Ted Koppel, Al Gore Argue For Independent and Focused Media, Criticize Cable News in the Process

By Alex Weprin 

In celebration of its 80th anniversary, Broadcasting & Cable magazine asked a number of high-profile TV executives and personalities to weigh in on the business. In addition CBS CEO Les Moonves, NFL commentator Al Michaels, Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, the magazine asked former ABC anchor and current “Rock Center” contributor Ted Koppel to weigh in on the state of TV news, and former Vice President and current Current TV chairman Al Gore to weigh in on independent media (subscription required).

Koppel has often spoken about his distaste with the current state of media, and his essay focused on the impact of social media, and the polarization of news. As he has done in the past, he called out Fox News and MSNBC for harming the public discourse:

Thirty or forty years ago, I used to tell audiences, with a mixture of pride and chagrin, that while doctors and lawyers needed a license to practice, that while everyone needed a license to drive, or hunt, or fish; nobody needed a license to be a journalist. Of course, back then, the only way to communicate with a national audience was to get a job with a national news magazine, like Time or Newsweek, or with a national broadcasting network, of which there were only three. So, the opportunity was more theoretical than real. Still, with the advent of the Internet, I used to tell college students that the capacity to communicate globally was now, literally, in their hands.


I never actually expected them to do it.

In October of 1996, Rupert Murdoch hired a former top Republican strategist by the name of Roger Ailes, to establish the Fox cable and satellite network. These days, Fox is at great pains to deny that its news channel has any political agenda. But Murdoch and Ailes are being unnecessarily modest. They perceived something that the rest of us did not. There were millions of conservatives in America who considered ABC, NBC and CBS to be far too liberal. There was an appetite for news and opinion with a more conservative spin. And again, the American public got what it wanted. Fox was so successful that it encouraged NBCUniversal to turn its cable channel, MSNBC, into a liberal counterweight to Fox. So that now we have what I like to call “news you can choose.” Tell us your political bias, and we’ll amplify it for you.

Gore meanwhile focused on independent programming, of which Current qualifies:

Ultimately, the fact that we are truly independent is a great advantage. And I hope that distributors of media will allow for more independent networks and that our competitors will raise their own journalistic bar in the coming year. In the end, our interest isn’t in breaking the news; there are plenty of outlets that can provide viewers with that kind of content. But I do hope that Current TV will help us all to understand the news. I feel strongly that we, as a nation, have got to have access to more than just the sound bites and static that have — with a precious few exceptions, like 60 Minutes — become all too familiar on television.

It is irresponsible to address the serious problems our country faces with sound bites only. We need analysis based on facts and informed by insight and intelligence. We need reason, and not just emotion, to drive our understanding of the events affecting our lives.