Koppel’s Gibson’s Coverage Provides Biased Perspective

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 Ted Koppel struck out with the bases loaded this past Sunday on CBS News’ “Sunday Morning.” The segment focused on the nearly $50 million lawsuit filed by Gibson’s Bakery against Oberlin College; Koppel’s question was, “What is the fair price for a family’s good name?” Koppel was easily one of America’s most respected, and perhaps most admired, TV journalists over the past 40 years because his approach to find the truth was undergirded by the fiercest resolve to be fair and balanced — until now.

Informally known as “Grandpa Gibson,” Allyn Gibson, who is around 90 years old, should not have to pass away being forever remembered as a racist. Nor should his son, David, have to spend any time fighting this legal matter while also fighting pancreatic cancer. These are facts that have moved to tears all but the cruelest and most heartless viewers, no matter what side they sit on. All jurors and fellow Americans should want the Gibson name to be unstained by unsubstantiated cries made by College students, however heartfelt and no matter the protection of their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

In 1833, Oberlin’s founders had at the core of their hearts, souls, and minds the supreme importance of fairness and justice — values which fueled their desire to end slavery, to be the first college to enroll students of color and women, and to be a model for progressivism. More importantly, in the intervening 200 years, the College has attained, arguably, a stature of excellence in academia, music, and social justice unsurpassed, in my opinion, by any other institution. Though the College’s tuition exceeds $50,000, for many years the College has offered free tuition to local students who have been accepted. Additionally, for the past 50 years, the College has provided free academic tutoring to prepare local children for college.

Koppel framed the segment around the question: “What is the fair price for a family’s good name? We should also ask: What is the fair price for a college’s? Do these accusations against Oberlin contradict or undermine its historical claims to championing such values, notwithstanding its brand of being fair and just, never mind what its founders had in mind?

 The shame or sadness isn’t that CBS and Ted Koppel’s answer might have been that the price is nothing. The surprise is that they may not have thought to ask it in the first place, except when Koppel asked it of President Carmen Twillie Ambar, seemingly as an afterthought and at a time and manner designed to strengthen the case for the Gibsons.

Koppel may remind us that a jury has already ruled in favor of the Gibsons, arguing that it is the Gibsons who have been wronged, not the College. Therefore, neither the College nor a journalist should have reason to ask the question about the protection of the College’s name. This argument discounts the importance of America’s appeal process and asks all to accept, say, the call of an umpire in baseball without considering what a slowmotion replay may show. Furthermore, just as CBS and Koppel did not present both sides for America to consider, the jury — which had at first been instructed not to take or use any notes at all during a trial lasting all day for a month — might likewise not have considered the College’s reputation for fairness and justice for all. It strains credulity to believe that the jury never thought about Gibson’s reputation — at the beginning or at any other time.

Though Koppel probably never intended to ask the question, “What is the fair price for damage done to Oberlin’s name?”, some viewers probably have, especially those who may have seen parts of the almost 4,000 pages of the court transcript. I join those who cannot yet determine who the clear winner is, preferring instead that the two sides reach a private settlement, which to date appears to be an everimpossible goal. I feel CBS and Ted Koppel deserve another chance to educate the public on the matter, which can best be done when Koppel returns to his approach that always enlightened or challenged viewers to think critically. Last Sunday he struck out, making it quite easy to favor the plaintiffs.

The Gibsons have indicated their intentions to ask for many millions of dollars more, even though Oberlin College, perhaps for the first time ever in 75 years, was not able to give its professors any raise at all for two straight years and has planned to reduce its vaunted Conservatory of Music enrollment by a whopping 100 students. Viewers need to know why Gibson’s lead attorney appeared, but not Oberlin’s; why Mr. Koppel couldn’t resist interrupting President Ambar unless one or the other was pushed for time; and other parts of Oberlin’s defense that weren’t included. This was not a fair and balanced presentation. But Babe Ruth struck out many times and returned to hit home runs. Ted Koppel can do the same.

 

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