Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public

Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public

by Ted Koppel

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One of America's most admired TV anchors gives us an intimate chronicle of the final year of the twentieth century. In this engrossing narrative, a national bestseller, are all the most significant matters of that year--from Bill Clinton’s impeachment to Columbine, from the war in Kosovo to Y2K and the mass-marketing of Viagra. Here are the people who made the news--from Slobodan Milosevic to Hillary Rodham Clinton to Michael Jordan to John F. Kennedy Jr. The events of 1999 anticipate so many of the on-going challenges America faces today that Koppel’s account feels entirely prescient.

Koppel's book moves on yet another level as events trigger memories of his own past, providing a more personal resonance to his telling of the history we all share. He takes us back to the England in which he lived until he was thirteen. He revisits his powerful experiences as an interviewer investigating prison abuses and probing the violence in our schools. He discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the media; he talks about racial intolerance, about brutality toward gay people, about the absence of political leadership. He also examines such cultural phenomena as our obsession with celebrity and the impact of great theater and overhyped movies.  

        Here is the voice we knew so well from Nightline--intelligent, curious, opinionated, witty, concerned--reminding us in entertaining and thought-provoking ways that even the most public events reverberate in our private lives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375727085
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/09/2001
Edition description: 1 VINTAGE
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.01(h) x 0.74(d)

About the Author

TED KOPPEL, a 42-year veteran of ABC News, was anchor and managing editor of Nightline from 1980 to 2005. New York University recently named Koppel one of the top 100 American journalists of the past 100 years. He has won every significant television award, including 8 George Foster Peabody Awards, 11 Overseas Press Club Awards (one more than the previous record holder, Edward R. Murrow), 12 duPont-Columbia Awards and 42 Emmys. Since 2005 he has served as managing editor of the Discovery Channel, as a news analyst for BBC America, as a special correspondent for Rock Center, and continues to function as commentator and non-fiction book critic at NPR. He has been a contributing columnist to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal and is the author most recently of Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


January 1 / Captiva, Florida

Hope and foreboding. Not necessarily in equal measure, either. What every new year has that recommends it over the old one is the promise of uncertainty. We know what happened last year. There is always the possibility that we will learn from our mistakes, tighten our abdominals, stop smoking, exercise greater patience and dedicate our lives to the selfless pursuit of Man's greater good. There is also the off chance that pigs will fly.

What makes the prospect of 1999 particularly gloomy is that the year begins perched on the detritus of 1998. What punishment, short of removal from office, will the U.S. Senate cobble together for William Jefferson Clinton? Surely someone will find an eighteenth-century solution in the delphic mutterings of the Federalist Papers. Actually, the twentieth century has already formulated its own equivalent to the pillory and stocks: Letterman, Leno, Imus and the various front pages of a hundred newspapers and magazines, together with the daily flaying on radio talk shows and television news programs, have already delivered their populist punishment, without having undermined "the will of the people" or, at least, the will of those millions of civic souls who dragged themselves to the polls to vote for Clinton in 1996.

Whichever way it goes, it will leave a nasty aftertaste. The president and First Lady will speak piously of national reconciliation, while their loyalists ram the rockets' red glare up the tailpipes of the right-wing fanatics, who have confused low morals with high crimes. The right-wing fanatics, meanwhile, will speak piously of having made television newscasts safe for viewing by their children again (as though anyone without dentures even watches the news anymore), and then they will encourage Lucianne Goldberg to collaborate with Howard Stern in the drafting of "A Moral Compass for the New Millennium."

It can safely be predicted, meanwhile, that we are all destined to become wholeheartedly sick and tired of the new millenium before it even gets under way. The term "wretched excess" was coined for the American experience during a year such as this. Has the product been designed that will not presume some benefit of association with the new millenium? Is there a family so removed from the sense of the moment that it has not yet felt the first uneasy stirrings of being insufficiently prepared for next New Year's Eve, even as it shakes off the aftermath of last night? It may yet prove to be a perfectly glorious year, in which decency, civility and good taste prevail.

