Media Literacy – A Postscript

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Ted Koppel, back in the day of more neutral news reporting.

In my recent post regarding media literacy contributing to critical thinking I tried to explain about the viewer/listener perspective of news being mixed with opinion thus giving the impression of news bias.  In the last 24 hours, specifically as reported on CBS Sunday Morning, veteran journalist Ted Koppel verbally duked it out with Sean Hannity of Fox News.

Ted Koppel, for those readers too young to recall, was the news anchor for the 25 year running “Nightline”, a program directly spawned from the Iranian Hostage Crisis back in the 70’s.  One iconic legacy is the “America Held Hostage” countdown clock often used in various venues to emphasize a political point.  I have this countdown clock on this blog header.  On “Nightline” it was used on each evening’s show counting the days the U.S. embassy hostages were being held by Iranian guards in an effort to not let America forget them.  After the hostages were freed “Nightline” continued with its popularity for 2+ more decades.

After his retirement Ted became a tough critic on the “new” news format of opinionated journalism, most notably the conservatism of Fox and the liberalism of MSNBC.  He feels that the partisan programming, while making news “entertaining” and bringing in ratings and revenue, has been the primary reason for the nation’s divisiveness.

The CBS Sunday Morning show had a 10 minute analysis segment attributing the growing rise in political divisiveness to the Federal Communication’s 1987 revocation of the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to present contrasting views in matters of public interest.

According to Libby Hill’s article in the LA Times recently…

“In the wake of the revocation, highly politicized personalities and networks were given room to thrive, leading to an environment where individuals on either side of the aisle are unable to agree on what are the facts.”

You can do a search to watch the video, but here is the text…


“You’re cynical,” Hannity said on CBS Sunday Morning.

“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 interupted: “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 again interupted: “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.

And there it is.. succinctly put…. “Ideology is more important than facts.”  That’s the mantra of the conservative right.. and, as Ted lamented, the far left liberals… together forming the nation’s Ignorati.  Who do we have to blame?  I guess it depends if there is a “blame” to assign, which is a matter of political perspective itself.  It would appear that the nation’s divisiveness was fed by successful television programming and that spawning the nation’s vulnerability to Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric.


The following is from The Washington Post…

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.”

Regardless, what Ted Koppel echos is the idea that media literacy has been lost in favor of ideology over facts.  Hence all the diatribes of fake news, fake facts, alternative facts… it all represents that “facts be damned, I know what I know”.  Yeah.. you KNOW nothing because ignorance is bliss.  The right buries facts it does not like into conspiracies.

Old Retired Anchors –

While I respect Ted Koppel as a reliable news journalist in the old tradition you will note that after the traditional anchors have retired they have occasionally returned to voice their opinions over the changing news reporting climate over the years.  I recall Walter Cronkite, after his retirement, lamented about the demise of the “old” days of radio and TV journalism reflected in the likes of Edward R. Morrow, in favor of large newsrooms, pretty faces, and a loss of news “reporting”.  Dan Rather, like Koppel, are representative of a bygone day of reporting.  To be honest, this is the evolution of society, and humanity.  The influence of instant news being passed along by instant media to the public, between the public, has changed the entire fabric of news reporting.  So while I admire the old guys because I grew up with their believability as journalists and their objective reporting, times do indeed change.  I would not want to return to those days because I never felt I received enough information to make a solid opinionated decision as I do now.

But Koppel is absolutely correct.  Ideology (T)rumps facts.

Critical thinking and media literacy is apparently a passing art.  But I refuse to surrender to the Ignorati.

Carry on, America.




9 thoughts on “Media Literacy – A Postscript

  1. I rather appreciate the “old school” guys like Ted and Dan and Walter they presented the news and let you do the rest. I am with you…no surrender. chuq

  2. If nothing else, chuq, you believed in what they reported was indeed factual; that was never challenged. (although, if the government fed them bullshit to report, like body counts and lights at the end of the tunnel, it wasn’t their fault).

  3. I think that the old days of news (1960s-70s) often assumed ignorance of events on the part of the viewer. In many cases, that was all too true. These days, modern news often panders to viewer perceptions, and is in danger of reinforcing inaccuracies, instead of offering those often ‘boring’ facts.
    News may have never been able to be so detailed, and so potentially well-informed, yet it has not really progressed beyond its 24-hour immediacy.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  4. A very astute thought there, Pete. In true capitalist fashion, it’s all about how you package it for “sale” to the public in order to gain ratings rather than singular truth. Interesting paradox.

  5. America is and has been hung up on the insatiable quest for instant gratification for a long time now and part of that quest is entertainment. The more the entertainment becomes like an action thriller or a horror movie the more the Public will clamor for it. That is today’s “News.” Today’s “News” is a carefully-packaged hodge-podge of Madison Avenue and Wall Street-approved fact vs fiction plus controversy and opinion and is designed to move the “Bottom Line” of every organizaton and individual who stands to make a profit from the dissemination of it. If today’s “News” dwelt on mere fact I doubt there would be many listeners or watchers and I doubt the commercials would be selling much merchandise or many services. Because of the economic considerations ( and those are the biggest considerations in today’s newsrooms) the “News” has to be “Engineered” these days to fit the “Market Share” obsession of those producing it. The more sensationalized the news can be or the more “Yellow” it can become without being quickly recognized as contrived or fake, the better it will sell to the naieve and the gullible of the American Population and that is how the concepts of “News Ratings” has come to be. They are more concerned with their ratings than they are in informing the American People and The American People are letting them get away with it.

    I believe this is one of the most challenging, best-written, best-presented and most informative and helpful posts you have ever published on your blog, Doug, and I am thrilled to have had the opportunity of reading it.

  6. Well, thanks again for the kind words, John.
    The news reporters and anchors are professionals for what they do and I know over the many decades of broadcasting, from radio to TV to cable, there’s developed very different agendas between those that report the news and those that own the networks… many times resulting in internal conflicts with management over those decades. Viewer ratings pays the bills and salaries of the news people… and become profit\income for investors/owners. Adding some “schtick”, or “act” to news reporting simply results in a bias based more on entertainment value than objective substance (of the ilk like Rush, Hannity, Smerconish, Van Jones, et all). If your show is about your opinion then it’s entertainment.
    Kinda interesting seeing how news has evolved since the early days of radio and TV. In those days the reporting of news was considered fulfilling the FCC requirement that stations have “so-many” hours of public service broadcasting. Now it’s a profit center.

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