Media critic

Veteran network newsman Ted Koppel didn’t say “Sean Hannity is bad for America,” though you might have gathered as much from reading various summaries of the segment from “CBS Sunday Morning” in which Koppel interviewed the Fox News host, among several others, about the country’s partisan divide. The sequence went like this:

HANNITY: We have to give some credit to the American people that they are somewhat intelligent and that they know the difference between an opinion show and a news show. You’re cynical.

KOPPEL: I am cynical.

HANNITY: Do you think we’re bad for America? You think I’m bad for America?


HANNITY: You do?

Think no-holds-barred TV host Sean Hannity sounds a bit defensive here? Of course he does, and he has company in the Fox News prime-time lineup.

Dial back to September 2012. That’s when Bill O’Reilly, Fox News’s top host, interviewed Koppel about his indictment of ideologically driven television. In a Post op-ed, Koppel had written, “The commercial success of both Fox News and MSNBC is a source of nonpartisan sadness for me. While I can appreciate the financial logic of drowning television viewers in a flood of opinions designed to confirm their own biases, the trend is not good for the republic.” The title of the piece was “Olbermann, O’Reilly and the death of real news.”

Stung by that criticism, O’Reilly was eager to press Koppel in person about his conclusions regarding cable news and the national conversation, such as it was. So he complained to Koppel that there was a big difference between MSNBC and Fox News, praising his network’s “hard news” component. Yet, like Hannity in yesterday’s edition of “CBS Sunday Morning,” O’Reilly appeared worried about Koppel’s impression of his program and Fox News more generally. On the question of Fox News’s impact on Washington, O’Reilly quarreled with the legendary anchor:

“You think that we have corrupted the sanctity of fair news coverage,” said O’Reilly. Koppel replied that “ideological coverage of the news, be it of the right or be it of the left, has created a political reality in this country which 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.”

In a risible response, O’Reilly said in part, “You can’t be on top for as long as the Fox News Channel has been on top and sell a product that’s inferior or dishonest. It’s impossible in this country.” Koppel could have responded by simply pointing to “Fox & Friends,” the top-rated cable-news morning show that also doubles as the most idiotic and slanted program in the industry.

In any case, O’Reilly signaled just how much he craves the approval of a guy like Koppel: “I want you to re-evaluate our network, watch it a little bit more and then we’ll talk in about a year,” said O’Reilly.

There’s a pathetic whiff to all of this. Guys like O’Reilly and Hannity enjoy pillorying the mainstream media week after week, complaining about how the country’s press establishment is out to get President Trump. They accomplish this in different ways — O’Reilly, by skillfully deflecting criticism of Trump as the handiwork of ideologues; and Hannity, by very nakedly cheerleading for Trump. Yet these fellows still appear to want the approval of a guy like Koppel.

Why? Doesn’t Koppel represent everything they oppose?

As of posting time, Hannity had piled up a string of tweets complaining that Koppel edited out important commentary about the issue at hand. Here’s a sample:

See more of the 10-odd tweets and retweets from Hannity here. Maybe CBS did leave out important context in editing the interview, or maybe Hannity is just allowing a bout of mainstream-media approval syndrome to overwhelm his Twitter account.

This little melodrama snakes back to a question that the Erik Wemple Blog has explored before — whether Fox News is itself a mainstream media outlet. Asked by a reader to evaluate that matter, this blog wrote that the network surely has the reach and the impact. But the standards? Not so much. Apparently Koppel has arrived at a similar conclusion.