Or pork chops may sprout wings.

January 2 / Captiva

One more note on the millennium: The New York Times editorial board must be acutely conscious of its responsibilities to point us all in the right direction. Sometimes, though, mere opining or editorializing is not enough; a declaration is required. Yesterday the Times declared that it was all right to take the new millennium seriously. It wasn't altogether clear whether that makes it simply permissible, or if it's now obligatory. The newspaper's finest minds will probably express themselves on the subject again.

So far this year the weather here in Captiva has been nothing short of spectacular. That's worthy of brief note, if only because most of the rest of the country is in a miserable deep freeze. Somehow that makes our weather feel even more delicious. Symbolically, that comes close to summarizing America's attitude toward the rest of the world: The weather's just fine here and don't bother us with your whining about crumbling Asian economies, corroding Russian infrastructure, pandemic disease in Africa and the growing likelihood that someone in Isfahan is packing an overnight bag with the wherewithal to pop Cleveland with a biological weapon.

I have the uneasy feeling that a few decades from now people will look back at this year and say: Oh yes, '99. That was one of the last pre-war years.

Think about it. The rest of the world holds a significantly more jaundiced view of how wonderful we are than we do. We are so busy promoting our virtues to one another that we occasionally confuse the advertisement with the product. George Soros, who describes himself as amoral in the conduct of his business affairs, nevertheless contributed more to Russia in at least one recent year than did the United States of America. He, at least, recognizes that well-directed charity can have enormous practical and positive consequences for the donor. The platform of generous foreign aid, however, is not one on which any American politicican would like to run.

Americans appear to have forgotten the generosity and foresight of the Marshall Plan and how it led to the reconstruction of a vibrant West German economy. The rebirth of postwar Japan was only possible because the United States helped the Japanese back onto their feet. In Asia and in Europe the careful calibration of an unambiguous projection of force and a generous policy of foreign aid combined, ultimately, to achieve the erosion of communist power in Asia and its near elimination in Europe. Foreign aid tends to be cheaper and significantly more effective than our when-in-doubt-lob-a-cruise-missile parody of a foreign policy, but casualty-free military action plays well in the polls.

How strange that we wouldn't dream of tolerating the captain of a cruise liner setting his course by surveying the passengers, but that we have become quite comfortable watching the ship of state being steered by polls.

Anyway, the world's in a mess, weapons of mass destruction abound and we haven't a clue how we would respond to a chemical or biological attack against one or more of our cities.

God, it's beautiful outside. I think I'll go sailing.

January 3 / Captiva

The weather is gloomy. The Jacksonville Jaguars are manhandling the soon-to-be Hartford Patriots and I wonder if I'm the only football fan who doesn't care. I have yet to grow accustomed to the notion that Jacksonville has a football team, and, while the name Boston Patriots made some sense and New England Patriots could at least be justified on regional grounds, the Hartford Patriots is just silly. How about the Hartford Adjustors? The Hartford Actuarial Risk? At four the Packers play the 49ers. OK, I know that free agency has reduced us all to rooting for uniforms, but I have my standards. I'll root for a uniform with a little bit of history.

My friend, the executive producer of Nightline, Tom Bettag, has sent me a couple of pages of notes by a historian friend of his, responding to a reckless suggestion of mine a few months ago that Nightline do a series of programs on this last millennium. That, in turn, was prompted by the observations of a Stanford professor friend. My wife, Grace Anne, and I were participating in a Stanford-sponsored hike through Tuscany. Our friend was ruminating on the lifestyle of the Medicis and how they, probably the most powerful and privileged family of their age, lived in conditions that fell far short of those in which an average, middle-class American lives today. Set aside the notion that the Medicis had Michelangelo, da Vinci and Botticelli as house painters and interior decorators; they had lousy heating and cooling, primitive medical care, no electricity, information resources that would be rejected as inadequate by any late-twentieth-century American and no access to fresh fruit in the winter.

