightline," including a 90-minute "town meeting" that asked the loaded question: "War in Iraq: Why Now?"

Here's how Koppel set up the March 4, 2003, "Nightline" special:

There's a sardonic two-liner making the rounds here in Washington these days, how do we know that Saddam Hussein has biological and chemical weapons? We have the receipts. Nasty, but there's an element of truth to it. Back in the 1980s, when we were all a little more worried about the Iranians than we were about the Iraqis, the United States, Britain, France and Germany, extended all kinds of assistance to the government of Saddam Hussein, including the wherewithal to produce biochemical weapons. And when his forces actually used chemical weapons against the Iraqi Kurds in, back in 1988, there wasn't a great deal of outrage from the Reagan-Bush White House. Yes, Saddam presides over a brutal and corrupt dictatorship. But that's been the case for the better part of 25 years. All the reasons, in other words, for going to war against Saddam have existed for a long, long time. One can easily make the case that he should have been rooted out of there some time ago, but why now?

Koppel then brought on six guests to discuss the issue:

Carl Levin, a Democratic senator from Michigan. John McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona. Joseph Wilson is the former US Ambassador to Iraq. James Woolsey is a former director of the CIA. Susan Thistelthwaite is an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ and president of the Chicago Theological Seminary. And Richard Land is an ordained Baptist minister and president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

As Bozell observed:

The panel of six experts was split half and half, but the questions were tilted way off to the left: 11 of 13 inquiries posed to them stressed time-worn anti-war bromides.

Viewers mostly heard exaggerated math ("millions of people in cities all across the United States are protesting war"), aggravated cynicism (our government's "pseudo-pretext for liberation"), and calls for enervated Jimmy Carterism (a foreign policy that makes us "loved and admired, and not just feared and resented").

The following evening, Koppel presented a conspiracy theory Olbermann and his sycophant devotees should adore:

TED KOPPEL, ABC NEWS: (Off Camera) It has been called a secret blueprint for US global domination.

WILLIAM KRISTOL: America was being too timid and too weak and too unassertive in the post-Cold War era.

TED KOPPEL: (Voice Over) A small group of people with a plan to remove Saddam Hussein, long before George W. Bush was elected president.

PROFESSOR IAN LUSTICK, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: This group set an agenda and have made the President feel that he has to live up to their definitions of manliness and fear their definitions of failure.

TED KOPPEL: (Voice Over) And 9/11 provided the opportunity to set it in motion.

WILLIAM KRISTOL: One of the lessons of 9/11 is that you can't sit back and wait to be hit.

graphics: The Plan

TED KOPPEL: (Voice Over) Tonight, "The Plan", how one group and its blueprint have brought us to the brink of war. [...]

TED KOPPEL: (Off Camera) Take away the somewhat hyperbolic references to conspiracy, however, and you're left with a story that has the additional advantage of being true. Back in 1997, a group of Washington heavyweights, almost all of them neo-conservatives, formed an organization called the Project for the New American Century. They did what former government officials and politicians frequently do when they're out of power, they began formulating a strategy, in this case, a foreign policy strategy, that might bring influence to bear on the Administration then in power, headed by President Clinton. Or failing that, on a new Administration that might someday come to power. They were pushing for the elimination of Saddam Hussein. And proposing the establishment of a strong US military presence in the Persian Gulf, linked to a willingness to use force to protect vital American interests in the Gulf. All of that might be of purely academic interest were it not for the fact that among the men behind that campaign were such names as, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. What was, back in 1997, merely a theory, is now, in 2003, US policy. Hardly a conspiracy, the proposal was out there for anyone to see. But certainly an interesting case study of how columnists, commentators, and think-tank intellectuals can, with time and the election of a sympathetic president, change the course of American foreign policy.

Does this sound like the man Olbermann accused of being silent about the war? Hardly as Bozell pointed out:

Every full-throated complaint that the media elite are stooges for war can be rebutted by the anti-Bush, anti-conservative broadcasts of "Nightline" and nearly everything else on ABC News these days. They are not pro-war. They're not even neutral like Switzerland. They are making Peter Arnett’s CNN heyday look objective.

Makes one wonder if Olbermann and his staff bothered to look at any "Nightline" transcripts before they put together Monday's "Special Comment." Maybe if they had, someone would have noticed that in April 2004, Olbermann seemed to be impressed that Koppel was going to spend an evening reading all the names of Americans killed in Iraq up to that point while showing their pictures.

The show was called "The Fallen," and Koppel took a lot of heat at the time from folks on both sides of the aisle claiming that he was either making an anti-war statement or trying to boost ratings during sweeps week.

Olbermann himself mentioned this possibility on the April 28, 2004, "Countdown." But in subsequent days, he took a different tact:

And more controversy over ABC's already controversial decision to devote tomorrow's "Nightline" to a reading of the name of U.S. fatalities in Iraq. The broadcast has been canceled by eight ABC affiliates that happened to be owned by a company with a history of heavy donations to the campaigns of President Bush and other Republicans. The memorial edition of "Nightline" will not be carried by the eight ABC affiliates owned by Sinclair Broadcasting Group.

The nonpartisan Center For Responsive Politics says Sinclair executives have given more $16,000 in hard money, more than $120,000 in soft money to Mr. Bush and other Republicans since 2000 and nothing to any Democrats. Ted Koppel is to read the names and show the faces of more than 500 dead American service personnel, but not on the Sinclair ABC stations, which include the ones in Saint Louis and Columbus, Ohio. A Sinclair Group spokesman said that is -- quote -- "contrary to the public interest."  -- April 29, 2004

Meanwhile, the faces, the viewers of ABC television in eight American cities will not see tonight are the 500 or so America war dead Ted Koppel plans to show and identify on the newscast "Nightline." The controversy over one broadcasting company's refusal to air the program on its stations has now touched the U.S. Senate where John McCain of Arizona has called the preemption, quote, "unpatriotic." Koppel's program will not appear on the eight ABC stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, they include the ones in Saint Louis, Jacksonville, Columbus, Ohio, major cities in three swing electoral states. Sinclair called the broadcast part of an anti-war agenda. Today in a letter to Sinclair's president, the Arizona republican wrote:

"Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war's terrible costs in all their heartbreaking detail is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It is in short sir, unpatriotic." -- April 30, 2004

I guess Olbermann's crack staff missed these transcripts.

But that's not surprising, for NewsBusters has reported for years how facts don't seem important to many of the folks at MSNBC when they believe they're speaking "truth to power."

Olbermann gave us a hint of this Monday evening saying, "The kind of television journalism [Koppel] eulogizes failed this country, because when truth was needed, all we got were facts, most of which were lies anyway."

As can be plainly seen, what Olbermann views as "truth" needn't incorporate facts if they happen to interfere with the point he's making.

The same can be said of the premise that the media in general were pro-war in the months leading up to the Iraq invasion. As the MRC found in a study published May 15, 2007:

In the months leading up to the start of the war in March 2003, much of the media — especially ABC — portrayed the Bush administration as aggressive, impulsive, pig-headed and even blood-thirsty, while routinely doubting the credibility of their public statements.

Certainly some liberals may think the media’s pre-war opposition was noble, while others may see it as the beginning of a pattern of negative second-guessing that has undermined support for the war. But there’s no doubt that the press was tilted against the war long before it began.

In the congressional debate over using force, for example, all three broadcast networks gave the losing anti-war side much more airtime. An MRC study in October 2002 found nearly three in five of soundbites from members of Congress (59%) opposed the use of force, or roughly double the percentage of Senators and Representatives who actually voted against using force (29%).

Those are the facts, but someone like Olbermann on a nightly basis offers his own "truth."

In the end, the "Countdown" host's factually-challenged hissy fit Monday was a schoolboy's reaction to criticism from a colleague.

Those familiar with Olbermann shouldn't be surprised, as this isn't the first time he's behaved this way, and it certainly won't be the last.

But there's another issue here almost as important. Earlier in this segment, Olbermann praised Walter Cronkite for his anti-war comments concerning Vietnam and used them as an example of why journalists should express their opinions rather than just neutrally report the news.

This ignores an inconvenient truth: not everyone thinks Cronkite was correct either in his view of Vietnam or his decision to share said view while on the air.

Olbermann may see this as a triumphant moment in history, but that's only because he agrees with both the position and the result.

This makes Olbermann's definition of modern television journalism newscasters expressing opinions as long as he agrees with them.

As he believes facts and truth are often mutually exclusive, it seems awfully dangerous to allow him to be such an arbiter.

For those interested, here's the transcript of the relevant section from Monday's "Countdown":

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: This network came to this place organically. And therein lies the final irony to what Mr. Koppel wrote yesterday. We got here organically, in large part because of Mr. Koppel. His prominence, you will recall, came on ABC News and Sports President Roone Arledge, who never permitted business or show business to interfere in his judgements and his journalistic pledge of allegiance.

When Mr. Arledge made the subjective and eminently correct decision that the hostile crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran merited half an hour or more each night of the network`s time in 1979, this was not the no- brainer that retrospect may suggest. CBS and NBC and PBS certainly did not do it. Even when CNN signed on in the middle of the next year, it did not do it. Arledge made his decision just four days after the hostages were seized and stuck with the story until it ended, defying the conventional wisdom of television and constantly pressing the government, and questioning the official line.

Even after those hostages were freed more than a year later, the half an hour of news, now renamed "Nightline," continued. And each night for 26 years, Mr. Koppel and his producers and his employers selectively suggested which out of a million stories would get the attention of his slice of American television for as much as half an hour at a time. Which story would be elevated and amplified? And which piles upon piles of stories would be postponed or tabled or discarded or ignored?

Just as the story of Mr. Murrow`s career emphasizes McCarthy but not the fact that the aftermath of the McCarthy broadcast buried Murrow`s career, the stories of Mr. Koppel`s career will emphasize the light he so admirably shown on the Iran hostages. Those stories, though, will probably not emphasize that in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 and 2005, Mr. Koppel did not shine that same light on the decreasingly coherent excuses presented by the government of this nation for the war in Iraq.

Fourteen consecutive months of nightly half hours on the travesty and tragedy of 52 hostages in Iran, but the utter falsehood and dishonesty of the process by which this country was committed to the wrong war, by which this country was committed to dishonesty, by which this country was country was committed to torture, about that Mr. Koppel and everybody else in the dead, objective television news business he so laments, about that Mr. Koppel could not be bothered to speak out.

Where were they? Worshipping before the false God of utter objectivity. The bitter irony that must someday occur to Mr. Koppel and the others of his time was that their choice not to look too deeply into Iraq before or after the war began was itself just as evaluative, just as analytically based, just as subjective as anything I say or do here each night.

I may ultimately be judged to have been wrong in what I`m doing. Mr. Koppel does not have to wait. The kind of television journalism he eulogizes failed this country, because when truth was needed, all we got were facts, most of which were lies anyway. The journalism failed and those who practiced it failed. And Mr. Koppel failed.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.