Ted Koppel on journalism: ‘an excellent BS detector’

April 17, 2018, 1:22 a.m.

On Monday afternoon in Memorial Church, renowned broadcast journalist Ted Koppel M.A. ’62 addressed the current state of journalism, education and politics in a “Leading a Meaningful Life” interview with Dean for Religious Life Jane Shaw.

Koppel worked as a professional journalist for more than 50 years, 26 of which he spent as the anchor and managing editor of ABC News’ television program “Nightline. Throughout his career, Koppel covered  historical events as John F. Kennedy’s funeral and Martin Luther King Jr.’s march from Selma to Montgomery, AL. Koppel was also the first person to interview Nelson Mandela following Mandela’s release from prison.

Reflecting on his career experiences, Koppel addressed the set of pre-professional values that he said universities seem to prioritize.

“I worked for ABC for 43 years … it was the job that always took priority,” Koppel said. “As we look at students here at Stanford, what are we preparing them for? Are we preparing them to be good husbands? Good wives? Good parents? Not really. What we’re really preparing them for is some great professional breakthrough.”

Addressing the current state of journalism, Koppel expressed concern about the tone of American politics. He also emphasized the importance of fact-based journalism and of media consumers avoiding confirmation bias.

“I would suggest to all of you who are consumers of journalism … to focus on those sources of information that are most closely associated with facts rather than ideology,” Koppel said. “We are spending too much time these days searching for others who already share our predispositions. That may be satisfying from the social point of view; it is the worst possible thing for democracy.”

Koppel said that his background in journalism helped him develop the ability to discern truthfulness in interviews.

“If there’s one thing that a lifetime in journalism develops for you, it is an excellent bullshit detector,” Koppel said.

Koppel also identified what he sees as a disparity between qualities that lead to success in academia and qualities that lead to life success.

He said that academic success is often the focus in college, but that other forms of intelligence and ignorance may be overlooked. He said that this divergence in what is recognized as achievement can lead to personal and political disputes.

“There are some people who are more academically gifted and others who are more practically gifted, but the one doesn’t supercede the other. And we have to find the way of getting back together again, of treating one another with respect,” Koppel said.

Koppel’s talk was jointly sponsored by the Office for Religious Life and the Haas Center for Public Service.


Contact Tyler Johnson at tjohn21 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Tyler Johnson '21 is a writer in for the University beat. He intends to major in Computer Science. Contact him at tyler.johnson “at” stanford.edu.

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