In some respects, then, mankind has made significant progress. Unbelievable progress in the areas of longevity, health, communication, travel; even social justice, in some places. But as George Bernard Shaw observed early on in this century (before we'd really gotten the hang of it), where man excels is in the science of killing.

I see by this morning's Times that the North Koreans may already have spirited away a few nuclear warheads. The Times points out that U.S.-North Korean negotiations have been stymied, that Pyongyang is making increasingly bellicose noises and that the North Koreans have shown they have the capacity to deliver such warheads to Japan, Hawaii and Alaska.

As I said, we may well be living through what we will soon recall as one of the last of the prewar years.

January 4 / Captiva

The northern chill has finally insinuated itself into central Florida. Only Canadian tourists and "snowbirds" from Michigan and Minnesota and "this reporter" (as my old friend Danny Meehan, who wet-nursed me through my first job as a copyboy at WMCA, used to say) are walking around in shorts. My excuse is that I never made it past third form at Abbotsholme School in Staffordshire, England, and consequently never reached that exalted status that would have permitted me to wear long pants in winter. This has inured me, from the thighs down, to any temperatures above 20??F.

The spartan rigors of a British boarding school in the early fifties deserve their own footnote as we come to the end of this century.

I rather doubt that my parents (German Jews who fled to England just prior to World War II) would have sent me to boarding school at age eleven had there been any other option. They, however, were back in Frankfurt, fighting for reparations in the newly reestablished German court system. They didn't want me going to school in Germany, and there were no relatives with whom to leave me in England. Hence, Abbotsholme.

One or two flush toilets may have existed at Abbotsholme in 1952, but if so, they would have been for the private and exclusive use of the headmaster and senior members of his staff. The rest of us used outdoor latrines. These were so utterly lacking in twentieth-century complexity that they cannot have differed much from whatever the ancient Saxons used. Two wooden footrests above a pit constituted pretty much the entire works.

I lie.

Generations of Anglo-Saxons, perhaps with a little help from the Picts up north, had contrived certain additional conveniences adopted at Abbotsholme: a bucket with some sand (civilized people do not leave their waste uncovered by at least a handful or two of sand), and there had to have been some toilet paper, although memory does not serve.

I do remember that "lights out" was at 8 p.m. On those occasions when a coal delivery had been made, our housemaster would creep through the corridors listening at the door of each room for the sound of boys talking. No sooner had such a group of miscreants been detected than the housemaster would launch into his favorite tirade about how "a bunch of juvenile delinquents like you are all going to end up in Borstal" (a juvenile detention center immortalized in Borstal Boy). He always seemed quite pleased to have uncovered our wrongdoing. He would order us to put on our Plimsolls (a crude and early ancestor of Nikes) and then lead us to the courtyard where two tons of coal waited to be shoveled into the coal cellar. Suffice it to say that when we were through with that chore, we were encouraged to take a cold bath. (I'm not altogether sure how the coal was employed, since it was not to produce hot water or heat in our rooms. Indeed, not only were our rooms not heated in the winter, we were required to leave the windows open.)

When there was no coal delivery, boys requiring some form of immediate justice would be sent on a late-evening cross-country run. The various "houses" in which we slept were scattered in a rough circle at some distance around the cluster of school buildings. The complete circuit covered approximately five miles. We would be required to run from one "house" to the next, acquiring at each a signed note from the housemaster indicating our times of arrival and departure. It was actually better than shoveling coal.

Back to the frigid North tomorrow.

January 5 / Washington, D.C.

It is an act of will to become reengaged in the impeachment morass. It now looks as though the trial will get under way on Thursday and, if there are those who know what form it will take, they're doing a brilliant job of keeping that from the rest of us. The White House is lofting trial balloons suggesting that the meek faces the president's lawyers showed before the House Judiciary Committee will be replaced (in the event of a full-blown trial) by a more combative stance. I am infected by a rampant case of beyond-the-Beltway "Who gives a crap?" Bill Clinton may yet convince me, as he seems to have convinced much of the rest of the country, that if you appear not to care, you can be impeached by the House and tried by the Senate, and it won't matter. Of course it will matter if he's convicted, but no one seems to believe that likely.

