NPR Invites Ted Koppel to Respond to Olbermann...But Utterly Excludes Bill O'Reilly

National Public Radio can't even host a discussion about objectivity in journalism without slanting it to the left. On Tuesday's Talk to the Nation, they invited on former ABC anchor Ted Koppel to discuss his Washington Post op-ed slamming cable news. Host Neal Conan played a large audio chunk of Keith Olbermann running down Koppel on Monday night's Countdown for "worshipping before the false god of utter objectivity" and failing to stop the war in Iraq. NPR offered 294 haughty words of Krazy Keith.

But Koppel slammed Fox News as well as MSNBC. Why would NPR fail to air the views of Fox News? The Fox-hatred continues. All NPR listeners got was an insular debate between Old Liberal Media and New Leftist Media. Bill O'Reilly, in fact, also commented on Koppel on Monday night (with less aggression, and no suggestions that secular Koppel bowed before any god). Here's some of what NPR just couldn't bother to locate:

Well, this is a fact-based news analysis broadcast here and the fact is that we have invited Mr. Koppel on The Factor more than a few times. We want to discuss his ongoing beef. But Mr. Koppel is not up for the challenge or so it seems. So there is no question that the Fox News Channel has eclipsed some of the traditional news agencies as far as influence is concerned and I believe that's what is bothering Mr. Koppel as always, I could be wrong.

Joining us now to analyze is radio talk show host Tammy Bruce. She's in Los Angeles and here in New York, Ellis Henican, columnist for Newsday. So to me it sounds a little like sour grapes. Now I know there - that being said, I know there are abuses in cable television as there are abuses in any industry. There are people that are on the air who bloviate and make up stuff and spout lies, but I worked in network news and there were no pristine organizations over there. I was at NBC when Ted Koppel was there and it wasn't. So I'm getting the sour grapes feeling here. What are you giving?

O'Reilly also told his guests "I submit to you that Ted Koppel could not sit in the chair where Ellis is, nor would he want to, and sustain my questioning. He couldn't give me examples of me lying on the air. Using an opinion not based on fact. He couldn't do it and if he could, he ought to come in here and do it and shut me up for good."

In other words, Koppel could take time out of his day to be honored and hallowed on NPR, but wouldn't lower himself to Fox News -- just the same way NPR wouldn't. NPR booked one other guest in the Koppel half-hour -- blogger Jeff Jarvis, who didn't have anything to say about liberal bias, but just stuck up for the Internet, which Koppel claimed he wasn't criticizing.

Conan not only failed to raise objections from Fox News, he failed to question Koppel about failures of traditional Old Media, from Rathergate to Jayson Blair to well, let's not forget Koppel's embarrassing fiasco trying at length to pin an "October Surprise" hostage-release delay by Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign. (PBS was part of that "investigative" smear, too.) Conan could only ask Hallowed Ted to address Righteous Keith:

CONAN: What about his other point, the false god of objectivity? He's saying that the great pieces by you, among others, but certainly by Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow were no less subjective than anything he does.

KOPPEL: Yeah. What he was saying - and I completely agree with this - is that what is most remembered about what Ed Murrow did is the extraordinary "See it Now" piece that he did on Joseph McCarthy. What is remembered, perhaps most, about Walter Cronkite is the piece that he did about Watergate, and the piece that he did when he came back after a couple of weeks in Vietnam and - of which President Johnson famously said, if I've lost Walter Cronkite, I've lost the country.

What Mr. Olbermann does not say, however, is that what made those pieces so powerful is that they came within the context of a lifetime of objective - not subjective - reporting. What made Walter Cronkite's piece stand out as it did was precisely the fact that we rarely, if ever, knew where Walter was coming from politically. And even on that occasion, he wasn't making a political statement about Watergate or a political statement about Vietnam. He was, as an old-time reporter, coming back and saying, you know, I can no longer restrain myself. And on this particular occasion, I'm going to step out of my customary role of just as a reporter, and I am going to do some analysis and commentary. And he did. But what made it stand out as it did was precisely because it was so rare.

Anyone who watched Cronkite or Murrow before 1981 knows it's a terrible joke to argue their liberal bias was incredibly rare. Koppel could claim that Cronkite never matched Olbermann in telling the president to "shut the hell up" or devoting 21 minutes of air time to his own self-righteous "special comments." Koppel isn't arguing for some lost era of fairness and balance in TV news. He's arguing for the more traditional pretense of objectivity to make your editorializing more powerful. It's that traditional bias that made Fox's "fair and balanced" promise so appealing.

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