Koppel's Dripping Contempt for Bush Iraq Spin: "Not Smart, Not Healthy...It Doesn't Work"

New York magazine's Meryl Gordon captured the end of Ted Koppel's arrogant reign over "Nightline," and Koppel grew especially cranky (he "drips with contempt") when asked about the Bush administration's public relations on the war in Iraq.

Twice in the past two years, Koppel has raised the ire of the Bush administration with segments called "The Fallen," in which he read aloud the names of the soldiers who had died in Iraq. "I didn’t do it to piss them off," he says. "It was to honor the people who have lost their lives, to remind us that a tiny fragment of the population is bearing a disproportionate burden." His voice drips with contempt as he talks about the Bush team’s spin tactics on Iraq. "There’s this sense, ‘Don’t worry your pretty little heads about what’s going on over there—just do what we tell you, don’t question it. We know what we’re doing, leave the grown-ups alone.’ It’s not smart, it’s not healthy, and in the final analysis, it doesn’t work."

Not tweaking Bush? Don't buy that. On his first "Fallen" show on April 30, 2004 -- timed to mock the anniversary of Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech -- Ted claimed "Our goal tonight was to elevate the fallen above the politics," and then Ted made a political speech about his resentments he had at the illusions he thought the Bushies were pushing: "I am opposed to sustaining the illusion that war can be waged by the sacrifice of a few without burdening the rest of us in any way. I oppose the notion that to be at war is to forfeit the right to question, criticize or debate our leaders' policies." See more from Brent Baker here. He will not shrink from the right to criticize the president? Think again. Let's recall the September 7, 1998 MediaWatch with a different storyline, when the president is Clinton, and the "war" is dropping bombs to change the news subject from his Lewinsky testimony.

Ted Koppel noted an ABC poll which found 30 percent believed in a Wag the Dog strategy: "Those are the times we live in... I have to assume that there is a sense of embarrassment among all of us. Let me just speak for myself. I have sense of embarrassment that we are even raising questions like this at a time like this." Koppel ended: "This, the President tells us, was one of those few exceptions, one of America’s rare opportunities to fight back. To doubt his word on this occasion may cross our minds but is, in the final analysis, unthinkable."

It's always somewhat amazing for an anchor with a reputation for arrogance and pomposity "drips with contempt" for someone else he thinks is patronizing the "pretty little heads." This was certainly Ted's approach to mangling the Reagan record on their supposed plans to delay the release of American hostages in Iran? Didn't he totally mangle the truth in those shows? Ted felt no need to retract or correct them on air. Don't worry your pretty little heads. Koppel also looked a bit liberal when Gordon reports who appeared in the taped best-wishes tribute to end his tenure at ABC: "Koppel hugged his way through a crowd of teary-eyed loyalists, then he and Grace Anne stood, arm-in-arm, to watch a short clip of tributes. Bill and Hillary Clinton. Desmond Tutu. Henry Kissinger." Was there a Republican president on that tape to supplement the Clintons? If so, wouldn't they have been mentioned?PS:  Apparently Dan "F--- 'Em All" Rather isn't the only anchor fond of the F-word. When Gordon considers whether Koppel is angry as he heads to HBO with his producing partner Tom Bettag, she concludes the story: "Maybe. Or maybe not. He and Bettag have talked about calling their new show The F-ing Media."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis