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Highlights of Interviews With Ted Koppel

Aired March 10, 2002 - 21:00   ET



TED KOPPEL, "NIGHTLINE": This is "Nightline."


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, he's one of the best in the business, but demographics, Disney and Dave have him fighting to save his show. Highlights from our interviews with "Nightline" anchor, Ted Koppel, next on LARRY KING WEEKEND.

Thanks for joining us. Last week, Ted Koppel and others at "ABC News" were shocked to learn their network is trying to sign David Letterman. That would push Koppel's "Nightline" out of its time slot and maybe off the schedule all together. The fight to save "Nightline" has just begun. Earlier this week, Koppel wrote an op-ed piece for the "New York Times." In it, he thanked the network for its past support and recognized ABC's desire for more profitable programming. But Koppel had strong words for those who would question "Nightline's" importance. Quoting, "It is at best inappropriate, and at worse, malicious, to describe what my colleagues and I are doing as lacking relevance."

Tonight, we want to take a look at just how relevant "Nightline" has been through the years, and no one could do that better than Mr. Koppel himself.


KING: This program, like many in the business, started accidentally in a sense, right? It was "America Held Hostage" was the name of the show.

KOPPEL: That's exactly right. I mean, "America Held Hostage," but it wasn't an accident. Rune Arledge (ph), whom you know well, too, who was the president of "ABC News," was then relatively new in that job.

KING: Come from sports.

KOPPEL: He had come from being president of sports. And, indeed, at that time, he was president of both news and sports. And Rune decided that he wanted, as every news president has always wanted since the beginning of time, he wanted our newscast. As you know, most of our affiliated stations around the country are not about to give up that second half-hour. So he had a very creative notion, and that is, he was going to try and put that second half-hour on at the other end of the evening at 11:30 at night, but he still had to get the time. So over a period of about two years, ABC, every time there was a major story, ABC would put on a special report at 11:30.

KING: You didn't anchor all of them?

KOPPEL: No, I didn't anchor any of them. And he was -- Rune was hoping that at some point or another...

KING: A long story.

KOPPEL: There would be a long story, a story with legs, exactly. Then came the hostage crisis. And what we did not understand -- in those days, Frank Reynolds was the anchor of "ABC News," and he was anchoring "America Held Hostage." I was chief diplomatic correspondent, so I would come in at 9:30 in the morning to work on preparing my piece for the evening news, and then I'd still be there until 11:30 at night doing another piece for the late show, and we were all doing this. Sam was over at the White House in those days, Sam Donaldson.

KING: You all filed something for the late show.

KOPPEL: We all filed something for the late show. And at one point, about two weeks into this, ABC makes the announcement that we will stay with this story until the hostages are released. Well, it was some times when we could not figure why was Rune insisting that we do a program tonight. Nothing had happened. He'd say, "All right. Do a story on what's the difference between a Shiite Muslim and a Suni Muslim. So we'd do a half-hour on that.

KING: How did you get to be anchor?

KOPPEL: It was Frank Reynolds' birthday.

KING: It was what?

KOPPEL: Frank Reynolds' birthday, and he wanted to go out for dinner with his wife and his sons. So he went out to dinner, and they said, "All right, Ted, you're the diplomatic correspondent. You know foreign stories. You do it." So I did it that one night. Then Frank decided he'd like to have a night off every week, so I started doing it once a week. And then in January, 1980, you remember, it was the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries for that presidential season just beginning, and Frank had to spend an awful lot of time out of town, so they said, "OK, you do it all the time."

KING: Was there ever a period of time along the road where you said, "You know, I'd like to stay with this. I think this..."

KOPPEL: Oh, sure.

KING: Even when it was still in Iran. KOPPEL: Oh, absolutely. I mean, after a few weeks, it became apparent to me what Rune was doing. There was a national obsession with the story, and people were watching it, and the affiliates around the country which probably would have liked to say, "No, we're going back to our reruns of 'Love Boat,'" or whatever it is they were putting on, couldn't do it. I mean, it would have been unpatriotic at that time to go do anything but "America Held Hostage."

And so he maneuvered the affiliates at that point into carrying this program live every night. And after we had been doing it for about 4 1/2 months and the hostages were still being held, the network realized that it could institutionalize it, and so they changed the name from "America Held Hostage" to "Nightline," which was also -- I mean, the story of how the name was picked, you've said -- I mean, yours was easy, "The Larry King Show," right.



KING: It is what it is.

KOPPEL: I remember sitting in on a meeting in Rune's office and all kinds of names were coming up, crazy names. We all hated every name that came up.

KING: Koppel Tonight.

KOPPEL: No, no, no. And Dick Wald (ph), who was and is to this day the vice president of news, said, "You know, there is something -- " you're a racing fan, right -- called "The Morning Line," right.