It seems to me that the Senate is desperately looking for some form of Goldilocks solution. The Constitution has left the senators with the option of doing nothing (too mild), or throwing the president out of office (too harsh). What's needed is a "just right" option. In analogous situations at the local level, juries reluctant to sentence an eighteen-year-old to ten years of hard time for a third possession of marijuana engage in the process of jury nullification. They simply refuse to convict. They, however, don't have to run for reelection.

We in the media are, at the moment, in the awkward position of knowing nothing and interviewing smart people who also know nothing; but we are confronting a story that, on the face of it, is so important we can't ignore it.

January 6 / Washington

What a mess! Our (and NPR's) crackerjack legal correspondent Nina Totenberg tells us that Chief Justice Rehnquist is like a young swain waiting to be called for a date. He's supposed to preside (starting tomorrow) over the Senate trial of the president, but, even though he's written a book on the subject of impeachment, he doesn't know what the rules are going to be this time around and he's waiting for someone to tell him. The Senate, by a simple majority, can, in effect, dictate the procedures as they go along; however, even the chieftains of the Senate, Majority Leader Trent Lott and Minority Leader Tom Daschle, are playing it by ear at the moment. Each is uncertain-especially in Lott's case-what he can get his own membership to accept. The Republicans seem determined to have a full-fledged trial, complete with witnesses. The Democrats are equally determined not to let that happen. Some sort of compromise will, eventually, be worked out, but it looks less and less like it will be of the quick and clean variety. All of this is worthy of note only in the sense that, sometimes, when history has had a chance to clean up reality and make everything nice and neat, we forget how messy reality is in its day-by-day incarnation. In retrospect, for example, Richard Nixon's departure from the White House seems to have been inevitable, when in fact the struggle to make a case sufficient to convince Nixon to leave was protracted and ugly.

What People are Saying About This

Barbara Walters

Now, in Off Camera, you will get to know the Ted Koppel I know: irreverent, ironical, informative, intimate, sometimes irritable, but always enormously interesting. Whoever thought he would let us inside?


A Public Man's Private Thoughts

Though it's a job requirement that he remain impartial when on the air, Ted Koppel is certainly not a man without opinions. In Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public, a journal begun as a legacy to his descendents, Koppel draws back the curtain on his private thoughts, offering insights and opinions on the events of the tumultuous year that was 1999.

I spoke with Koppel recently; we discussed such disparate topics as the circus that surrounded the impeachment of President Clinton, the future of NATO, the drudgery of author tours, and the current cult of celebrity in the United States.
--Brett Leveridge

Barnes & Throughout much of Off Camera, you seem frustrated and even disheartened by the events of 1999 -- the impeachment circus at the beginning of the year, for example, or the media overhype of JFK Jr's death. You even express concern more than once that we are living in a "pre-war" time. Looking back now, do you see more positive or redeeming aspects about the year? Are you feeling better about our overall prospects now than then?

Ted Koppel: There's an easy one: No. I think most of the concern that I felt in 1999 I still feel. Absolutely.

B& Much of the book focuses on your thoughts about and reactions to the major national and world events of 1999. Decades from now, what event do you think will most dominate history’s view of that year?

TK: That's an interesting question, because I tried in at least one or two of the entries to draw a distinction between what's newsworthy and what's historical. What seems important at the time...the JonBenet Ramsey stories, or stories of that genre, are the kind that preoccupy us when they happen. And, for example, when the nonproliferation treaty is rejected, we pay almost no attention to it. I'm sure a few years from now people will look back and say, boy oh boy, did we miss the boat there.

I also think that, years from now, people will look back on our involvement in Kosovo -- though it seemed like such a positive event, in the sense that it was clearly a NATO and, most importantly, a U.S. victory -- and say that that may have been the first step toward NATO's impotence. That may have been the event that caused NATO to think, five and ten times over, about whether it ever again wanted to get involved not just in something like that but in something more important.

