No doubt many people are glad that Ted Koppel will become a regular
voice on National Public Radio. He recently ended 25 years with ABC’s
“Nightline” show amid profuse media accolades. But what kind of
journalist goes out of his way to voice fervent admiration for Henry Kissinger?
NPR has announced that Koppel will do several commentaries per month on “Morning
Edition” and “All Things Considered.” The Associated Press
reported that “he also will serve as an analyst during breaking news and
There’s some grim irony in the statement issued by NPR’s senior
vice president for programming: “Ted and NPR are a natural fit, with curiosity
about the world and commitment to getting to the heart of the story. The role
of news analyst has been a tradition on NPR newsmagazines and there is no one
better qualified to uphold and grow that tradition than Ted.”
But “the heart of the story” about U.S. foreign policy
has often involved deceptions from Washington. And since Koppel became a prominent
journalist, he has been a fervent booster of one of the most prodigious and
murderous deceivers in U.S. history.
“Henry Kissinger is, plain and simply, the best secretary of state we
have had in 20, maybe 30 years -- certainly one of the two or three great secretaries
of state of our century,” Koppel said in an interview (quoted in Columbia
Journalism Review, March/April 1989). Koppel added: “I’m proud to
be a friend of Henry Kissinger. He is an extraordinary man. This country has
lost a lot by not having him in a position of influence and authority.”
Koppel was heaping praise on someone who served as a key architect of foreign
policy throughout the Nixon presidency. Kissinger -- whose record as an inveterate
liar was thoroughly documented in Seymour Hersh’s 1983 book “The
Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House” -- orchestrated bloody
foreign-policy deceptions from Southeast Asia to Chile to East Timor. Kissinger
was the smart guy behind the horrendous bombing strategy that killed hundreds
of thousands of civilians in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia as he held the diplomatic
Kissinger was the smart guy who colluded with Gen. Augusto Pinochet for the
September 1973 coup and subsequent years of torture and murder in Chile. And
Kissinger was the smart guy who, in his continuing role as secretary of state
after Gerald Ford became president, gave Washington’s blessing for Indonesian
troops to invade and occupy East Timor -- with mass-murderous results.
Kissinger was a frequent guest on “Nightline,” so reverentially
treated by Ted Koppel that in the summer of 1989 the host turned the moderating
role over to the extraordinary man so he could direct the panel discussion himself.
A few years later, in April 1992, Koppel was telling viewers: “If you
want a clear foreign-policy vision, someone who will take you beyond the conventional
wisdom of the moment, it’s hard to do any better than Henry Kissinger.”
Koppel’s fervent promotion of Kissinger was no anomaly. The longtime
ABC newsman amassed a notable record of banging the drum for U.S. foreign policy
when it counted the most -- in real time, when a crisis was underway.
Asked by Life magazine in 1988 if he’d like to be secretary of state,
Koppel responded affirmatively and touted his qualifications: “Part of
the job is to sell American foreign policy, not only to Congress but to the
American public. I know I could do that.”
Koppel made the comment while U.S. foreign policy in Central America included
direct Reagan administration support for a Contra terrorist army in Nicaragua
along with backing for death-squad aligned governments in El Salvador and Guatemala.
Meanwhile, his “Nightline” program regularly gave aid and comfort
to policymakers in Washington.
During the late 1980s, researchers at the media watch group FAIR (where I’m
an associate) conducted a 40-month study of “Nightline,” 865 programs
in all. The two most frequent guests were Kissinger and another former secretary
of state, Alexander Haig. On shows about international affairs, U.S. government
policymakers and ex-officials dominated the “Nightline” guest list.
American critics of foreign policy were almost invisible.
But Koppel, the program’s anchor and managing editor, didn’t see
a problem. “We are governed by the president and his cabinet and their
people,” he fired back. “And they are the ones who are responsible
for our foreign policy, and they are the ones I want to talk to.” Instead
of wide-ranging public discourse, Koppel’s show was primarily a conveyor
belt for elite opinion at crucial junctures. Later, if he got around to exposing
official deception, he was apt to debunk propaganda that he helped to spread
in the first place.
Back in 1987, Newsweek noted a basic disparity between the image and function
of Ted Koppel: “The anchor who makes viewers feel that he is challenging
the powers that be on their behalf is in fact the quintessential establishment
In that light -- considering the overall coverage of Washington’s foreign-policy
establishment by NPR News -- Ted Koppel does seem like a natural fit.