My short bio: Most of you probably know me best from my time as anchor and managing editor of NIGHTLINE from 1980 to 2005. Since then, I’ve served as managing editor of the Discovery Channel, news analyst for BBC America, special correspondent for Rock Center, columnist for venues such as for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, and I am currently an occasional commentator and non-fiction book critic at NPR.

In addition, I’m also an author and have just published a new book: LIGHTS OUT: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath. It's about the likelihood of a just such an attack on our power grid, the potential devastating aftereffects, and just how unprepared our government for this sort of disaster. For videos of me explaining these topics in more detail, visit: You can also read more about the book and the other people have to say about it on my website:

My Proof:

This Reddit AMA is now over, but thank you all so much for your thoughtful and interesting questions. For more info, take a look at LIGHTS OUT ( Cheers!

Comments: 257 • Responses: 35  • Date: 

GeraldBrennan80 karma

It’s been said that the internet is moving us away from a “broadcast” society and towards a “narrowcast” one, where everyone’s news is tailored to them, and audiences are smaller but more passionate. What do you dislike (or like) about this? Do you think we’ll ever get back to a broad national consensus on what’s important and newsworthy? Should we try?

TedKoppel1153 karma

Like almost everything about the internet, it delivers extraordinary gifts and also produces incredible dangers. The dangers associated with the "narrowcasting" you reference is that it tends to trap people in an echo chamber where they are constantly bombarded by points of view with which they already agree. I would never suggest that narrowcasting has no value, but I believe that the old fashioned news "broadcasts" that attempted to focus everyone's attention on the most important issues, without regard to a partisan point of view, still have enormous value.

wetdog959 karma

Hi Mr. Koppel,

Network news shows seem to be more about entertainment and ratings than informing the public. While people have noted this problem for years, the networks have no incentive to change because it makes money. We're stuck in a feeback loop. How can we, the people, enable a change back to informative news?

TedKoppel164 karma

Let the networks know. If they really came to believe that the majority of viewers wanted hard reporting and real substance (and that you would stop watching if you didn't get it), they'd give it to you.

IHaveAJarOfDirt53 karma

Have you read 'Blackout' by Marc Elsberg? It's a very good european thriller about an attack on the power grid, with a huge amount of background information on how the power grid and computer systems work and can be attacked. I'm not sure if it is translated into english, though.

TedKoppel143 karma

I have not read it. What language was it written in?

IHaveAJarOfDirt38 karma


TedKoppel176 karma

Good. I speak German. I'll look it up. Thanks

Stoooooooo38 karma

What largely underreported story during your time on air do you think deserved more attention?

TedKoppel197 karma

Congo. Incredible as it is, more than five million people have died in Congo as the direct or indirect result of a war that's been going on now for more than five years. There's an unbelievable degree of unawareness in this country.

Pee_Earl_Grey_Hot23 karma

How can we change that?

TedKoppel162 karma

We have to get back to focusing news coverage on issues that are most important to a general American audience; rather than focusing as much as television news does these days on giving the public just what it wants.

suaveitguy31 karma

Mr. Koppel, a pleasure. I wanted to get your take on the value of 'exposure' in journalism/documentaries. In many cases, that is what the subject of a story will get in return for sharing/experiencing some awful things that happened to them. Have you ever felt troubled by the benefit a reporter/filmmaker gets in exchange for the tragedy the subject took part in? Certainly some media is more exploitive than others, but at least philosophically, profiting from others' misery is often a part of the deal.

TedKoppel152 karma

That's a very thoughtful question. I have often been troubled by the feeling that I may have exploited someone's worst moments for the benefit of "getting a story." There's no getting around it, that's what reporters do. If I didn't feel, though, that we also provide a benefit to a much larger group of people by the reporting what we do, I'd have given this up a long time ago. But it's a legitimate criticism of what I and my colleagues do.

ICreatedSomeClones27 karma


TedKoppel139 karma

All in all, I interviewed about 60 people - including the former director of the NSA, all of the former and the current Secretary of Homeland Security, the Commander of CENTCOM and the former commander of NORTHCOM. I also spoke with representatives of the electric power industry and a number of congressional leaders.

