Ted Koppel on Monday blamed the political gridlock in Washington on legislators being afraid of bipartisanship for fear of being criticized by Rush Limbaugh, Jon Stewart, and other talk-show hosts.
But the comments brought a sharp rebuke on Tuesday from Limbaugh on his afternoon radio show.
“You cannot, in a democracy, expect people to be able to reach across the aisles and make the accommodations for important issues if they are terrified that in so doing they're gonna expose themselves to the wrath of either the right or the left – either Jon Stewart's humor or Rush Limbaugh's sharp tongue,” Koppel said.
Koppel’s remarks were part of a discussion – entitled “The Twilight of Network News” – at the Kalb Report Forum on Ethics and Excellence in Journalism at the George Washington University in Washington.
He was interviewed by another longtime broadcaster, Marvin Kalb, now a fellow at George Washington University.
Both journalists also lamented how the explosion in media outlets has stunted democracy because people fear being criticized by the media for expressing their opinions.
Koppel, 72, hosted ABC’s “Nightline” from its beginning in 1980 to 2005. Kalb, 82, spent 30 years working for CBS and NBC.
“Take it back to when you and I were young and when you and I began in this business …,” Koppel began at one point, according to a transcript of the conversation on Limbaugh’s website.
“ … The good old days of journalism,” Kalb interjected.
“When you and I were young, there were three networks. ‘Nightline,’ we had 70 percent of all the homes watching television at 11:30 at night,” Koppel said before adding, “These days we are lucky to have 25 percent.”
“If you eliminated MSNBC, Fox, and CNN, it would probably improve American democracy overnight,” Kalb said. “I'm not saying that we can ever return to the good old days. That's gone. That's done.”
But Limbaugh on Tuesday attacked Koppel and Kalb’s remarks as monopolistic and restraining.
“If you eliminated MSNBC, Fox, and CNN, it would probably improve American democracy overnight,” Limbaugh charged.
“You see, there is too much democracy out there. There are too many opinions. There are too many people saying too many things. And this guy, Limbaugh, is the root of it. This guy Limbaugh started all this.
“There wouldn’t be an MSNBC if it weren't for Limbaugh. There wouldn't be a Fox. This is what these guys think. There wouldn't be any of this alternative media if it weren't for Limbaugh. All we'd have to deal with is CNN – and we'd still have 70 percent watching us.
“But when the competition kicked in, they couldn't hold their audience,” Limbaugh continued. “So now they lament the good old days.”
“But where is the gorgeous mosaic when it comes to thought?” Limbaugh asked. “Where is the diversity? See, that's not what they want. They want diversity of surface characteristics, but they don't want diversity of actual thought.
“They want one dominant way of thinking, and anything outside that dominant way has got to be taken out or dealt with or discredited somehow.”
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