After 37 years of questioning guests on television, Ted Koppel found himself on the other side of the microphone last night at the ARCO Forum.
In a question and answer format,
Koppel, the host of ABC's "Nightline," made clear that although he is an objective on-air journalist, he still has his own beliefs and biases.
"Journalists are some of the most opinionated people I know," Koppel said. "We just can't show it on camera."
The tables turned, Alex S. Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, used excerpts from Koppel's most recent book--Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public--to press the seasoned journalist on some of his personal views.
Jones told Koppel that he was a rarity in journalism for his willingness to express personal ideas while still on the air.
"People watching me each night have come to believe that they already know my opinions," Koppel said. "But I'd rather have people dislike me for what I truly believe, than like me for what they think I believe."
But the late-night news anchor of 20 years said a journalist's role is to look at the information they convey critically and with skepticism.
"People who have no one else to speak for them feel that the press is their only outlet," Koppel told The Crimson in an interview. "To use the old cliche: journalists [are to] discomfort the powerful and comfort the powerless."
Koppel, who is in his 37th year with the ABC network, disapproved of the mistrust between the press and those that they cover today.
He said some of the hostility has been caused by journalists trying to get past press releases in search of the "real" story.
"Getting it on first has become more important than getting it right," Koppel said. "This creates a problem."
In a humorous analogy, Koppel compared society's view of the media and himself with peoples' view of Congress and their own representative.
"People will approach me on the street and say, 'I hate the media! But I like you,'" he said.
Addressing a concern that the media violates peoples' right to privacy, Koppel said journalists need to be more discreet in their coverage of citizens in the news.
"It varies with respect to whether they are running for national public office or when a private citizen becomes a part of a crisis," he said. "[The private citizen] didn't choose to be news items. This is where we need to be much more sensitive."
The English-born Koppel said presidential candidates' families are fair journalistic game when the candidate "injects their wife or children into the campaign even for the most harmless reasons."
"If you don't use them for politics, I won't use them for journalism," he said.
Aware that his career is not everlasting, Koppel said he thinks there are dozens of capable journalists in network television today that could take his place.
He said ABC would not need to find a Ted Koppel replica, but should hire someone who will bring things he could not.