RudeTurnip29 karma

Hi Ted, I'm wondering if you also spoke to Parag Pruthi, a cybersecurity expert that congress calls in for secret meetings and briefings. I heard him speak at a networking event on this very topic and he scared the heck out of everyone in the room.

TedKoppel143 karma

I called him. He never called back

Long_Drive24 karma

What was your impression of Jeh Johnson?

TedKoppel144 karma

Not up to the job

ubix24 karma

Do you believe harshly xenophobic statements from some candidates running for President make terrorist attacks against U.S. Interests more or less likely?

TedKoppel157 karma

Xenophobia is almost never helpful. ln this case, though, it is particularly damaging. If Donald Trump were running for the office of chief recruiter for ISIS he could not do a more effective job of raising anti-American feelings around the world in general and among Muslims in particular. Remember, the focal point of ISIS strategy is to bring about a division between the Islamic world and the Judeo-Christian world.

penciljockey12322 karma

Congratulations on making it onto Ned Flanders List of Laudable Lefties. Historically some lefties had been forced encouraged in school to switch handedness to become righties. Did you ever experience this?

TedKoppel142 karma

Not a question I expected to address, but yes - when I was very young (and growing up in England) I was forced to write with my right hand. Shortly thereafter I began to stutter. Fortunately for me (and for my later career in broadcasting) an enlightened doctor attributed the stutter to my having been forced to write with my right hand. And the rest, as they say…….

HopHead121 karma

Why do you think so few vote in this country?

Also, a side question. Where does your speaking tone/accent come from?

TedKoppel143 karma

Part of the answer may come from the fact that our politicians have become so dependent on fund-raising that they lose sight of why they were sent to Washington in the first place. That isn't helped by the strident tone of media on the right and the left which seem to regard compromise as a dirty word. I was born in England, but I thought I'd pretty much lost the accent.

westsayyid16 karma

Hello Mr. Koppel, in your opinion, what are the likely odds of such an attack happening and in which grid do you foresee the most damage occurring? It seems almost unfathomable that such an event could occur but you must know some things that we don't, considering you wrote a book about the subject. Do you envision mass hysteria (not in the Bill Murray sense), as you have suggested we stockpile food. Also, is there a particular grid that is most vulnerable or a "better" target?

TedKoppel131 karma

I'll give you the answer that former Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, gave me when I asked. "Very, very likely. 80-90%." The most damage would undoubtedly be caused by a cyber attack on the Eastern Interconnect. There are three grids in the country and the Eastern Interconnect is by far the largest covering the entire east coast westward past Chicago. Essentially everything I know about the subject I put into my book, "Lights Out." You're right, it does seem unfathomable that such an event could occur, but when you consider just how many companies have already been hacked over the last few years, it would be foolish to assume that only the electric power industry is immune. Former NSA director, Keith Alexander, likes to say there are only two kinds of companies out there: Those that have been hacked and those that don't yet know it.

westsayyid15 karma

A follow up - has anyone in the electric power industry acknowledged a breech of any sort? And how long would you estimate the lights to be out ?

TedKoppel117 karma

Industry representatives don't argue with the likelihood that there can be (even are) breaches. They simply claim that the grid is resilient and can withstand whatever hostile forces might throw at them. Almost every technical expert I've interviewed, including the former chief scientist of the NSA, disagrees. The power, in the event of a cyber attack on all or part of a grid, could remain out for months.

Long_Drive15 karma

I saw you on the Late Show and bought & finished the book. How serious do you see the recent cyber attacks on the state department by Iran? Do you feel that Iran has realized the power of the computer over the nuke? I saw the NYTimes article literally an hour after finishing it.

TedKoppel122 karma

I think Iran realized the power of the computer when it became aware of what the U.S. and Israel had succeeded in doing with Stuxnet, when they infected critical equipment at the Iranian nuclear facility in Natanz. The implication of your question is, I think, correct. There is no way that Iran could hope to win a nuclear exchange with the United States. Because of this country's enormous dependence on the internet, however, we are more vulnerable to a cyber attack than probably any other country in the world.

spekdemir111 karma

Of all the interviews you did for the book, which surprised you the most? Or, if you'd prefer, what surprised you the most of all the things you learned, while researching the book, about the likeliehood of cyberattacks and the vulnerability of our power grid?