Mark Twain used to say that once a cat has sat on a hot stove, she'll never sit on a hot stove again. But she'll also never sit on a cold stove. And I think that may be our problem, that [Kosovo] was a misunderstanding of what NATO ought to be about. And, as noble as it may have seemed at the time, it may keep us from doing really important things in the future with NATO.

B& What do you think we should have done differently?

TK: As I wrote in the book, nations go to war not for reasons of morality. Morality is the icing that they put on the cake to justify national interests. A country has to have its own national interests very much at stake before it goes to war, or it shouldn't go to war. And I have yet to be convinced that U.S. national interest was in any fashion involved in Kosovo.

Were we only concerned about the violations of human rights, we'd be involved in 50 different wars around the world right now. Human rights are constantly being violated; innocent people are constantly being killed, raped, tortured, imprisoned. That's happening in many, many places around the world right now, but the United States doesn't get involved. It cannot afford to get involved in every one of those cases. And ultimately the defining judgement has to be made on the basis of national interest. It's my view that the U.S. national interest was not involved.

B& You're pretty rough on just about everyone involved in the events leading up to and including the impeachment of President Clinton. How are future generations likely to view those events? Will history view the whole process as a sort of coup attempt, as some people feel it was, or as a righteous crusade, as others see it?

TK: I think both of those observations are absolutely true. I think in some respects it was a coup attempt by some on the right to do through the impeachment process what they had failed to do through the electoral process. By the same token, I think that the President's behavior was misunderstood, in the sense that the President's defenders described it as though it were purely a sexual dalliance. And why, after all, is that the business of the rest of us, let alone the U.S. Congress?

When, in fact, it was significantly more than that. It was the chief officer of the land lying under oath and undermining the rights of another citizen, in this case Paula Jones, to bring a case against him.

Did all of that add up to impeachable crimes? I probably have to say no, I don't think so. But having said that, I don't think you then take the next step and say, therefore the President was a perfectly moral, decent, and upstanding human being. He wasn't, and what he did was wrong. There should have been some punishment for it, and I think I write, on more than one occasion, that it's my view that he was severely punished, that in some respects he was put in the 20th century equivalent of the stocks. He was pilloried, he was mocked, he was humiliated. And I think for a proud man that can be a particularly terrible punishment.

So I don't think that it's fair to come down entirely on one side or the other. I think the case was more complicated than that.

B& Are we better off that those who did try bring the President down failed, even if he perhaps got off relatively easy?

TK: I don't think he got off scot-free, and yes, I think the nation is better off. I don't think you reverse the electoral process, the democratic process, lightly.

B& Bill Clinton has endured nearly nine years of rumor and innuendo from those who oppose him. Hasn't he been subjected to a greater personal scrutiny than previous presidents? Did they, to put it another way, change the rules on him?

TK: Look, I think that people are going to look at the life and times of Bill Clinton through their own particular prism. But let me try and be the objective reporter for a moment. I remember, because I participated in it and interviewed him live on Nightline, that Gary Hart didn't make it as far as Clinton -- for precisely the same reasons. Gary Hart, who, as you may recall, was the frontrunner among Democratic candidates for president, ended up losing the nomination almost certainly because of his sexual dalliances. Bill Clinton, you have to remember, made it past that New Hampshire stage in spite of the questions that were raised. All I'm saying is, those kind of questions had been raised long before Bill Clinton came on the scene. They were questions that were raised about Gary Hart.

In Bill Clinton's case, they were raised and then the public gave him the benefit of the doubt. Why? Because he just flat-out lied. Not only did he lie, but he brought his wife into it. And I don't want to say that she lied, but she certainly was complicit in getting across the notion that whatever it was that happened was in past, that it had only happened one time, and that was behind them. It was between the two of them, and nobody else was involved. That's how he got the nomination. I mean, that's how he became the Comeback Kid. He lied about it and was never really held to account for that. It turned out that Gennifer Flowers was telling the truth, and he was not.