KING: Correct.

KOPPEL: "The Morning Line" has all the odds for the morning. He said, "Why don't we call it 'Nightline'?" And we all looked at him and said, "What a lousy idea for a show." He says, "All right. Come up with a better name." And for about an hour, we realized, you know, we couldn't come up with a better name. And Rune said, "Well, if we call it 'ABC News Nightline,' it won't sound so bad.


ANNOUNCER: This is "ABC News Nightline." Reporting from Washington, Ted Koppel."

KOPPEL: Good evening. This is a new broadcast in the sense that it is permanent and will continue after the Iran crisis is over. There will also be nights when Iran is not the major story. And we'll bring you briefly up to date on Iran but we'll focus on some other story. That's not the case tonight. Again, today Iran is the major story, and for the first time on television, we'll provide the opportunity for the wife of an American hostage to speak live with an Iranian official.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are we not being allowed to hear from the hostages? Why are we not corresponding with them? Why are there so few phone calls coming out? Why isn't there mail coming out of that embassy in Tehran?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, perhaps one reason is because your CIA is so sophisticated.




KOPPEL: Wally, why is it that there are no black managers, no black general managers, no black owners? And I guess what I'm really asking you is to, you know, peel it away a little bit. Just tell me why you think it is. Is there still that much prejudice in baseball today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't believe it's prejudice. I truly believe that they may not have some of the necessities to be of, let's say, a field manager or perhaps a general manager.

KOPPEL: Do you really believe that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I don't say all of them but there certainly are short. How many quarterbacks do you have? How many pitchers do you have that are black?

KOPPEL: That really sounds like garbage, if you'll forgive...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not garbage, Mr. Koppel.


KING: You write in the book that the thing that has troubled you the most through all these years is the continuing racism in America.

KOPPEL: Well, that's sort of an ongoing story that I...

KING: Why do you think? Why this idiocy of not liking a group, my color? It's insane.

KOPPEL: You know, I don't think that's it anymore. I mean, I have no doubt that there are some people in this country who genuinely do feel that way, but I think for the most part, the tensions exist almost on a class basis rather than...

KING: The rich don't like those poor people?

KOPPEL: Well, no. It's the poor white and the poor black, the middle-class white and the middle-class black who in many instances end up competing for the same jobs or competing for the same opportunity to go to school. And there, race is the one clearly identifiable characteristic that each side can look at and identify, that they don't have to a logical reason for.

KING: Do you think Colin Powell would have been in danger running, as his wife feared?

KOPPEL: I have -- look, in this country, every public person is at one time or another in danger. Would Colin Powell have been in more danger? Yes.

KING: Do you ever feel a danger for yourself?

KOPPEL: Think of it and don't think about it much.

KING: We're easy targets, though. People know where we are every night, right?

KOPPEL: What a cheap target. You know, I mean, being known as the guy who blew Larry King away. Come on, give me a break.

KING: Cucamonga, California, hello.

CALLER: Yes, hello.

KING: He's funny, too, but go ahead.

CALLER: Yes, Mr. -- good evening, Mr. King...


CALLER: ... and Mr. Koppel.

KOPPEL: Good evening.

CALLER: Mr. Koppel.

KOPPEL: Yes, ma'am.

CALLER: Do you have any story that you have had to report that was very hard emotionally to do so?

KOPPEL: Oh, sure, there are a lot of those. You know, the story I always mention because it sort of reared up and I wasn't expecting it at all was the story that we were doing on Amer-Asian (ph) children, and we had a 19-year-old girl whose father had been American and whose mother was Tai. And she came over, and I was in the middle of interviewing her, and I said, "Tell me, you know, what do you like most about the United States?" And she said, "I can see the sky." And I said, "I don't really understand. What do you mean, you can see the sky? You couldn't see the Thailand?" "Oh, no," she said. "In Thailand, I was much too ashamed." And that sort of just came out of left field and really blew me away. Now that is certainly not the most emotional thing that's ever happened.

Speaking of Saudi Arabia, I was in Kuwait right after the war and was taken on a tour of a torture chamber that the Iraqis had used on Kuwaitis. And there was one story about a young man who had been brutally tortured, who was tortured to death. And they called his mother and they said, "Good news. Prepare a meal." You know, "Your son is coming home." The kid was dead and they just dropped the body on the doorstep of this woman. And at that moment, all I could think of was my own son and how that must feel. I mean, you know, just grotesque. And I think, in a sense, this is the more honest answer to your question. The people in our business, as do people who are firemen and policemen, you develop almost a professional shell so that you don't think about it too closely and you don't let it become too personal while you're covering the story. Later on, maybe.

KING: Not easy.


KING: Never easy. Miami, hello.

