Fox's Wallace to counter Ted Koppel's `The Fallen'

May 07, 2004|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

On Sunday, Fox News' Chris Wallace plans to counter what he says is the anti-war message that emerged from last Friday's Nightline, which devoted 40 minutes to reading the names of more than 700 U.S. troops who have died in Iraq since the invasion last year.

Nightline anchor Ted Koppel expressly disavowed any political intent. But Wallace, a former ABC News correspondent who used to substitute for Koppel on the show, says he was offended by the tribute, called "The Fallen."

"I take Ted at his word that he did not intend it as a rating stunt or to be an anti-war statement, but I think it became that way," Wallace said yesterday. "It just seemed to me wrong that the best way to pay tribute to the troops is to simply list the people who died, without saying what they were fighting for."

Wallace said a five-minute segment on his weekly political talk show, Fox News Sunday, will "give an accounting of all we've accomplished there" - such as ending the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, building infrastructure, creating schools.

Jeffrey Schneider, an ABC News spokesman, responded: "Nightline has been providing context to `The Fallen' for more than a year-and-a-half, having reported vigorously on the buildup to war, the war itself and the aftermath - reports which a certain former ABC News correspondent knows provided context because he actually participated in them." (Wallace left ABC for Fox last fall.)

When ABC first announced plans for last Friday's Nightline, some critics accused the network of a ploy to grab ratings during a key "sweeps" period. Baltimore County-based Sinclair Broadcast Group, which strongly supports President Bush, declared that the program represented anti-war rhetoric, not news.

Sinclair and Piedmont Television, based in North Carolina, pulled the show from their ABC stations. Locally, Nightline aired in Baltimore on WMAR. As ABC decided not to run any national ads with the program, its ratings will not be tabulated officially. Wallace's show is scheduled to air Sunday at 9 a.m. on WBFF-TV, Sinclair's flagship station.

Wallace said he was skeptical of the Nightline tribute - executive producer Leroy Sievers said he was inspired by a 1969 Life magazine issue that listed a week's combat dead in Vietnam and became a rallying cry for some anti-war activists. Wallace also pointed to the show's timing, on the eve of the anniversary of Bush's flight onto the deck of an aircraft carrier that had a banner reading: "Mission Accomplished."

"Obviously, this is a tough week to talk about the successes" of the war and occupation, Wallace said, adding that the show would include discussion of the revelations of abuses of Iraqis at American-run prisons.

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