Ted Koppel Defends Katie Couric

The veteran anchor says he wasn’t trying to criticize her in praising the new CBS newscast.

Ted Koppel has become a fan of Scott Pelley. But he wants it clear he isn’t dissing Katie Couric.

“I thought Katie did a terrific job as anchor,” he says. “I watched Katie’s broadcast almost every night.” But, he says, Couric and her executive producer Rick Kaplan—a onetime Koppel producer at Nightline—“were operating under the structure of CBS News as it existed then,” which requires that “you go with the sexiest story of the day.”

By contrast, Koppel says of the new CBS Evening News, “what pleases me is that they are leading with the most important story of the day rather than the Weiner story of the day.” Picking up on what he said at the New America Foundation, Koppel says: “The broadcast is going hard news and I consider that to be an improvement.” He credits the new CBS News chairman, Jeff Fager, for change in direction.

“There’s a desperate competition which leads newscasts to provide what the public wants, not what the public needs. I realize that’s an elitist point of view, but that’s what journalists are paid to do.”

The Project for Excellence in Journalism says NBC Nightly News spent 8 minutes 54 seconds on the Anthony Weiner story last week; ABC’s World News spent 8:16; the CBS Evening News spent just 2:33.

On the other hand, Pelley’s ratings have been pretty poor, so the new approach may prove to be a tough sell.