January 13, 2006

Ted Koppel was wooed by Al Jazeera

By Steve Gorman

PASADENA, California (Reuters) - Ted Koppel, an icon of
U.S. broadcast journalism, said on Friday Arabic television
news channel Al Jazeera was one of many news outlets that
sought to hire him when he left ABC News in November, but he
never seriously considered working there.

Koppel, who recently joined cable television's Discovery
Channel, said he and longtime producing partner Tom Bettag had
lunch with an Al Jazeera executive, but it "didn't take long
for us to decide that that's not what we were going to do."

"I don't think Tom and I entertained it more than 38
seconds," the former "Nightline" anchor said at an annual
winter gathering of TV critics in Pasadena. He declined to
detail Al Jazeera's overture to him, except to say, "There
wasn't anything there that Tom and I found very interesting."

The Bush administration has criticized Al Jazeera for what
it considers inflammatory reports, including instances in which
the network has been the first to broadcast statements from
reputed Al Qaeda leaders.

"I know it's fashionable to look at Al Jazeera as just a
propaganda outlet for al Qaeda," Koppel said. "I can tell you
that al Jazeera is a huge step up from where the Arab world's
journalism has been over the last 40 years."

Veteran "Nightline" correspondent Dave Marash accepted a
job with the 24-hour English-language service Al Jazeera plans
to launch this year.

The British-born Koppel, 65, ended his 42-year ABC News
career with his final "Nightline" broadcast in November. Last
week he signed a multiyear deal to produce and host programs
for Discovery, with Bettag and other former "Nightline"

Discovery is a cable network that focuses on education and
documentary programing.

Koppel has also reached deals to provide periodic
commentary for The New York Times and be a senior news analyst
for National Public Radio.

Koppel declined to pass judgment on the new three-anchor
team and format that replaced him on "Nightline," the program
he built into a late-night TV news institution 25 years ago
during the U.S.-Iranian hostage crisis.

But he chided the major broadcast networks for what he
described as softening their focus on consequential journalism
in pursuit of higher ratings among an increasingly fragmented
audience, especially younger viewers.