Ted Koppel Compares Cable News to Bernie Madoff, Hypes His 'Nonpartisan Sadness'

Former Nightline host Ted Koppel will use an op-ed appearing in Sunday's Washington Post to compare the current state of cable news to financial swindler Bernie Madoff and to express "nonpartisan sadness" over the success of Fox News and MSNBC.

The veteran journalist touted the suspension of Keith Olbermann for donating to Democratic congressional candidates as "a whimsical, arcane holdover from a long-gone era of television journalism when the networks considered the collection and dissemination of substantive and unbiased news to be a public trust."

Attacking Fox and MSNBC for bias, he even compared, "This is to journalism what Bernie Madoff was to investment: He told his customers what they wanted to hear, and by the time they learned the truth, their money was gone." Koppel expressed the not exactly original wish of many journalists to return to a time when only a few network and reporters were the final arbiters of news: "The commercial success of both MSNBC and Fox News is a source of nonpartisan sadness for me."

Yet, as the Media Research Center has documented through the years, Koppel was hardly an example of journalistic objectivity. In addition to slamming Rush Limbaugh for supposedly disparaging African Americans and being "not kind," he enthused in 2000 that Al Gore was "perhaps the most active Vice President in American history."

A few examples:

"To call something an ‘enhanced interrogation technique’ doesn’t alter the fact that we thought it was torture when the Japanese used it on American prisoners, we thought it was torture when the North Koreans used it, we thought it was torture when the Soviets used it....You know, it’s almost the moral equivalent of saying that rape is an enhanced seduction technique."

— Ted Koppel in a commentary for the BBC’s World News America, May 11, 2009.

"It’s a sign of the times: Thirty-five years ago, he [George W. Bush] joined the Texas Air National Guard to stay out of Vietnam. And now, he’s going to Vietnam to stay out of Washington."

— Koppel joking about the President’s trip to an economic summit in Vietnam, on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, November 15, 2006.

"When you say he’s ‘a good and decent man,’ I don’t know him that well personally myself, I have no way of judging one way or the other. But I must tell you I often listen to him when I’m driving into work, and what I hear on the radio is frequently – I don’t want to say hateful, that’s going a little too far – but he says and does things on the radio that are so disparaging of homosexuals, African-Americans, the homeless. As I say, I think it’s clearly part of the act, but it’s not gentlemanly, it’s not kind."

– Koppel on Nightline Oct. 2, 2003 rejecting talk show host G. Gordon Liddy’s description of Limbaugh.

"At the same time, he will have to find a way to disassociate himself from the President’s extremely low personal approval ratings. It shouldn’t be that difficult. Al Gore has been perhaps the most active Vice President in American history, and there’s not a hint of scandal associated with Gore’s personal behavior. So much for logic."

-- Nightline's Koppel previewing Al Gore’s convention address, August 14, 2000.


A March 13, 1997 column by the Media Research Center's Brent Bozell counted the ten worst (up until that point) incidents of bias.

A few more examples:

4. On June 20, 1991, "Nightline" devoted a one-hour special resurrecting the October Surprise myth that Ronald Reagan's operatives delayed the release of American hostages in Iran. When congressional investigations again proved the theory a farce, a "Nightline" spokeswoman told us: "That is not a broadcast for Nightline. That's a headline. That's not a half-hour show."

8. On January 28, 1994, Koppel began an interview with Oliver North: "Mr. North is tough, smart, and extremely hard-working.... He is also an accomplished liar and a shameless self-promoter." Koppel never described Clinton this way, complaining instead on August 16, 1994 that "he is receiving little or no credit for his accomplishments."

So, when Koppel proclaims, "The need for clear, objective reporting in a world of rising religious fundamentalism, economic interdependence and global ecological problems is probably greater than it has ever been," perhaps he should be taken with a grain of salt.

— Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org