NEW YORK – At age 82, Ted Koppel is equipped to take the long view when discussing what divides Americans.
The former “Nightline” anchor, now an occasional contributor to “CBS Sunday Morning,” takes over from Jane Pauley for the first time this weekend to host a specially themed program on the topic.
The show includes stories on divisions created by social media and the internet, talk radio and disparities in wealth. It delves into a border dispute between Oregon and Idaho and how other countries view Americans today. Koppel contributes three stories himself, including interviews with singer John Legend and television producer Norman Lear.
Koppel is distressed about much of what he sees, particularly the speed at which hate spreads online.
Yet in the show, he'll quote Gallup poll results that illustrate the remarkable turnaround in six decades, from opposition to acceptance, in how Americans felt about marriage between Black people and white people.
His point? We've been here before. Things can, and do, change.
“There is this problematic strain that runs through the American countryside that periodically we get tired of liking each other much and we start finding all the things we don't like about each other,” he said. “It's nothing new. We've done it many times before, most significantly with the Civil War, of course.”
The “CBS Sunday Morning” special edition was initially planned for more than a month ago, but was put off following Queen Elizabeth II's death. Koppel, who hosted ABC's “Nightline” from 1980 to 2005, has contributed to the CBS show for about five years. His enthusiasm about the topic led Rand Morrison, “CBS Sunday Morning” executive producer, to suggest that he host it.
Morrison said he's been surprised at how active Koppel has been, particularly in generating ideas. Koppel's story last year about how Mount Airy, North Carolina, is trying to capitalize on a connection to the fictional Mayberry of “The Andy Griffith Show” was particularly well received.
“For an old geezer, I'm doing OK,” said Koppel, who's lived in Maryland for more than 50 years.
This weekend's special edition is pointedly titled “A Nation Divided?”
Note the punctuation.
“You'll leave the broadcast understanding that we've been here before as a nation,” Morrison said. “It's not a terminal situation. We want to give a good look at the battlegrounds, if you will. But we want to leave you with sun on the horizon.”