Media Blog

Ted Koppel Responds to Keith Olbermann and Jack Shafer

Via an interview on NPR. You can listen and read the transcript here. An excerpt:

CONAN: And would you like to respond to Mr. Olbermann’s points?

KOPPEL: Well, first of all, I think Keith Olbermann is a very bright, and clearly, a very passionate man, but I think he has his perspective a little screwed up. He has some facts screwed up, too. First of all, the program that ultimately became “Nightline” did not, as he suggests, for the entire 14 months that the hostages were held in Tehran, cover that subject every night.

In fact, once we became “Nightline,” we stopped covering it every night. We did for four months because, at that time, it was not a regular scheduled program. It was an effort by the then-president of ABC News to create a regularly scheduled program. And he quite shamelessly used the hostage crisis as a means of doing an ABC News special every night until he had demonstrated to the bosses of the network that this kind of a program could indeed draw an audience night after night after night.

CONAN: And the other well, you’ve been criticized for your facts in your piece, too. Jack Shafer at Slate magazine, in a piece titled “Ted Koppel: Bad Reporter”…


CONAN: …you’ve been having a tough week – says that, in fact, your argument in the piece that network television news was unprofitable until the advent of “60 Minutes.” Well, that’s accepting the network’s creative bookkeeping, and that, in fact, none of those programs lost money.

KOPPEL: Well, the fact of the matter is, whether they lost money or didn’t lose money – and I don’t know whether Mr. Shafer is right on this – the news division, as he acknowledges, always maintained that they were losing money. What they clearly did do in these in those days with whatever money they were earning was to maintain somewhere between 12 and 20 fully staffed overseas bureaus.

If you watched the evening news in those days and I’m talking now about the 1960s and into the 1970s foreign news was very much a part of the nightly diet of what was being reported. And one of my contentions that Mr. Olbermann did not address is that in this day and age, precisely because everyone is in such a competitive struggle trying to make money, what the major networks have done is effectively close down all but a tiny handful of those bureaus. And, in fact, for the most part, they operate out of one bureau, London, and then they ship correspondents wherever they need them to go.

But whereas at one point in the 1960s, when I was a foreign correspondent, we had, I guess, about 25 foreign correspondents and bureaus around the world. I think these days, my old alma mater, ABC, has about five.

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