TedKoppel117 karma

There is no doubt in my mind that the likelihood of a cyber attack on all or part of a power grid is high. What surprised me was the total lack of planning for that eventuality at the highest level (the Secretary) of the Department of Homeland Security.

iClue11 karma

Is that your real hair?

TedKoppel132 karma

When I had a lot more of it than I do now, I used to joke that ABC paid me enough money that if I needed a rug I could have afforded a better-looking one than this.

bbocenyaj10 karma

ive always wondered how you felt about your portrayal on Saturday Night Live...did you enjoy it, or did it make you self conscious?

TedKoppel116 karma

Loved it!

agilles8710 karma

What can I do right now as a US citizen, to prepare my home for such an attack?

TedKoppel122 karma

If you can afford it (and I recognize that many people cannot) start building up a backup supply of storable food. This, ideally, would be something like freeze-dried products which have an incredibly long shelf life (about 25 year) or items as simple as sacks of dried beans and rice. Also, water is critical. Again, this is much easier for people who live in houses and in rural areas; not so easy for apartment dwellers in our cities.

gogojack10 karma

Hope I'm not too late, but I'd like to ask you a question about Iran.

I remember a show you did where you said something about the "tepid chants of 'death to America'" and that the people of that nation were increasingly amenable to better relations with the US.

Do you feel we've advanced along those lines what with the recent nuclear deal?

thank you.

TedKoppel117 karma

Not too late. When I used words like "the tepid chants of 'death to America'" I was reporting what I saw in Iran during a visit in 2008. I still believe that the vast majority of Iranians would like nothing better than warmer and more open relations with the United States. That is not true of the Revolutionary Guards, who exercise an enormous amount of control throughout the country. The recent nuclear deal, in my opinion, falls into the category of best of a bunch of bad options.

suaveitguy9 karma

What do you think when you see an anchor or reporter using the 'Some say...' or 'People might think...' to get across an opinion without backing it up with evidence or representing it as their own beliefs?

TedKoppel128 karma

It's a weak-kneed use of language.

GeraldBrennan9 karma

Another a child of parents who fled Nazi persecution, how would you compare today's Syrian refugee crisis with the one that preceded World War II?

TedKoppel122 karma

Perhaps predictably, I have enormous sympathy for families fleeing either religious persecution or, as in Syrian, the impact of an horrific civil war. I'm not inclined to measure one catastrophe against another; but put my name down in the column for extending help to the most helpless among us.

suaveitguy9 karma

Any thoughts on the legacy of Dan Rather?

TedKoppel120 karma

Dan is an old friend and I hope that his legacy will be his long and distinguished career working incredibly hard to report the news. I understand that the circumstances under which he and CBS parted ways and the story behind it have tainted Dan's legacy in the minds of many critics. I know him to be a man of great integrity.

JackassWhisperer9 karma

Pop Quiz: What can you tell me about Eric Sevareid? How about Howard K. Smith or Frank Reynolds? Chet Huntley? John Chancellor?

(I miss Nightline.)

TedKoppel116 karma

Essentially, you just provided a list of my professional heroes, with the glaring absence of Edward R. Murrow. Howard Smith and Frank Reynolds were my mentors. Sevareid, Huntley, Chancellor (and, of course, David Brinkley) were just among the best of the best broadcast journalists.

suaveitguy8 karma

The more I hear of disruption and innovative-new-media-21st-century-wild-west buzz words around technology, the more I think that not that much has changed beyond scale. We had call-in shows and letters to the editor instead of forums like this, we had numerous editions of newspapers all day long for up-to-date news. What's your take? As much new under the sun as we like to think?

