Last week, I made mention of the protests across the country regarding the senseless killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. For the better part of the last 2 weeks, I’ve tuned into CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and Newsmax TV amongst others to see coverage of the protests…and of the renewed movement regarding equality for Black Americans at large. I’ve been completely turned off by the reporting. George Floyd’s death, already a cause célèbre amongst common Americans, has turned into a 24/7 showcase of opinionated and advocacy journalism by the aforementioned cable television news networks. It’s so deeply rooted in opinions, subjectivity, and political viewpoints that I feel as if I’m living in two different Americas based exclusively on which channel I’m watching. As someone who is socially, financially, and politically moderate, it’s disturbing. I remember a time when the news wasn’t as one-sided as it is today. It makes me long for the “glory days” of journalism…and of a specific journalist, whom I trusted to give me the facts and allowed me to reach my own conclusion. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: Ted Koppel.
How I first came across this moment? I first came across Ted Koppel when I came across an episode of Nightline in March 1995. He was presenting a story and speaking with a couple of guests in regards to the Hoop Dreams documentary and its snubbing by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. I was intrigued by his accent.
What it meant to me then? That particular episode of Nightline and the way Koppel laid out the story and asked very tough yet very necessary questions of his guests in such a professional manner mesmerized me. At the time, I was 1 of 3 4th grade writers for The Elyton Hawk-Gazette, the school’s newspaper. The manner in which Koppel asked questions was very intriguing to me. For the remaining 2 issues of the newspaper during the 1994-95 school year, I used Ted’s tactics and approach when interviewing subjects for my articles. The approach made them comfortable and I was able to get some quality content with the way I asked the questions. I’d like to think that it was a factor in me being named senor writer the following September as a 5th grader. More than the effect that Ted Koppel had on me as a young writer/reporter for my school newspaper was the way he presented the news overall. I actually started watching Nightline pretty regularly after that episode. Ted was pretty much the same person in every episode…even when the subject matter was highly controversial or possibly inflammatory in nature. He was always calm and really didn’t seek to choose sides. He just told the story and asked enough good questions of the guests to help me come to my own opinions of the story. I felt like I could trust him as far as the news was concerned.
What it means to me now? Ted retired from Nightline in 2005 after a run that started a few years before I was born. Today, he does some spot work for CBS News Sunday Morning and I try to catch him when I can. Today, he means significantly more to me than he did 20-25 years ago. With the political and social bias I’m seeing from the cable television news networks—and even the broadcast television news networks—I’ve lost a lot of trust for what I see on television as it relates to the news. As such, I’ve lost a lot of love for the profession of journalism as a whole. There’s too much opinion, too much finger-pointing, and shaming of other people. I miss the days where journalists like Ted Koppel simply told the news and interviewed guests on both sides of that news, allowing for people like me to draw my own conclusions. People like him are dinosaurs in the news business.