CALLER: Hi. Yes, good evening, gentlemen.


CALLER: I'd like to ask you, Mr. Koppel, how does the concept of the town meeting come about?

KOPPEL: Interesting story. The concept came about -- I remember hearing a story about Fidel Castro and how he sometimes kept his guests waiting until midnight before he would sit down and talk to them. And then he would sit down and frequently talk through the night. And I said to my producer at the time, "You know, that's an interesting concept, because that's our time of day. Why don't we write a letter to Castro and see if he won't come on at 11:30, and we will stay on all night, and we'll get some Cuban exiles in Miami, and they can ask questions of him, and he can have some of his cabinet members there if he wants to to help him with a few of the answers."

Cut a long story short, Castro -- it never worked out, but we sort of liked the idea of doing a program that would go on for a longer period. And, in fact, I think the first major town meeting we ever did was on the subject of AIDS in the early '80s. And it was probably the first in-depth treatment of the subject of AIDS that commercial television has done.

KING: We'll be back with Ted Koppel on LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of "Nightline." This week in the Holy Land...

KOPPEL: So here it is. I will try and spend as much time on one side as on the other. Let me, in fact, as I move across our fence right now, let's see if we can just complete Mr. Vandimerda's (ph) exit, though, because he's been trying very hard to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't leave, Mr. Vandimerda. Don't leave. Just don't talk to the sons of bitches but don't leave. Sit there.

PATRICIA GODLEY: Bet you have a lot of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that are suffering still that don't see no hope, that don't see no way out. Do you know that the jail is a relief? They're glad when you lock them up. They get three meals. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).




KOPPEL: The number of victims who have died here over the last three years, he says, is about 2.5 million. A lot of other experts have looked at his methodology, examined his data, and said, "Well, when you're talking about 2.5 million dead, you may be off by a hundred-thousand one way or the other, but it looks right."

Two-and-a-half-million. You'd think we would have noticed, would have raised an uproar, demanded an investigation. There have been some stories these last few months but not many, and certainly no outrage. I mean, in Kosovo, about 20,000 people died and there was outrage. But we had television cameras in Albania and Macedonia chronicling the exodus of refugees, passing on their stories. NATO went to war. This one got by us.


KING: What is "Nightline"? Is it a magazine show with interviews, an interview show that has a featured news reporter, a one -- what is it?

KOPPEL: It's anything we want to make it. It is almost always, with very, very few exceptions, a one-story program, but it can be a half-hour documentary, it can be a town meeting, it can be a day in the life of. It can be a set-up piece and then an interview with three guys in suits.

KING: Profile.

KOPPEL: It can be a profile, a conversation with. I mean, that's -- it is endlessly flexible. It can be whatever we want it to be.

KING: Why did it not work as an hour?

KOPPEL: Because this program to the contrary, notwithstanding, there are very few -- well, one difference just occurred to me. You're on at 9:00. At 11:30 at night, people -- you know, you can hold their attention up to midnight. There is something magical that happens at midnight. People start looking at their watches and they say, "Do I really want to stay up another half-hour?"

KING: It becomes late.

KOPPEL: Becomes very late. And, in fact, what happens is at 11:30, there's a "Do I really want to stay up for an hour now?" And while the "Tonight Show" does very well and the Letterman show does very well, I'll be you that if you look at the ratings on both those programs, that the ratings go way down after midnight. People just go to bed. KING: And that occurred when you would skew your hours? You would drop off?

KOPPEL: And, you know, the other thing was, you focus on a half- hour, you can make almost anything interesting for half-an-hour. We found that there was very few subjects that we wanted to spend a whole hour on, and so we ended up doing sort of a potpourri.

KING: But you really did two-subject nights.

KOPPEL: We did. We did two-subject nights. We did three- subject nights, and it didn't work. I mean, somehow -- there were a few nights when it was good but most nights it was awful.

KING: Why do you like the guests in another room?

KOPPEL: Usually, we have more than one guest on the program. And usually, they are in different locations. If I'm sitting across the table from you, for example, and you've got another guest in Iowa or...

KING: I've got an edge.

KOPPEL: I got an edge. I have an edge with you because I can sort of catch your eye, I can use my body language to indicate that I want to get on the air. And the other thing is when you're doing a live program and the interview segment of the program runs roughly 13 minutes or so, you've got to get an awful lot of material in there, and it helps me to control.

KING: By not having them there?

KOPPEL: By not having them there. When that voice is just showing up in their ear, that does make a difference, and I can break in a lot more easily.

KING: Does radio background help you with that?

KOPPEL: Oh, sure. Oh, sure, because you -- I mean, on radio, everything is sort of done by fingertip control, by feel.

KING: Feel. You right also of the embarrassing moments. "Nightline" does not spare itself in this book, does it?

