Criminal Class? Koppel Says 'A Liberal Is a Conservative Who Just Got Arrested'

We're all familiar with this definition of a conservative: "a liberal who's just been mugged."  This morning, Ted Koppel devised a variation on the theme that could be taken as an insult to his fellow lefties: "a liberal is a conservative who just got arrested."

Koppel's line came in the course of a Today show interview with Matt Lauer to discuss a special that Koppel is about to air in his role as Managing Editor of the Discovery Channel [so that's where he went after leaving ABC!].  As Lauer described it, the documentary, entitled 'The Price of Security,' addresses "the balance between securing the nation and protecting our individual liberties."

Koppel never flatly stated where he drew the line on the issue, but left little doubt as to which way he leans. 

Lauer: "You say this is a debate we have to have right now because it will be impossible to have after another attack."

Koppel: "Imagine what would happen if there were another terrorists attacks. Any discussion of liberties then would be out the window."

I don't believe that.  In the grand scheme of things the impingement of liberties that followed the unprecedented 9/11 attacks was relatively minor.  But consider what Koppel is implying: that we should agree now not to take measures that would appear necessary following another terror attack.  No thanks, Ted.

Lauer: "When Americans are polled a majority say if I have to give up a few personal freedoms and it makes me safer, I am okay with that. Do you think torturing of suspects falls into category?"

Here's where Koppel got off his line: "First there is that old definition of what is a liberal. A liberal is a conservative who just got arrested. People are always willing to give up somebody else's liberties as long as they are convinced it won't be their own." 

Eventually, the pair built up a head of steam, making clear that they come down on the ACLU side of the security vs. civil liberties divide.

Lauer came close to accusing the US of torturing terror suspects and to calling Pres. Bush - who has denied that the US tortures prisoners - a liar: "If there is no torture, why do you need secret locations set up by the CIA?"

Koppel: "Precisely. In point of fact with all of the people now and everyone down there [in Guantanamo] they spoke to including the chief interrogator said the same thing: torture doesn't work. It causes people to give you whatever they think it is you want to have just to stop the pain."

Lauer: "The best information comes through a cooperative relationship?"

If that's the standard, next time we catch a terrorist, why not just let Matt interview him? 

Mark Finkelstein lives in the liberal haven of Ithaca, NY. View webcasts of Mark's award-winning TV show 'Right Angle' here. Contact Mark at

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.