- The Washington Times - Friday, April 1, 2005

Veteran newsman Ted Koppel will leave ABC News after 42 years on the job and 25 years hosting ‘Nightline’ when his contract expires in December, the network announced yesterday.

It is an orderly, even gracious departure, though the anchorman called his announcement a ‘premature farewell’ yesterday, adding he still has 160 shows to go.

Mr. Koppel, 65, has talked over retirement protocols with news chief David Westin for years, according to a memo sent to ABC staffers, informing them that Mr. Koppel’s longtime producer, Tom Bettag, also will leave.

‘Ted, Tom and I have had ongoing conversations for almost five years seeking to ensurethe continuity of ‘Nightline’ and to create an orderly transition,’ Mr. Westin said.

But Mr. Koppel won’t linger at the network in the manner of former CBS News anchorman Dan Rather, who resigned last month after investigations revealed he based an inflammatory story about President Bush’s Vietnam-era National Guard service on falsified documents.

Though four CBS employees were fired, Mr. Rather remained on staff as an investigative reporter.

Mr. Koppel has no such plans, according to ABC.

‘Ted and I have discussed a number of options under which he might have remained at ‘Nightline’ or in some other capacity at ABC News, but Ted believes this is the right time for him to leave,’ Mr. Westin said.

The retirement winnows down the remaining ‘old guard’ of singular anchormen from another broadcast era. NBC’s longtime anchor, Tom Brokaw, quietly resigned last December, leaving only ABC’s 23-year veteran, Peter Jennings, to cope with the restless news cycle and competition from glitzier multihost formats.

A winner of 41 Emmy Awards, the English-born Mr. Koppel has not been without criticism, however.

In a ‘Nightline’ broadcast during ‘sweeps’ week last May, he read the names and displayed the photographs of 700 American troops killed in Iraq, deemed inappropriate by some. Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcasting Group — which owns 62 television stations around the nation — accused Mr. Koppel of disguising anti-war ‘political agenda’ as news.

Mr. Koppel contended the program was ‘politically neutral.’

ABC News executives, in the meantime, are mulling over updates for ‘Nightline’ to attract a wider audience and better ratings in its late-night slot.

‘By making this announcement well in advance, Ted and Tom have provided us with the time we need to segue to the next chapter,’ Mr. Westin said.

Mr. Koppel ends his tenure with ABC Dec. 4 — a Sunday — which may be loaded with portent.

In an interview with the New York Times yesterday, Mr. Koppel hinted that the sole job he would consider taking at the network was ‘This Week,’ the Sunday-morning talk show now hosted by George Stephanopoulos and lagging in third place behind NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ and CBS’ ‘Face the Nation.’

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