KOPPEL: Oh, I don't know.

KING: Well, I mean...

KOPPEL: I'm sure a genuine critic could do a much...

KING: But you are self-critical.

KOPPEL: Yeah, sure. I mean, there -- you know, we've done some programs that were acutely painful at the time, and I've done some things that, given the chance to do it again, I would not do quite the same way. KING: You're hands on, too, aren't you? I mean, is that -- are you its executive producer?

KOPPEL: No, no. The executive producer is Tom Batag (ph). In fact, we've only had four executive producers over the 16 1/2 years the program has been on.

KING: But everyone says it's Koppel's -- your hands are on every show done.

KOPPEL: Well, you know, that's like...

KING: You're not a host host. You're a selector host.

KOPPEL: I work together with the senior staff of the program. I am a member of the senior staff. I'm the managing editor of the program, and we work together in putting that program on. But as you know, no television program gets put on or shaped or determined by just one person, never.

KING: Are there ever nights where it's Tom, no; you, yes?


KING: Who wins?

KOPPEL: Very few. Whoever feels strongly about it. And that's a deal...

KING: And it works?

KOPPEL: Yeah. That's a deal I've had with every executive producer I've ever had. If either one of us really feels strongly that a program should be done or should not be done, that person, by definition, wins. Does it ever happen that both of us feel strongly in opposite directions? Not that strongly, no.

KING: Both shows -- this show and your show -- criticized by some for too much Simpson.

KOPPEL: Right.

KING: What's your own reflection?

KOPPEL: You did more than I did.

KING: We had an hour every night.

KOPPEL: You had an hour.

KING: But we both did a lot.

KOPPEL: No, no, we both did a lot, and my answer to it -- and I'm sure it's very similar to yours -- is tell me another story in recent years that has so crossed every barrier in this country: old people, young people, black people, white people, men, women, rich people, poor people. You could walk into any -- you could walk into any store, you could walk into any office and simply say, "O.J., what's happened," and boom, you got a conversation going, maybe an argument, certainly a discussion. It was the one story that captivated everyone in America.

And I've said, you know, several times before, we often do stories because we think they're right even though we know that a lot of people are going to watch them. Why, we finally said to ourselves, should we not do a story just because everyone in the country wants to hear about it.

KING: Therefore, can we count on yours and this both doing a lot at the civil trial in which he will testify?

KOPPEL: I would say certainly not as much as during the murder trial, but some, absolutely.

KING: And they telecast the...

KOPPEL: Counting heavily on you doing it almost every night.

KING: And if they do -- if they telecast the civil trial, would that mean more coverage on "Nightline"?

KOPPEL: Depends on what happens. And again, I think -- and I assume you would argue the same thing -- it's not that you do it; it's how you do it.

KING: Sure, it's what you do. We had a great panel.

KOPPEL: The "New York Times" does it one way and another newspaper might do it another way. I don't think the civil trial is going to get quite the same attention that the murder trial did, but a lot of...

KING: Could be wrong.

KOPPEL: Could be wrong. How are we doing to do it? I mean, we did it -- over the course of the year, I think we did it about 53, 54 times, roughly once a week. I don't think we would be doing it that often.

KING: When a story has no suspense -- political conventions have no suspense anymore since 1952. We haven't had one.

KOPPEL: Right.

KING: Is that harder for "Nightline"?

KOPPEL: Oh, it's much harder. And indeed, right now, we are going through our own internal discussions about, you know, how do we cover it. Do we go? Do we not go? You know, there's a bit of a problem because in a sense, it is still perceived by the public as being a major event. And major things can still happen at the conventions. And in a sense, you're seeing something about your own dedication as a news program if you don't go. But can I at this point say we're definitely going? No.


KING: Well, they did go but they didn't stay. The controversy over "Nightline's" decision to leave the conventions is next. Don't go away.


KOPPEL: I told you some days ago when we spoke, and I've told our audience the same thing, but I would ask you both questions. I'm going to ask you the first now just before we take a break, because I think I know what your answer's going to be? Did you have an affair with Ms. Rice?

SEN. GARY HART: Mr. Koppel, if the question is in the 29 years of my marriage, including two public separations, have I been absolutely and totally faithful to my wife, I regret to say the answer is no. But I also am never going to answer any specific questions about any individual. I have no privacy. My wife has privacy and other innocent people have privacy.




GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, things went wrong, and I've admitted it. And Dan, I'll take all the credit, all the blame for that.

KOPPEL: Dan's the other fellow.

BUSH: I mean, Ted.


KING: Welcome back. Before we went to break, you heard Ted Koppel talking about whether or not they broadcast from the '96 conventions. "Nightline" did end up going to the Republican convention but they didn't see a story there and they went home. Boy, did that create a stir. I asked Koppel a few months later if he was glad that they had packed their bags and left.


