A Class Act

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A Class Act

For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

Not everyone in journalism is going to the dogs, wasting away in jail, or having to chat under oath with grand juries and special prosecutors. Not every journalistic reputation is in tatters, like Judy Miller's, or at least mildly tainted, like Dan Rather's or Bob Woodward's.

There is still Ted Koppel.

Even though tonight he is leaving ABC News's Nightline after 26 years, Koppel plans to stick around, perhaps on HBO, to remind us how to do journalism the noble way.

Quietly, almost stealthily, Koppel has presented us, year after year, with concise, illuminating interviews and stories, without hype and without yelling, news that was supposed to be good for us, all at an hour of the night when many viewers, if they were watching TV at all, were probably wishing they had tuned in to David Letterman instead.

In an age when the loudest, most partisan voices get the most attention, Koppel refused to lower himself to the nonsense that sometimes passes for news and commentary these days.

Alessandra Stanley, in today's New York Times, writes that Koppel, in a recent appearance on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, said he was disheartened by cable news' "obsession with being first with the obvious."

ABC plans to replace Koppel, starting next Monday, with three anchors. One of them is Martin Bashir, a sycophantic British reporter whose noblest journalistic moment came when he fawned all over Michael Jackson a few years ago even as he planned to reveal that the gloved one was sleeping with children.

A far cry from Koppel's Nightline. David Zurawik, the Baltimore Sun's TV critic, who sat down last week in New York for a long interview with Koppel, wrote today that Nightline is one of the few network news innovations of the past 30 years that has provided public service and prestige as well as profits. "From being the first show to tackle in-depth such issues as apartheid in South Africa and AIDS in the United States, to its unflinching coverage of the deaths of American GIs in Iraq last year, Nightline has been a beacon of journalistic integrity across more than two decades of declining TV news standards," Zurawik wrote.

But Scott Collins reported in today's Los Angeles Times that Nightline's new executive producer, James Goldston, has promised to keep the show's journalistic soul intact. Goldston said the program would still deliver the substantive reporting on major public issues that viewers expected under Koppel. And yet, in a not-so-subtle dig at the departing anchor, Goldston said: "My hope and expectation is that we can make the show vibrant again."

John Eggerton, in the trade paper Broadcasting & Cable, quoted Goldston as saying that the show would have to do more of a "song and dance" to get noticed. He said he might be "a little bit playful in some of what we do," such as a story about, say, President Bush's inability to get through a doorway during his trip last week to Asia.

It was just such a desire for levity that led ABC and its corporate owner, the Walt Disney Company, to try to replace Koppel three years ago with Letterman, who wasn't interested in ditching yet another network.

In his interview with my colleague David Zurawik, Koppel chose not to criticize ABC for that or for anything else. But he expressed regret, Zurawik wrote, at the way network news has gone about cutting costs, in part at the expense of international coverage: "When I was a young foreign correspondent for ABC News," Koppel said, "I was one of maybe 25 foreign correspondents out there. Now there are no more than maybe five. You can't cover the world that way."

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan