Conspiracy Theories Abound on PBS: Violent Trump Voters? U.S. Turning Into Nazi Germany?

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The supposedly reasonable PBS on Tuesday abounded with dark conspiracy theories about the impeached Donald Trump fomenting violence in November after losing, as well as whether America is turning into Nazi Germany. Veteran journalist Ted Koppel shot down that theory, but engaged in the idea of mass violence by dejected Trump voters. 

Talking to Amanpour and Co.’s Walter Isaacson, Koppel began with impeachment coverage, saying, “It is too easy for people to quite literally sort of divide the press down the middle and establish quite easily who is for and who is against. And I think this is troublesome.” 

Moving on, Koppel described America as in an “ideological civil war” that has, so far, had a “minimum of bloodshed.” He then theorized,  “Let's say, for the sake of argument, that whoever the Democratic candidate is defeats Donald Trump in November, we then have a period from early November until the 20th of January, that interregnum period, when Donald Trump is still president, but he knows that he only has a few months left to serve. How do you think that period will go?” 

 

 

According to the former Nightline anchor, not well. He imagined the scenario where “millions” of Republicans might resort to violence: 

Do you think he will be a gracious loser? Do you think that he will accept defeat and reach out the hand of friendship to whoever is going to replace him? I don't think so. Can I see Donald Trump at that point making the argument that the election was stolen? A possibility. And I think there are unfortunately millions of people in this country today who would respond to that in a fashion that, you know, I'm not even sure I really want to consider all the consequences of where that might go. Could it lead to violence? Yes, it could. 

Perhaps excited by this bit of speculating on what might happen, Isaacson jumped to the tired question of whether America is becoming like Nazi Germany: 

 

 

You have been a pretty bleak assessment of where we are and how it could get worse. In some ways, people have compared this to sort of an authoritarian tumult, even the way it was in Germany in the 1930s. Your family, your parents escaped Germany I think in 1937, got to England. Is that comparison in anyway valid? 

To Koppel’s credit, he dismissed this, saying, “I don’t think so....  There is still something unique about America and the many, many voices.” He then hammered those “on the left” who talk about being the “resistance” to Trump: 

That's why it bothered me so much when some people on the left began talking early on about the resistance. And when I think about the resistance, I think about courageous Germans in Nazi Germany who were confronting the possibility of imprisonment, torture, death. I think about the French resistance to Nazi Germans who occupied France during World War II. We're nowhere near that in this country. Yet. 

Showing himself, to be more reasonable than Isaacson and his worries about the Nazis, Koppel even chided Washington Post and New York Times reporters for going on liberal MSNBC and CNN: 

 

 

You can't watch MSNBC or CNN, for that matter, without seeing a whole bunch of spear carriers from The New York Times, from The Washington Post.... When a reporter from the New York Times or The Washington Post ends up on one of those programs, sitting next to Mika Brzezinski it's very hard for that reporter to lay claim to objectivity.

Koppel even called out Isaacson, saying, “I must tell you... I see you occasionally on Morning Joe.” He concluded,  “I don't think democracy is being strengthened by [a lack of objectivity.] Is it being undermined? Yes.” 

A partial transcript is below. Click “expand” to read more: 

Amanpour and Co. 
1/28/20
11:35 PM ET 

WALTER ISAACSON: Do you think newspapers like The Washington Post and the New York Times, in particular, have moved away from objective journalism, especially when it comes to President Trump? 

TED KOPPEL: Let me tell you a story, Walter. It goes back probably about 30 or 35 years. I was doing Nightline at that time. I was the managing editor. I called up a reporter at the New York Times" who had been a particularly good story and I asked him if he would come and appear on Nightline that evening. He said, I'm going to have the check with Abe. Abe Rosenthal at the time was the executive editor of the New York Times and he called me back a little while later and he said, Abe said, “Sure, if you want to go do Nightline, you go ahead and do Nightline. Then don't come back to the New York Times.” The point being, there were actually two points. Abe didn't want his reporters sharing whatever their reporting had been with rival news organization. But also he didn't want his reporters as he put it, “If you go on, Koppel is going to ask you tough questions and you may end up expressing your personal opinion. I don't want my New York Times" reporters expressing their personal opinions on TV.” 

That, clearly, has changed. You can't watch MSNBC or CNN, for that matter, without seeing a whole bunch of spear carriers from The New York Times, from The Washington Post. And I must tell you, I see you occasionally on Morning Joe. When a reporter from the New York Times or The Washington Post ends up on one of those programs, sitting next to Mika Brzezinski it's very hard for that reporter to lay claim to objectivity, whether or not anything he or she says ends up being subjective or ends up being perceived as being in favor of one's side or the other. The mere fact that they are on a program that is perceived as being very left of center and very anti-Trump, I think undermines the public perception of those people as being objective. 

ISAACSON: But don't you think that opinionated journalism is in some ways more honest? Reporters have always had biases, but now at least they get to express their opinions and we know who is on Fox who is on MS, who is on CNN, what they're saying on Twitter and Facebook. 

KOPPEL: Yeah, it's not as though we've never had the opportunity to express opinions before. It's just that in the past, we've limited those opinions to the op-ed pages. And that's no longer the case. And that I think is a step in the wrong direction. It is too easy for enemies of really good journalism, and I don't want anyone to think that I'm in an way deprecating what appears on the front pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post. I think there is some really brilliant journalism going on. But, A, I don't really like seeing analysis pieces on the front page of a major newspaper. I think they belong in the back on one of the op-ed pages. And, B, when those reporters whose reporting may be absolutely objective appear on programs that are perceived by almost everyone who watches them as having a vested political interest in one direction or another, I think the reporters end up being perceived as having too much of a stake in the game. No, I don't think it's a good thing. 

ISAACSON: So you think that cable TV news in some ways has undermined objective journalism? 

KOPPEL: Well, I think cable TV news in many respects, look, obviously, what happened is the first to do it was Rupert Murdoch and it became hugely profitable. You know, you may have been know the numbers better than I do. But I think Fox these days probably earns about one and a half billion a year. That's real money. And at the time when Fox started doing that, MSNBC was nowhere, doing nothing, making zero and it is only when the folks over at NBC decided that they were going to turn MSNBC into a liberal counterpart to what Fox was doing, that they started really improving their ratings and, therefore, also improving the amount of money they were making. I mean, let's not kid ourselves. Donald Trump has been very, very good for the business of journalism. 

ISAACSON: Do you think that democracy is getting undermined by the fact that people are getting their news and information from more partisan and idea logical sources? 

KOPPEL: I don't think democracy is being strengthened by it. Is it being undermined? Yes. I think that a democracy requires, desperately needs, what are widely perceived by people of all political stripes as objective sources and news. Otherwise, it's too easy to dismiss what is being said by one side or the other simply because they don't share your political point of view. You know, that doesn't mean that network news or cable news or the major newspapers cannot be very tough in terms of the reporting they do. But I don't think the reporters should be perceived as siding with one group rather than the other. I think that's —  I think that does undermine democracy. Yes. 
...

KOPPEL: You know, on one level and I'm not first to say this, I won't be the last, we clearly are already engaged in a sort of ideological civil war in this country. For the time being, it has been waged with at least a minimum of bloodshed. I am wondering, for example, what's going to happen? Let's say, for the sake of argument, that whoever the Democratic candidate is defeats Donald Trump in November, we then have a period from early November until the 20th of January, that interregnum period, when Donald Trump is still president, but he knows that he only has a few months left to serve. How do you think that period will go? 

Do you think he will be a gracious loser? Do you think that he will accept defeat and reach out the hand of friendship to whoever is going to replace him? I don't think so. Can I see Donald Trump at that point making the argument that the election was stolen? A possibility. And I think there are unfortunately millions of people in this country today who would respond to that in a fashion that, you know, I'm not even sure I really want to consider all the consequences of where that might go. Could it lead to violence? Yes, it could. 

... 

ISAACSON: You have been a pretty bleak assessment of where we are and how it could get worse. In some ways, people have compared this to sort of an authoritarian tumult, even the way it was in Germany in the 1930s. Your family, your parents escaped Germany I think in 1937, got to England. Is that comparison in anyway valid? 

KOPPEL: I don't think so, no, I mean, there is still and I hope to God that we can defend it, there is still something unique about America and the many, many voices. I mean, so far at least. That's why it bothered me so much when some people on the left began talking early on about the resistance. And when I think about the resistance, I think about courageous Germans in Nazi Germany who were confronting the possibility of imprisonment, torture, death, I think about 
the French resistance to Nazi Germans who occupied France during World War II. We're nowhere near that in this country. Yet. And, no, I don't see that yet. Is it possible? 

We are not immune to the laws of history around if we give up our protections. If we no longer value the rule of law and the appropriateness of journalism that is much heavier on objectivity than it is an opinion, if we don't value those things appropriately, then I fear not that we're going to become Nazi Germany or fascist Italy, but it's not going to be a happy place. And we have seen periods like that in this country. The McCarthy era in that country, in the early 1950s was much closer to that, People lived in fear. People lived in fear of expressing honest opinions out loud. So we've come dangerously close in the past and I think we, we are at least in a position today where it's not beyond the question. I mean, it's not beyond possibility that we could slide more in that direction. But do I see a precise parallel with Nazi Germany? I do not. 

 

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