KOPPEL: Yes. And I think in retrospect, it was the right decision to make. I will tell you, I will confess to you I think that my colleagues and I made one mistake, and that was going out to San Diego in the first place. I think if we had just said, "Look, we're going to send our correspondent out there. We're going to send our producer out there. We're going to cover it like any other important story, but we are not going to make a huge thing out of it."

And you know when a network television program sends its anchor, there is a huge retinue of people who have to come along, we have to spend an enormous amount of money, and we try only to do that, not just for a big story, but for one of the very biggest stories. Twenty years ago, 16 years ago, 12 years ago, that was a definition of the conventions. These days it is no longer a definition of the conventions. Is it still a legitimate news story? Of course it is.

We covered it three days out of four in San Diego, we covered it three days out of four in Chicago. But it wasn't really necessary to be there.

KING: And that was one of the complaints when someone com -- some written piece about you said 'didn't you know that that's what would be?

KOPPEL: And that's a perfectly legitimate criticism and I must say I think -- I think sort of ego got involved there. The thing of "We've always gone to the conventions. NIGHTLINE has to go to the conventions."

So we went. And then, when we got there, we realized that this was not a huge story, and that we could save literally hundreds of thousands of dollars by just covering it as a normal story and then we would be able to apply that part of our budget to other stories.

KING: Let's say you turned out to be right, because this campaign -- you have to be ardent to say that this was not a boring campaign.

KOPPEL: Let's say -- I will tell you what: I will let the year 2000 be the judge and the way that all of our colleagues cover the conventions in the year 2000. Conventions have changed. Conventions used to be the place where "it" was happening, "it" being the selection of a presidential candidate, or at least a confirmation of that. Now, it's a coronation. It was a coronation on the Republican side, it was a coronation on the Democratic side. Some of my critics have written, you know, about me that I was angry. I wasn't angry, if I was angry I was angry at myself. I wasn't angry at the Republicans or at the Democrats. They were doing exactly what they should be doing and that is glorifying their candidates as best they could.

KING: Do you want to be the anchor of the nightly news?


KING: No. Do you want to host This Week with David -- do you want it to be This Week with Ted Koppel?


KING: No? You want to stay with NIGHTLINE.

KOPPEL: I want it to be the Ted Koppel show on CNN.

KING: Okay.

KOPPEL: At 9:00. KING: How about 8:00.

KOPPEL: At 9:00.

KING: How about 9:00 -- oh, 9:00. I will do 8:00.

KOPPEL: 8:30.

KING: Half and half, you've got it. Okay. You -- you heard it here first, the Koppel-King hour, which almost happened.

KOPPEL: That's not bad.

KING: To San Francisco, for Ted Koppel. Hello?

CALLER: Hello, Mr. Koppel.


CALLER: My name is TJ and we were in line voting Tuesday and your network along with the other ones called the race before we even finished voting.

KOPPEL: Right.

CALLER: And people were just disgusted and I saw people leave the line.

KOPPEL: Right.

CALLER: Do you agree with your network's policy every four years to continue to call the race while the rest of us are out there still trying to make our decisions?

KOPPEL: Let me ask you something. I am assuming, TJ, you did not pull out of the line.

CALLER: No, sir. I wouldn't dare. It's my day to express my opinion.

KOPPEL: Absolutely. You voted. And if you felt your vote would have been a complete waste of time, you wouldn't have done that would you?

CALLER: Well, I...

KING: And there were many issues in California.

CALLER: You know, it made me rethink, does this count?

KOPPEL: I beg your pardon?

CALLER: It made me rethink: does it really count? They've already decided the race.

KOPPEL: Well, but we didn't decide the race. Let me -- let me turn the question around for you and...

CALLER: All right.

KOPPEL: ..and maybe that will explain why I think the networks do what they do. We know, on the basis of exit polling information what we believe is going to happen once the polls start closing. As soon as we start to get real numbers coming back, from real areas, the people who specialize in this kind of thing can make very, very accurate projections.

Let's set aside for a moment that we made a couple of mistakes, that the people who made those projections do occasionally make mistakes. Let's just take, I mean, just accept for a moment, that we know what we think is going to happen tonight and we don't tell you about it. We tell each other, we call our wives, we call our kids at school. It is being, information is being exchanged on the Internet, people are calling each other all over the country.

The only people, however, who don't know are those of you out in California, who don't have a computer, who don't have Internet, who don't have anyone back east who calls them. We're in the business of telling you what we know, not holding it back. Now, once the president is elected, in other words, once Bill Clinton had his 270 electoral votes and he had those long before the polls closed in California -- you really don't want to know? You want us to keep that secret for you?

CALLER: Yes, we do. And we would like you to respect us.

