Former ABC News icon Ted Koppel is at it again, lamenting that the contemporary newscape isn’t the way it was when he presided over “Nightline." “We are not the reservoirs of objectivity that I think we were,” said the former newsman to Marvin Kalb in a recent discussion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
To his credit, Koppel came equipped with an example, from a famous moment in the 2016 presidential campaign. “Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005,” read the headline in an October 2016 story in The Washington Post breaking open the “Access Hollywood” scandal. The Post had secured a recording from 2005 in which Trump was engaging in lewd, sexist chatter with Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood.” Sexual exploits were the center of conversation: “Grab them by the p---y,” Trump says on the tape. “You can do anything.”
In Koppel’s view, the New York Times failed to properly censor Trump’s comments. “I remember sitting at the breakfast table with my wife during the campaign after the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape came out,” said Koppel in his discussion with Kalb. “And the New York Times — and I will not offend any of you here by using the language, but you know exactly what words were used — and they were spelled on the front page of the New York Times. I turned to my wife and I said, ‘The Times is absolutely committed to making sure that this guy does not get elected.’ So his perception that the establishment press is out to get him doesn’t mean that great journalism is not being done. It is. But the notion that most of us look upon Donald Trump as being an absolute fiasco — he’s not mistaken in that perception.”
Bolding inserted to highlight a logical problem for Koppel: Yes, people know “exactly what words were used” because they deserved to know “exactly what words were used.” Media organizations that spelled out “exactly what words were used” were providing an important service to their audience. As this story reflects, the New York Times made the excellent decision not to edit or sanitize the president’s misogyny.
In any case, Koppel senses an evolution in how The Post and the Times go about their work. “I’m terribly concerned that when you talk about the New York Times these days, when you talk about the Washington Post these days, we’re not talking about the New York Times of 50 years ago. We are not talking about the Washington Post of 50 years ago. We’re talking about organizations that, I believe, have, in fact, decided as organizations that Donald J. Trump is bad for the United States. We have things appearing on the front page of the New York Times right now that never would have appeared 50 years ago. Analysis, commentary on the front page,” said Koppel before launching into his “Access Hollywood” critique.
Well, folks, there you have it: A cleanly articulated argument as to why the mainstream media’s ideal of purity and objectivity is bankrupt.
If you blame the Times for reporting, word for word, the language used by the Republican nominee for president, what won’t you blame the New York Times for? Look, for instance, at the artifact sitting in front of White House correspondents on the morning of March 20, 2019:
How would the Ted Koppel of the good old days provide “objective” coverage of that particular presidential statement?
Or this one:
Or even this one:
While Koppel was short-circuiting over the Times’s decency standards, he apparently missed other critiques of the newspaper — namely, that it over-covered the Hillary Clinton email controversy and wrote a now-infamous story just over a week before the election under the headline, “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia.” Those instances, however, grind against Koppel’s contention that the newspaper had it out for Trump.
In a critique that he has leveled before, Koppel argued that outlets such as The Post, the Times, MSNBC, CNN and others are driven by financial considerations. With Trump come viewers and readers in large numbers. “He has been wonderful for the industry,” Koppel said last fall. It’s true that Trump has marshaled an audience for those who monitor his every step. At the same time, Trump is a more prolific generator of headlines than any president in memory. The tweets are but a small part of the story. Another part is his scandalous past, including mistreatment of women, his tax and financial shenanigans as a real estate tycoon, his erratic management style that feeds turnover, his lack of familiarity with government, his unwillingness to read and study and so on.
“A great deal of the reason why the press is writing all of these negative stories about Trump is that he deserves it,” said Kalb. Correct.