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A heartfelt thank you



Published: Thu, August 18, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Providence Journal: The death of ABC News's Peter Jennings, last week, brought this to mind:

Those who don't believe in long shots in this life might consider the journey of the 40-year-old house husband on the downside of a 15-year career reporting for the perennial third-place U.S. television network. A decade earlier he had done some good reporting from the battlefield in Vietnam, but now, though still a network correspondent, his fare was odd tasks, not choice assignments.

Then one day in 1979 a mob of government-sanctioned thugs loosely described as "students" scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, captured and blindfolded the Americans inside, and held them for 444 days.

Initially, this assault on the rule of civilized nations was assumed to be a crisis of hours or a few days. When it went on longer, the network, ABC, called on its correspondent, Ted Koppel, to anchor a nightly update after the 11 o'clock news, to be called America Held Hostage.

Cross-examining skill

The format -- with Mr. Koppel interviewing academics, U.S. and Iranian officials, hostage families, et al., and moderating their exchanges with one another -- was a perfect showcase for his intellect, his cross-examining skill, and his calm and good humor on live TV. The network soon realized that it had stumbled onto something, and in 1980 it renamed the show Nightline and made it permanent -- or as permanent as anything can be in the evanescence of television.

For those who take history-in-the-making seriously, Nightline has been a godsend, and Ted Koppel a national treasure.

But Mr. Koppel has now announced that he will retire at the end of the year, recognizing handwriting that appeared on the wall in 2002, when his bosses tried to lure David Letterman to replace Nightline with comedy. More recently, Nightline has often been pre-recorded, and has featured the likes of Angelina Jolie in the guest seat once occupied by the likes of Nelson Mandela.

It was time.

Yet surely the man who showed that the term "television journalist" isn't an oxymoron will move his consummate skills to a new venue. Meanwhile, a heartfelt "Thank you, Ted."




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