Dallas Host, Nightline To Read Names
Who Should Read Names Of Fallen American Soldiers?
When Ted Koppel, host of ABC's "Nightline" program, announced last year he'd recite the names of 721 fallen soldiers on Memorial Day, a firestorm of controversy erupted.
Conservative groups protested, a major television station owner boycotted the show and a fierce debate raged for days about Koppel's motives.
Sinclair Broadcasting of Baltimore yanked the program that evening from all of its ABC stations, saying it was a partisan attempt to boost John Kerry's sagging poll numbers, by highlighting the toll of Bush's decision to invade Iraq.
It's a whole different ballgame this year, with Koppel at it again and a Dallas-Fort Worth talk radio station doing its own version, featuring Tony Snow of FOX News, syndicated advice host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Glenn Beck, Alan Colmes of FOX's "Hannity and Colmes", George Noory (of Coast to Coast AM) and KLIF-570 AM morning host Darrell Ankarlo.
There's been relatively little discussion of Koppel's announcement this year. Why is that? What makes this move highly charged and controversial one year, but less contentious the next?
Is it about the message, or the messenger? When is it a stunt, or a real tribute to fallen American soldiers?
Let's look at the distinction between Koppel's and KLIF-AM's approaches:
In 2004, Koppel's announcement emerged from an atmosphere of increasing hostility by American liberals and the media toward the Iraq War, with a strong feeling that Kerry could use the issue to gain a political advantage.
Shortly before, the Seattle Times had published photos of American flag-draped coffins, casualties on their way home from overseas combat. It was a non-standard, privacy-invading approach to war coverage, that angered many.
There was a growing feeling among conservatives and others, that rather than sincere attempts to recognize sacrifices of American soldiers for freedom, these were instead designed to help Democrats win elections.
Ted Koppel has long been a source of irritation for Republicans and conservatives, due to Nightline's leftist delivery. Therefore, this move seemed transparent, designed to help Kerry.
(Ted Koppel, ABC Library Photo, By Virginia Sherwood, Via Detroit News, May 26 2005)
As the Washington Times reported then, Sinclair execs were clear in their objections:
"We find it offensive that Ted Koppel is trivializing the deaths of so many men and women. This is not a one-year anniversary of the war, or Memorial Day. This is 'sweeps week,' and he intends to use a news platform for a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq," said Sinclair Vice President Mark Hyman yesterday.
The 17-year-old company, an independent group that owns 62 TV stations countrywide, will pre-empt "Nightline" with its own coverage of the controversy on eight ABC affiliates, affecting broadcasts in Massachusetts, North and South Carolina, West Virginia, Ohio, Florida and Alabama.
"We don't see journalistic value in this 'Nightline,' which is sure to stir up negative emotions about the war in Iraq," Mr. Hyman said. "And the timing — could it be that John Kerry is falling in the polls?"
Hyman was correct, not only could Nightline help Kerry, but Koppel could pull off a ratings stunt at the same time. Why shouldn't the public question Ted's motives?
In 2005, there's still no reason to trust Koppel, but without an election and the winding-down of "Nightline" coming in the near future, repeating the stunt just hasn't had last year's controversial impact. He's quickly becoming irrelevant in the rapidly-evolving media wars, about as important as Dan Rather.
When the list is read on Monday evening's broadcast, will it be any more sincere than last year? What reason would we have to believe that?
By contrast, something very different and potentially touching, will occur on Dallas-Fort Worth's KLIF-AM, with Dr. Laura, Snow, Colmes and others reading the names of fallen soldiers.
What's the distinction?
It's personal. Host Darrell Ankarlo's son has just returned from active duty in Iraq. Ankarlo has experienced the daily worry of his son's fate in the country, always concerned about news reports of American fatalities overseas.
Would someone in that position put together a cheap stunt, or a genuine tribute, on a holiday most talk hosts sit out?
For Dr. Laura Schlessinger, it also has deep personal meaning. Her 19-year-old son Deryk recently joined the US Special Forces and may be headed to a number of places in upcoming years. How could this be about anything other than a heartfelt tribute to American troops?
It's not an all-conservative approach either, with liberal FOX News host Alan Colmes taking part, as well.
Not for a moment do I think Colmes is expressing anything less than genuine sentiment in his participation. This doesn't have to be a conservative-vs.-liberal dividing line.
Perhaps if Koppel had approached his effort the same way, the reaction to his programs would have been much different.
The KLIF program will begin Monday at 8am EDT and is available through streaming or via podcast.
Update: Doonesbury pulled a Koppel in today's strip. Editor and Publisher has the story.
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