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Wednesday, November 16, 2005  

Media: Ted Koppel leaving with lament

Ted Koppel definitely has a place on my list of most admired people. He is one of the newsmen and women who inspired me to become a journalist. One of the things I learned after achieving that goal is that most reporters are run-of-the-mill, seat warmers seeking a sinecure. Still, both broadcast news and print media sometimes exceed our expectations in providing insight into the issues and events of our times. Koppel is one of the minority of well-known journalists who make that happen. True to form, Koppel is taking the opportunity of his retirement from Nightline to take journalism to task for not doing enough.

The Washington Post recently discussed his semi-retirement with him.

Television executives, Koppel says, "live under the misapprehension that Americans don't care about foreign news. They don't care about boring news. If you present it in a boring fashion, then they don't care about foreign news. What really dictates here is the cost of foreign news. At a time that we really have to worry about what's going on in the rest of the world, what people in other countries think of us, we are less well informed by television news than we have been in many years.

"If the only time you cover foreign news is when you send someone, every foreign story is going to cost you a lot of money when you do it and likely to be less well informed than in the days when you had people who lived in the country for two, three, five, 10 years and understand the culture."

When I was in college, one of the words aspiring journalists learned was "Afghanistanism." The word meant a reference to a place so distant, and so irrelevant, that no one cared about it. Now, years later, we've learned that even Afghanistan is not the backwater we thought it was, that, indeed, it can be among the most newsworthy places on Earth. Though the word "Afghanistanism" has fallen into disuse, the attitudes of Westerners, including broadcast and print media executives, are still stuck in the past to an extent. It is doubtful that many of them will respond to Koppel's challenge that they spend more time and money on international news.

Fishbowl D.C. has also been giving some thought to Ted Koppel's departure.

Beginning the first of what we assume will be many a piece celebrating the end of the Ted Koppel's quarter century on the only late-night news show, Howard Kurtz looks at the legacy of the Nightline host as he prepares to step down later this month to pursue his own documentary projects:

Telling a story about Koppel's feelings on the war on Iraq, Kurtz opines, "It is classic Koppel: tough-minded, eloquent, focused on world affairs and sometimes, it seems, conducting his own foreign policy. As he prepares to relinquish the helm of the ABC program he launched 26 years ago, when his focus was entirely on Iran and the Americans held hostage there, it is hard to avoid the end-of-an-era language that followed the departures of Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather and the death of Peter Jennings."

Koppel's last show (just before Thanksgiving) will focus on Morrie Schwarz and the author of Tuesdays with Morrie, which Koppel told Washingtonian was his favorite interview from a career with many possibilities.

Koppel's Nightline would be a hard act for anyone to follow. It is disheartening that the ensemble that will be taking over the show includes a person known for melodramatic entertainment interviews, Martin Bashir. We can only hope that the name of one of the finest broadcast news shows ever will not be tarnished.

11:45 PM