TedKoppel115 karma

If you're talking about human nature, I agree - not much new under the sun. (Read Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations" written almost 2,000 years ago and you'll see what I mean). In terms of our ability to communicate instantly between the most distant parts of the world and all the other "advances" that the internet has brought with it - yes I'd have to say it's all pretty new and we're only just beginning to adjust to what that means.

suaveitguy7 karma

Were there a lot of 'gentlemen's agreements' in the old days about what would or wouldn't get reported (e.g. JFK affairs)? Did you see those evolve over your career, or do they still exist as was?

TedKoppel119 karma

There's no question that fifty years ago (which is roughly when I started in the journalism business) there was a general understanding that a public figure's sexual adventures were off limits. Clearly, that's no longer the case; in part, because there's been a growing inclination to understand that a person's "private" behavior often reflects his professional standards. What's had, by far, the greater impact, however, is that fragmentation/explosion of media. What could be kept quiet by a relatively tiny press corps could never be kept under wraps in today's environment of thousands of media outlets.

500milesification7 karma

How accurate are movies like 'The Insider' and shows like 'The Newsroom', in depicting the goings-on of the everyday news program?

Do you still actively watch the nightly news? What is your go to source of news/information on television or the internet?

TedKoppel113 karma

I haven't seen either movie. I do still watch the evening news, but also rely heavily for foreign coverage on BBC America. I read the NYTimes, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post and spend a fair amount of time listening to NPR

yangstyle7 karma

Great to see you here. I was a broadcast journalism major in the late 80s and you and Sam Donaldson were my idols.

Anyway, I think that just by producing an independent newspaper in the pre-Web days (which I did), the effort alone legitimized it as a news source because the barriers to entry were so high. Today, those barriers are pretty low.

My question is: Looking at how almost anyone can start a blog that may or may not become recognized as a legitimate news outlet, what would you say provides that credibility today?

TedKoppel114 karma

I suppose the multitude of sources out there these days provides an opportunity for the consumer to double check his own material. The problem, as your question implies, is that people are looking for echoes of their own biases, rather than reporting that challenges their preconceptions.

suaveitguy6 karma

What advice would you give to other interviewers? How do you get someone to engage genuinely and openly?

TedKoppel19 karma

Research your subject thoroughly and then leave your notes in the office. An interview is likely to be infinitely better if it more closely resembles a conversation in which two people are actually listening to one another; rather than one person going through a shopping list of questions, without regard to the other's answers.

herrjonk6 karma

Do you have any IT education or -skills?

TedKoppel17 karma

No, on both counts.

roxyru925 karma

Do you think the presidential candidates should be addressing the threat of a cyberattack? This seems to be a topic that is under represented even when terrorism and national security are a huge concern.

TedKoppel113 karma

Absolutely! I think there are a couple of factors that inhibit our candidates from talking about cyberattacks: One, they know very little about the subject themselves, and two - when you raise an issue/problem, there's an expectation that a candidate will offer solutions. That's a high bar in a campaign atmosphere that focuses more of Trump's railing than substantive issues.

suaveitguy4 karma

There used to be a lot of discussion about News being seperate from marketing/business development on TV. I understand that's not the case now, especially when the whole channel is news and that's all you have to market. Can you discuss a)why that integrity was so important to TV channels/businesses, and b)what happened to it?

TedKoppel114 karma

There was a time when networks were far more sensitive to the likelihood that they might face a suspension or even lifting of their licenses if they didn't meet the FCC's mandate to "operate in the public interest, necessity and convenience." The FCC, these days, has no teeth. Then, too, there's a lot more competition out there than used to be the case, so the inclination to give the public what it wants, rather than what it needs, is paramount.

WeAreGlidingNow4 karma

If you could re-do your 1990 interview with Nelson Mandela, would you do anything different?

TedKoppel113 karma

No….but your question suggests there is something you think I should have done differently. If you give me a specific, I'll try to respond.

walkingthelinux-11 karma

So, who actually wrote this book? One of your former producers? Or is it someone else working the puppet?

TedKoppel130 karma

I can understand your confusion. After all, someone as devastatingly handsome as I, clearly had to be spoon-fed every substantive scrap that he delivered on air. Nevertheless, for good or ill, the "puppet" wrote it.