And so later on, when the same things appeared to be happening -- not just once, not just twice, but several times -- do I think it's reasonable then that he was judged by a fairly harsh standard? Yes. Again, not because of the sexual dalliances -- I'm inclined to agree that that's between him and his wife and his family -- but because, under oath, giving a sworn affidavit in one case and during a deposition in another case, he lied. And thereby may have cost Paula Jones her day in court. Do I think Paula Jones is pure as the driven snow? Of course not. But do I think she is more the victim than the perpetrator? Probably. What we'll never know is just what did happen in that case, and the reason we won't know is because Bill Clinton lied.

Now, he didn't really get away with it. You have to remember that a federal judge fined him $90,000 and he may still be disbarred in Arkansas. Those are not trivial things for the President of the United States. So will history look back, as it often does, and say, well, those were secondary issues and the fact of that matter is he was a great president, that the U.S. economy was never stronger, unemployment was never lower, and all those good things? It may very well; I've learned not to judge what history will say. But I wasn't writing a history book; I was offering my own take on these events.

B& In your introduction to the book, you relate anecdotes about people approaching you on the street as if they know you. What do you make of the way celebrities are treated in this country?

TK: Well, I guess the most important thing that I've learned over the years is not to take it too seriously, because while people appear to know you and you can be seduced into believing that they know so much about you and care so much about you -- the fact of the matter is they know next to nothing. I'll bet for every time that someone yells "Hey, Ted" at me, someone else yells, "Hey, Tom Brokaw" or "Hey, Dan Rather!" In a sense, they just look at us, recognize the face, know that we all appear in the same box, and regard us, to an extent, as interchangeable parts.

B& You've been interviewed over the years, of course -- you've even appeared a number of times on The Late Show with David Letterman. And you'll no doubt be interviewed in the coming weeks about this book. What, if anything, do you take away from the experience of being interviewed that carries over into your work as an interviewer? What have you learned from being on the other side?

TK: I've learned that, most of the time, interviews tend to be kind of predictable and not terribly challenging, in the sense that -- and I'm not saying this about this interview, honestly I'm not -- most of the time -- and I've done books before and book tours before and I've gone on the road promoting programs that we've done on Nightline or documentaries that I've done -- people don't know what they're talking about. Most of the time people haven't read the book; most of the time people don't have the time or don't really bother. Have you ever been on a book tour?

B& I did a 14-city tour this summer, in fact, promoting my first book.

TK: Oh, congratulations. Well, you know, then, that during these book tours, where you do ten, sometimes 15 interviews in a day, you're just dying for someone who's read the book and is going to challenge you on something. It becomes so tedious to be cheerful and friendly to people who clearly haven't bothered...maybe they've read the dust jacket. And they try to ask you a couple of questions that they think might be relevant to the book, and it's all you can do not to say, "Do me a favor. I'll be glad to come back tomorrow, but just read a chapter or two and I'll come back."

So what I've learned is that I owe my interviewees the courtesy of at least trying to know enough about the subject that I can ask them tough, intelligent questions. And friendly is less important than the intelligent part. Everybody doesn't have to love [the book], and I'm more than confident many people will dislike it intensely and want to come after me. That doesn't bother me; what bothers me is when people don't even bother to look at it and then try to fake it.

B& I've been interviewed far less often than you, I'm sure, but I've found it difficult to face the same questions over and over. You try to keep it fresh and interesting, but it's not easy.

TK: Yes, which may be a mistake. One of the things I've learned from following politicians around on campaigns is that they are not the least bit embarrassed at having a press corps with them who have heard the jokes, the one-liners, the answers a hundred times over. They don't bother trying to do something fresh for each one; they just try to get their message across, whatever that message is. And amateurs like you and me feel embarrassed. "Oh, I said that yesterday in Buffalo, so I can't say that today in Minneapolis." Of course you can.