KOPPEL: Well, I -- you know, and I have to respect your point of view on that. I am sure some people agree with you, maybe even a lot of people agree with you. A lot don't.

KING: Thanks, TJ. Winchester, Tennessee.

CALLER: Ted Koppel. Finally, my turn to ask the tough questions.

KOPPEL: Go for it.

KING: Go ahead.

CALLER: OK, I've been doing TV and radio for about 10 years out over here and I was just wondering what was the toughest question you ever asked and who did you ask of it, and where did you get the guts to do it?

KOPPEL: Oh, Lord.

KING: You had -- what was the embarrassing moment you had in the book. You had -- who was it, you had a...

KOPPEL: Well, I tell you, as I look back on it -- I am not sure if this is the -- it's not the toughest question I ever asked, but in a sense I felt badly about it afterwards because the man was so beaten down at the time and that was Michael Dukakis about 10 days before the election and I kept asking him, you know, what can you do in the final 10 days -- I mean, Bob Dole just went through a very similar kind of experience. What can you do in the final 10 days to turn this campaign around? And he kept sort of giving me campaign rhetoric. And I finally turned to him and I said,"Governor, you just don't get it, do you?" That was -- that was probably rude and unfair and I wish I hadn't said it.

KING: Austin, Texas for Ted Koppel. Hello?

CALLER: Hi, Mr. Koppel.


CALLER: This is Jennifer Campbell (ph) in Austin.

KOPPEL: Hello, Jennifer.

KING: Hi, Jennifer.

CALLER: I am a huge fan of yours.

KOPPEL: Thank you.

CALLER: I was wondering: how do you go about finding a balance in your stories between entertaining and informing?

KOPPEL: You know, I don't think that's all...

KING: Good question.

KOPPEL:'s a wonderful question, but I don't think it's all that tough. You know, Mark Twain had a great line once, he used to say, "We're all ignorant just about different things. So, you know what is -- what is sort of banal and old hat to one group of people, is brand new to another group of people.

KING: You find this conversation, you also find it entertaining. Right?

KOPPEL: Exactly. And the fact of the matter is...

KING: And if you don't you don't.

KOPPEL: ...I mean, Larry King is a man who is able to sit down, I doubt that there is a person that you can put at this table -- now they might be terrified at the thought of being in a television studio, but if you could set that aside, I doubt that there is a single person that you could put at this table with Larry, who -- and he would not in five or 10 minutes, be able to extract some interesting and entertaining information from them. If it's interesting it's entertaining, the two go hand in hand.

KING: And that's the -- that's the business we're in, right?

KOPPEL: Of course.

KING: And all networks, news -- news is informative and entertaining, right?

KOPPEL: And to the degree that ours is after all, as is yours, a commercial network, we are in the broadcasting industry, not narrow casting, we're trying to get as large and as broad an audience as we possibly can and that means we have to try to present the information in such a way so that it appeals to the largest possible number of people.


KOPPEL: Tonight, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker join us to tell their side of the story in their first live television interview since leaving the PTL Ministry.

I'm going to ask it one more time, and then I'm going to drop it. So you're saying that Jerry Falwell is lying when he accuses you of having had sex with Jessica and when he -- and when he says -- when he says that there have been homosexual incidents dating back from 1956 to the present?

JIM BAKKER: I admitted that I've had 15 to 20-minute relationship with Jessica...


KOPPEL: Yeah, but you heard the one he described today. That's the one with three men involved, with the prostrate Jessica Hahn, who is not even able apparently to defend herself against the advances of the third man, who is anonymous...




KOPPEL: You killed a man. Got, what, $42, the first one? Went off and blew it on a dinner with a woman. And you killed another man 10 days later, got a little more money, about $110, went off and stood everyone to a couple of rounds of drinks at some local pub and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) darts. Sounds like a stone cold killer, doesn't it?


KOPPEL: Is that what you were?


KOPPEL: Is that what you are?


KOPPEL: Why not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back then, what I did didn't really bother me. It was like I wasn't even doing it at all. I didn't care. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Welcome back. One of the things NIGHTLINE has done so well over the years is take an issue and really examine it in a way few shows can. In 1998, they produced a prime-time series on crime in America, and one of the questions they tackled is whether the prison system does what it's supposed to do.


KOPPEL: This series says if what you want to do is simply punish people -- if first of all, America thinks that most of our prisons are -- the term has been used, "country clubs." Boy, spend a half a day in any one of these prisons and you'll get over that real fast.

KING: You spent the night, right?

KOPPEL: I spent the night in a couple of prisons and spent several days at the prisons. If the idea is to make these people fit to re-enter a society, if the idea is to take people who are criminals when they go in and in some way alter their behavior so that when they come out they're going to make more productive citizens, then, yes, the answer is it's a total failure. And ironically, the people who tell you that with the greatest level of enthusiasm or sadness, as the case may be, are the prison administrators, the wardens.

