Veteran newsman Ted Koppel appeared as a special contributor to NBC's "Rock Center" on Thursday to launch an apparent war on what he believes is "partisan ranting" masquerading as news coverage at Fox News, MSNBC and other partisan media. But, first he sat down for an interview Bill O’Reilly and told him to his face that he’s hurting the country.
His conclusions: Fox News and MSNBC seem to only market "fear"; the partisan divide has actually become impossible to bridge; and it's now up to the American people to reject it or suffer the consequences.
But just before the "Rock Center" special report aired, Koppel sat down with Fox News' own Bill O’Reilly, and the two immediately squared off over whose brand of journalism is more righteous.
But that’s not going to be easy, New York Times media columnist David Carr told Koppel during his NBC segment -- especially when Fox News alone turns in over $1 billion a year.
O'Reilly opened his interview by claiming Fox news does "eight hours of hard news" all day, whereas he believes MSNBC does not. "We're a news agency," he insisted.
"I don't think anyone is going to be confused as to the ideological belief of most of the people who appear on Fox," Koppel said.
O'Reilly went on to describe all of the old television news hosts as "left wing guys," but he stopped at Koppel and the late ABC News host Peter Jennings. "I think you were just in a daze all the time," O'Reilly said. "I was at ABC News. I heard the scuttlebutt about you. You weren't a big interferer. And Jennings wasn't either. Jennings didn't like all that ideology, he didn't, that's why I didn't bring his name up."
"You know, I'd rather you criticize me," Koppel said, "because your compliments are more damaging and more devastating than your criticism."
He went on, saying: "Ideological coverage of the news, be it of the right or be it of the left, has created a political reality for the country that is bad for America. I think it's made it difficult if not impossible for decent men and women in Congress, on Capitol Hill, to reach across the aisle and find compromise. If we can't do that, we're going to be -- and I think we have been for the last few years -- in a terrible situation in this country where, politically, we can't make deals anymore."
The theme is not a new one for Koppel, but his two television spots represent a more significant effort to point out what he thinks is really wrong with American journalism. Speaking at Washington State University last year, Koppel cautioned that there must be a firm line between news, entertainment and opinion.
"I think we've sort of taken things too far," he said in a speech after receiving the 2011 Edward R. Murrow award for excellence in journalism. "Much too far. Now the soft material is outweighing the hard news, and that's, I think, very dangerous to our Republic."
This video is from "The O'Reilly Factor," broadcast Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012.
This video is from "Rock Center with Brian Williams," broadcast Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012.
Photo: Screenshot via YouTube.