B& What, if anything, did you learn from the process of keeping a journal so faithfully for a year? Is this something you've always done, or did you undertake it for the purposes of this book?

TK: I didn't undertake it for the book; I undertook it in part as an exercise and in part, as I write somewhere in there, because on January 1st of '99, it suddenly occurred to me that this was going to be the year of my mother's hundredth birthday. And it occurred to me how much I would've enjoyed it if my grandfather had kept a journal in 1899 and had sort of left it for me to look at, so that I could look back and say, "Gosh, so that's what they were interested in back in 1899." Or that's what they thought was important, and look at what they thought of this. They thought this was kind of trivial and it ended up leading to the First World War, or whatever it may have been.

And so, in part, it was an effort to leave something behind for my kids and their kids. And then, as I got into it, and realized that, though in some instances it was personal, in many instances it was not; it was really just sort of giving my own perceptions and my own views on events of the day, it occurred to me, in about March or so, that this might actually make it as a book -- not just for the family but as a book for other people to read. And so I think in April is when I started shopping it around.

B& Do you still keep a journal?

TK: No. I mean, I've done it on occasions in the past, never had the discipline to do it for a year. I kept a journal for about 27 days in Vietnam and have often wished that I'd had the discipline back then to do it, because those 27 entries are pretty good and pretty revealing to me now, looking back 30 years later. But I didn't, so that's another reason, I guess, that I felt I had to prove, to myself at least, that I had the discipline to do it for at least a year.

B& Do you think that the American public, after reading about the personal side of your life in Off Camera, will perceive you differently as a journalist? Will they take you less seriously because they have now seen a less impartial side of you, or more seriously because they can see you on a more human level, doing things that everyone does -- battling with the phone company, for example, or helping your son move into his new apartment?

TK: I don't know; honestly I don't.

B& Were you concerned about that at all?

TK: You know, since you've just done a book -- I assume that this is true of most, if not all authors -- you didn't sit there writing that book for me. You wrote that book for you, and you were not thinking about the reader. One of the interesting things about the process of writing is that when you're writing, I'm not sure that there are very many writers or authors who sit there saying, I wonder what that housewife in Dubuque is going to think as she reads this paragraph. What you're doing is trying to put your own thoughts on paper, and the notion of what impact this book is going to have on my life, I'm about to find out. I haven't a clue. I don't know what people are going to think. I don't know if they're going to like it or hate it, if they're going to think more of me or less of me because of it. And frankly there's not a thing I can do about it either way. I mean, it's done; it's there.

B& Is it important, though, for someone in your position as a media professional to somehow be a blank slate -- to give the news and offer very little of himself in the process? And have you risked that by writing this book?

TK: I don't think so. My view of my responsibility as a journalist is that, when I'm committing journalism, I have a responsibility to be fair, accurate, and objective -- at least as objective as I can be. That doesn't mean that I walk around 24 hours a day being objective. I probably don't walk around 24 hours a day being fair. I'm sure I don't walk around 24 hours a day being accurate. There are many things I say to friends in conversation that I wouldn't put on the air because I haven't had the chance to check it out, but life is not lived that way. You don't live life saying, "Wait a second, let me go check the research pack to be sure that what I'm about to say here is accurate."

I guess if there is a point to be made, it is only that we live on different levels. As a journalist, I hope that I will continue to be what I have always tried to be in the past, and that is a fair and decent and objective journalist. That doesn't mean, I think, that I can't also put out a book in which I am more subjective, perhaps less fair, certainly more opinionated. If all I was going to do was release a bunch of scripts, I don't know how interesting that would be to the public at large. I think they have a right to know there's more to me than that, and they have a right to expect that part of me to be set aside when the camera light goes on and I'm on the air. I intend to be just as fair next year as I was last year. I think the key is not what I wrote in 1999, but whether, in the course of 1999, as you and others were watching Nightline, you had the sense that, "What the hell happened to Koppel? He's so different; he's so unfair." My assumption is that people watching in '99 didn't think I was any different than I was in '98. My hope is that people watching in the year 2000 are going to say, "Well, at least on the air he's the same." And if they have a different insight or two into me -- well, that's fine.

B& Many conservatives insist that the media has a liberal slant. Is that so? Based on your experiences, what percentages of those in the various news media would you estimate are Republican, Democrat, or Other?

TK: I don't know, I'm not going to give you a guess, and I don't think it really matters. And let me explain why.

Your assumption is probably correct, and I've thought about it a lot over the years and wondered why that is. I think one of the reasons is that reporters tend to cover a lot of bad things. Reporters tend to be eyewitnesses to wars and revolutions and bankruptcies and businesses failing and human beings acting at their worst, when they've just lost a close family member or they've just been convicted of a crime or whatever it may be. And I think that you can't really do this job without having some sympathy for the people that you cover.

One of the definitions of a journalist's responsibility, to me, though it's not my definition, and I'm sorry I can't tell you whose it was, is to make the powerful uncomfortable and to be a voice for the powerless. The assumption being that the powerful are perfectly capable of getting their own views across, and the powerless are not. So that's one of the things that a reporter does, just automatically, as part of his or her job.

That tends to be the kind of attitude that makes you, most of the time, more liberal than conservative. Now, I defy you to tell me, based on Off Camera, which I am. You may have a lot of insights into how I feel about particular issues or people, and in some of those cases, you'll say, that's a conservative point of view or that's a liberal point of view. But I think you'll find examples of both in the book, many times over. I'm just saying to you that if there tend to be more liberals than conservatives in the media, I think it's a professional hazard.

Let me raise a question for you: If, as is commonly held, the media are as influential as they are believed to be, then how, over the past 50 years, did we end up with Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush as opposed to Walter Mondale and Jimmy Carter? The fact of the matter is that we elect an awful lot of conservatives in the country -- or, at least, we have over the last 30 or 40 years -- and if that's in the face of an overwhelmingly liberal media, if it's true that the liberal media just doesn't give those conservatives a break, one of two things has to be true: Either the media are a lot less influential than people think they are, or perhaps the media are not quite as uniform in their coverage as people believe them to be.

And one final thought on that: I've lived my life around journalists, and I honestly don't think journalists give a damn. Whether it's a liberal politician or a conservative politician, we are equal opportunity destroyers. [laughs] We go after everybody with the same sort of zeal and enthusiasm. The same press that went after Richard Nixon during Watergate went after Bill Clinton during Whitewater and then later Monica Lewinsky, and if you were going to believe that journalists operate on the basis of their own private ideological preferences, you would have to assume they'd go after Nixon but not go after Clinton. Or go after Reagan but not go after Carter. It's not so; we go after everybody.

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Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tais is 9.99 not free
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had watched Nightline quite a bit and knew his style, but those were headlines. In this book he includes personal events and feelings that allow the reader to go beyond the journalist. The chronologic presentation is great.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked the fact that he spends time thinking about everyday things such as the confusing pricing of groceries and his phone company problems and that he took the time to put them in his journal that he knew would be read by others. It was good to see a prominent newsperson's view on things based on his opinions and experiences (something which is discouraged on air). He shows that he is truly an intelligent and well informed man.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Koppel has always impressed me as the 'thinking man's journalist'...never insulting, always thought provoking. His private thoughts and personal commentary on the significant issues of the day reinforce the impression of the journalist I have truly admired as the host of Nightline. His intellectual candle power is immense and matched only by the deep love he has for his family. How truly refreshing that a man recognizable the world over has kept his compass, particularly when men of his equal have set and achieved considerably lower personal standards. Never though would I have pictured Koppel driving to New York in a rented U-Haul to help his son move to a new apartment or muse about the weight and pricing of groceries or face the same agony in attempting to get the phone company to do it right the first time. Koppel claims he experiences the same frustration as you and I at airports but I suspect given his celebrity, he ultimately manages better than most of us. A great read by aging breed of journalist.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ted Koppel is one of our best journalists and this book shows it.