KING: They know they're operating a system that just punishes?

KOPPEL: That warehouses and punishes. Furthermore, they say because they have had so many of the incentives for good behavior taken away, in other words people are saying, why do you get television in prison for? Why do you have basketball courts? Why do you have badminton courts?

KING: Exercise equipment.

KOPPEL: Why do you have exercise equipment? And the prison administrators will tell you, look there are two ways we that can alter and affect behavior. One is by more punishment, and the other is by providing incentives for good behavior.

As you take the incentive away, and as the punishments become more and more draconian, I mean, by the time you take someone and put him in isolation and he's in isolation 24 hours a day for four days a week and he get to go into an outdoor cage for one hour a week -- three days a week, there's not a whole lot more that you can take away from people.

And in one of the prisons in particular, this administrative segregation unit in Huntsville, Texas that we went to, there are three administrative levels of segregation, and at the lowest level, you get no radio, no reading material other than Bible or law books. You may not even have access to toilet material.

They will ration your water to you, in other words there's a shower in your cell, but they'll only turn it on for a few minutes every day. And as far as the food concerned they take the food given to all the other inmates, they put it all into a mixing unit or a huge mixing vat, and then they bake into loaves and slice it up and that's what you get for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

KING: For having done what?

KOPPEL: For having misbehaved and misbehavior in prison can be a lot of things. Misbehavior can be talking back to a correctional officer. Parenthetically, one of the things that happens in prison is, guys our size for example, we're not going to survive very well in the general prison population.

KING: Yes.

KOPPEL: And there are a lot of people who are so terrified of the prison population, the general prison population, of either being hounded for money or for sex or whatever it may be, that they will do something like tossing a glass of water in a guard's face simply to get thrown into solitary to get themselves out of the danger.

KING: The prison in the first episode is in Raleigh, right?

KOPPEL: Raleigh, North Carolina.

KING: Then we go on to Huntsville later?

KOPPEL: Yes, Huntsville. And in fact, Huntsville is sort of the prison capital of the United States.

KING: Texas -- is the prison capital state, isn't it?

KOPPEL: Texas is certainly one of the largest states in the country for prison population and in point of fact, there are even some prisoners who are being exported to Texas and are being warehoused in Texas because the Texans have really made an industry of it. But Huntsville, of all the cities in Texas, is sort of the prison capital of Texas.

KING: What was it like sitting with Mr. Pope, the gentleman we just saw with the coldest eyes on the planet?

KOPPEL: Yes, interesting man. I mean, James Pope -- you talk about a stone-cold killer, he really was a stone-cold killer. Now, he claims that he has changed in prison, and you know, we also spent -- on that first program, we spent time with the families of the people...

KING: I saw that.

KOPPEL: ... the two men that he -- that he had killed. And he really escaped execution by a legal technicality. They, I think, are not going to breathe an easy breath as long as this man is still alive.

KING: What was it like for you, though? KOPPEL: I must tell you, I don't think that, you know, I never had the sense of being in any -- I mean, first of all, there are always guards around and every one of these prisoners realizes that he has a golden opportunity here to say something and to communicate a point of view to the outside world that he rarely gets. So...

KING: What was he trying to say?

KOPPEL: He was trying to say he's changed. He was trying to say he's not the man he once was. He is trying -- he's saying at the same time, he has absolutely no hope of ever getting out of prison, but technically he might be eligible for parole someday, but he's not counting on that.

I find that, on the one hand, plausible in the sense that the only way you can survive in a maximum security prison is by not letting yourself hope that you're going to get out. And yet at the same time, it's human nature to believe that someday you may get out again.

KING: Did you meet people victimized sexually?

KOPPEL: Oh, sure.

KING: Were they honest about discussing it?

KOPPEL: No, but you could -- you could really tell. I mean I met one young man in particular in that prison in Raleigh where I did spend the night in the general population and where we were all together in the lock down in the general recreation area and where -- it was just so obvious that this young -- I mean, this young man was afraid of saying it in so many words, because even by admitting it, he was going to make himself a target to even more sexual advances, but it was quite clear that he had been sexually abused.

KING: What was it like to spend the night?

KOPPEL: The worst part was the -- was the smell. And I don't mean the smell in a sense of refuse or fecal matter or anything like that. It's the deodorant -- not deodorant -- the disinfectant. They just swab that place down with disinfectant. When I lay down in cell that night, the mattress, the whole cell just reeked -- I mean obviously they cleaned the place up before I got there.

KING: Of course, you knew you'd leave the next day, and they know they're not. A big difference.

