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Jewish World Review March 13, 2002 / Rosh Chodesh Nisan, 5762

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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We'll get along fine without 'Nightline' | News flash: America got on just fine before Ted Koppel and "Nightline" - and it will get along just fine if they leave the airwaves.

Whether or not there's ultimately a change in ABC's line-up, one thing remains the same: the arrogance of America's mainstream news media.

No sooner had news broken of the possible late-night play than commentators expressed "shock, shock" that a program apparently so necessary to America's ability to function properly would be taken off the air. Why, one anonymous ABC entertainment executive supposedly (and accurately) said that "Nightline" has become "irrelevant."

Ooooohhhh, that hurts.

"But," USA Today breathlessly opined, "there also is plenty of vocal support for Koppel from those who consider Nightline a national journalistic treasure and ABC the holder of a public trust. They think Nightline's demise would sound a death knell for serious journalism in America. It would 'be a body blow to news in this country as we know it,' says Alex Jones of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. 'This is a genuine breach of the covenant between a company that has stewardship of a great news organization and the American public.'"

What sanctimonious drivel. And there's more.

The New York Times wrote that "many hope that (Koppel) will strike a blow for quality news coverage against corporate pressures for profits."

Or as the Los Angeles Times wrote last fall, "Koppel signed a new five-year contract with ABC News in December, so he will remain accessible to those who have come to view him and 'Nightline' as a reassuring presence - a dignified place to end a long day too frequently filled by media accounts full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Whether Koppel's restrained voice can be heard quite as well or loudly above that din, there's no doubting the night, and television news, would be a poorer place without it."

Actually it turns out it would be a far richer place for ABC, whose parent company Disney would make a lot more money for its shareholders by going with a proven ratings winner like "Letterman," which in contrast to "Nightline" brings in the younger viewers advertisers crave.

But the demise of "Nightline" would hardly be a "death knell to serious journalism." "Nightline" is at the same time better but more pompous than other network news broadcasts. But like them it's stale. Not just because these days cable channels have often fully covered what "Nightline" finally dishes up at 11:30, but because it is also mired in the same liberal "media think" that encrusts all the major network news programs. And the folks who produce it are just as blind to the prism though which their news is filtered as are their other network colleagues.

Any doubts? Just read the recent best seller by multiple Emmy-winning CBS News correspondent Bernard Goldberg, ""Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distorts the News", which demonstrates the existence of a liberal bias at the networks. The triumph of ever-growing cable and Internet news outlets came about precisely because so many Americans were tired of that arrogant prism and decided they could - gasp - think for themselves without Peter Jennings or Dan Rather or even Ted Koppel telling them how to view the world.

(For all those people who suggest I myself might be doing the same thing, sure, I write precisely because I have a viewpoint to share - but it's labeled "commentary.")

None of this means that "Nightline" or the other nightly news shows don't sometimes offer something worthwhile. But what's now seen as the almost inevitable demise of the once sacrosanct "Nightline," regardless of what Letterman does, demonstrates that far from being a "body blow" America doesn't have or need any such thing as a "news icon" without which we pedestrians can't interpret our world. USA Today aptly asked, "If Nightline's venerable Ted Koppel isn't safe, is anyone in network news?"

Answer: no, and they shouldn't be. Perhaps best of all, funnyman Letterman doesn't take himself too seriously.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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© 2001, Scripps Howard News Service