Journalist Ted Koppel leads talk at Bryan Series

Journalist Ted Koppel speaks at the Greensboro Coliseum as a Bryan Series speaker on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.//Photo by Julia Martins de Sa/The Guilfordian

Telling jokes, personal stories and hard truths, broadcast journalist and author Ted Koppel spoke to the audience of the Guilford Bryan Series on Feb. 20 at the Greensboro Coliseum.

“Ted is one of the most trusted and revered voices on current events and issues of global importance,” said President of Guilford Jane Fernandes as she introduced Koppel.

Koppel opened his talk by telling a personal anecdote about former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

“(Kissinger) came back and put one leg up on the seat next to me,” said Koppel. “It immediately became clear to me that the secretary of state had forgotten to zip his fly.”

Koppel then delved into more serious topics.

His presentation focused on the U.S.’s vulnerability to a cyberattack, which he wrote about in his 2016 book, “Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath.”

Currently the U.S. only has three power grids. According to Koppel, an attack on one of the U.S. power grids could leave millions of Americans without power for weeks to months.

“I’m here to tell you there are a number of countries who are well positioned to do so,” said Koppel. “If it’s any comfort to you, we also have the power to do it to them.”

Koppel compared this threat to the concept of “mutually assured destruction” during the Cold War. However, he also recognized that there are differences between the two threats.

“The great difference between a nuclear attack and a cyberattack is cyberattacks are well-concealed,” said Koppel.

Koppel’s presentation also discussed the role of the media today.

When he first became a journalist, a policy called the Fairness Doctrine required networks to present both sides of an argument. In 1987, the doctrine was removed. Koppel believes that many networks today are subjective.

“Give the American public the information that it needs to have in order to run a country, a democracy where the electorate needs to be well informed,” said Koppel. “The quality of news programs has gone down. The quantity has gone up.”

After his speech, Koppel answered questions from the audience which were moderated by Ty Buckner, associate vice president of alumni constituent relations.

Koppel also came to speak to students on campus in Founders Hall earlier in the afternoon. Students from Guilford’s journalism, history and cyber security classes got the chance to ask Koppel questions directly.

Lucas Wakefield, a cyber and network security and computing technology and information systems double major, came to the event because of his interest in the possibility of a cyberattack.

“I’m not saying we should all go off the grid, but I do recognize that it has vulnerabilities,” said Wakefield. “His book was very interesting to me, the idea of pointing out one big vulnerability in our power grid, which is what we use for everything.”

Koppel was the second to last speaker in the Bryan Series this season. The final event, held on April 10, will feature Brandon Stanton, a photographer made famous by his blog, “Humans of New York.” Stanton’s talk will be held at the Coliseum at 7:30 p.m.