KOPPEL: There is no way -- and I don't want to pretend that I am under any impression that I know what it's like to spend time in prison, knowing that you're going to be able to walk out of that prison the next morning.

KING: We'll get to some items in the news with the master of late night, following this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "NIGHTLINE") KOPPEL: Construction trailers. Inside one of them, known as the propertly locker, personal remains from the World Trade Center are being collected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It probably gets washed up and cleaned up, trying to get it expeditiously returned to family members. As you could see, there's buckets of ID cards. Right now, the detective is cleaning a gun that was found in the debris. The initial stages of just trying to get the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) off of whatever items come in.




KOPPEL: In one sense, this story, your story, has been watching a disease take its toll. But in another sense, it has been very much a chronicle of a love story. You two love each other very much, don't you?


KOPPEL: That's something also that a lot of people in the straight community have a great deal of trouble understanding.


KING: In 1999, Ted Koppel decided to jot down a few thoughts every day. During the year of Monica, there was plenty to write about. He published those musings in a book, "Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public." One of those thoughts: "Much of American journalism has become sort of competitive screeching." I asked him to elaborate.


KOPPEL: When you and I began in this business -- you 43 years ago, me 40 years ago -- there were three guys who controlled the access of any journalist to nationwide television, right? Because they had the three networks.

And basically what was put out on TV news was pretty good. Some of it was very good. These days, any kid with access to a computer can put video on the air that is theoretically and physically accessible by thousands, hundreds of thousands, potentially even millions of people around the world.

Any kid with a home video camera, with an editing machine -- you know, with a fairly inexpensive editing machine -- and access to the Internet can be a network. There is so much competition. There is sort of an anarchy of voices out there, that often we find ourselves competing to be first with the obvious.

Instead of sitting back and giving a little bit of thoughtful context to what we put on the air, much of the time we are so worried about what those 500 guys out there -- not other guys -- other outfits, other media out there are putting on the air -- that I think the competitiveness has become very dangerous to all of us.

KING: And screeching?

KOPPEL: Well, there is a lot of screeching that goes on.

KING: Does this make then anybody a journalist?

KOPPEL: Look, one of the great things about the First Amendment is that it does make anybody who wants to be a journalist -- in this country, you don't have to have a license to be a journalist. You don't have to have passed a test to be a journalist. You don't have to have any professional training to be a journalist.

You have the power under the Constitution to say, "I am a journalist." And if you've got a piece of paper and a pen, or access to a tape machine, or access to a video camera -- and now access to the Internet -- you are as much of a journalist as anybody out there.

KING: And what does -- what do we do about it?

KOPPEL: I think -- I mean, my hope is that those of us who have been in this business for a long time and who have worked very hard to maintain some kind of standards -- and I'm very happy to say I think there are still quite a lot of us out there doing it -- we have more of an obligation to maintain those standards than we ever had in the past.

And I think, as this chaos of voices out there becomes louder, that the level of confusion among our consumers is going to be such that they're going to be enormously grateful to be able to say: "Well, Larry King, yes, I'm not that crazy about him. Koppel, he drives me nuts on occasion. But I've been watching them for 40 years now. And I think I know what the product is. There is a certain level of reliability there."

So I think there's a great opportunity, not only for those of us who are at the tail-end of our careers, but for those of our colleagues who have maintained those kinds of standards, to be more important than they've ever been before.

KING: So therefore, you have to believe there are young Koppels?

KOPPEL: I've -- one of them -- one of them is working for your network.

KING: That's right, your daughter.

KOPPEL: A young Koppel.

KING: A terrific reporter.

KOPPEL: She is a terrific reporter.

KING: But we do have a lot of screeching voices. We have talk radio, which is more loud than anything with regard to substance.


KOPPEL: I think -- I think there are lots of terrific journalists out there. And the important thing is that we not put so much pressure on them always to be first, always to get on the air before the other guy does, but rather that we begin rewarding those who say: "Honestly, I'm not ready yet. Let me work on this story a little longer."


KING: While NIGHTLINE's future remains in doubt, the show's contribution to journalistic history are unquestioned.

Thank you for watching. Tomorrow night, singer Connie Francis and, boy, has she had a life! See you then. Good night.


KOPPEL: While we were stopped, a British armored personnel carrier approaches us. We flag him down, and I put it to the crew sergeant: "How would he like to liberate a prison?"

There are still a few prisoners back up there, and the guy says, if only K-4 (ph) came along, one guy, we'd let him go.


KOPPEL: I mean, literally, I mean, about a mile and a half up the road.

Which is how we found ourselves this afternoon guiding a British APC to a Serb prison.

Accompanied by two guards, the prison medic and the British sergeant, we walked in. Only four prisoners left, we were told, three Albanians, one Bosnian Muslim. It was not quite what we'd expected.





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