Veteran broadcast journalist Ted Koppel has long railed against news shows that wear their politics on their sleeves. And on Sunday, he pulled no punches with Sean Hannity. In a tense exchange on CBS Sunday Morning, Koppel told the Fox News host and staunch supporter of President Trump that his brand of opinion-based journalism was harming the country.
The segment focused on the political divide in America and the role partisan news programming played in driving liberals and conservatives further apart. During a sit-down interview, Hannity called on Koppel to “give some credit” to people’s ability to differentiate between a news show and an opinion show.
“You’re cynical,” Hannity said.
“I am cynical,” Koppel responded.
“Do you think we’re bad for America? You think I’m bad for America?” Hannity asked.
Koppel didn’t miss a beat. “Yeah,” he said, and continued over multiple interruptions from Hannity:
Koppel: “In the long haul I think you and all these opinion shows —”
Hannity: “Really? That’s sad, Ted. That’s sad.”
Koppel: “No, you know why? Because you’re very good at what you do, and because you have attracted a significantly more influential —”
Hannity: “You are selling the American people short.”
Koppel: “No, let me finish the sentence before you do that.”
Hannity: “I’m listening. With all due respect. Take the floor.”
Koppel: “You have attracted people who are determined that ideology is more important than facts.”
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News anchor Sean Hannity was accused of going soft on Donald Trump – even by his coworker, anchor Megyn Kelly. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News anchor Sean Hannity was accused of going soft on Donald Trump – even by his coworker, anchor Megyn Kelly. Is Sean Hannity too friendly with Donald Trump? (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)
After the segment aired, Hannity responded with a series of tweets calling the show “Fake Edited News” and accusing CBS of leaving out parts of his answers that discussed media bias. He asked CBS to release the raw recording of the interview, which he said ran about 45 minutes.
In the decade-plus since he stepped down as host of ABC’s “Nightline” after 25 years, Koppel has lamented a changing media landscape that he says “celebrates the opinions” of overtly partisan news hosts at the expense of neutral reporting. He has criticized journalists on the right and the left for biased coverage, particularly those at Fox News and its liberal-leaning rival MSNBC.
CLEVELAND, OH – JULY 20: Ted Koppel talks with Jake Tapper, Hugh Hewitt and Jonathan Alter about the 2016 presidential race with on his show, “Alter Family Politics” at Quicken Loans Arena on July 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
“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,” Koppel wrote in a Washington Post column in 2010.
“Beginning, perhaps, from the reasonable perspective that absolute objectivity is unattainable, Fox News and MSNBC no longer even attempt it,” he said. “They show us the world not as it is, but as partisans (and loyal viewers) at either end of the political spectrum would like it to be. This is to journalism what Bernie Madoff was to investment: He told his customers what they wanted to hear, and by the time they learned the truth, their money was gone.”
In the same column, Koppel called then-MSNBC host Keith Olbermann the “most opinionated” among the network’s “left-leaning, Fox-baiting, money-generating hosts. More than a million viewers flocked to his nightly program because Olbermann was “unabashedly and monotonously partisan,” he said.
Koppel lumped MSNBC host Rachel Maddow into the same category, along with Glenn Beck, who was a Fox News host at the time.
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He waded into the issue of media partisanship during the 2016 election as well. In a March 2016 appearance on Fox News’s “O’Reilly Factor”, Koppel scolded host Bill O’Reilly about the political debate surrounding then-candidate Trump, who had just triumphed in the Super Tuesday primaries. O’Reilly told Koppel he had interviewed Trump on many occasions. “Not an easy interview,” he said. “How would you do it?”
“It’s irrelevant how I would do it,” Koppel fired back. “And you know who made it irrelevant? You did.”
O’Reilly, seemingly unfazed, asked him to elaborate. And Koppel did — in an exchange not unlike his discussion with Hannity on Sunday.
“You have changed the television landscape over the past 20 years. You took it from being objective and dull to being subjective and entertaining,” Koppel told O’Reilly. “And in this current climate, it doesn’t matter what the interviewer asks him. Mr. Trump is going to say whatever he wants to say, as outrageous as it may be.”