The time was March 1986, the place was a Beijing hotel room, and 22-year-old Andrea Koppel was a nervous wreck, bracing herself to break important news to her parents back in Maryland: She was quitting her first real job, as a translator, to try to make it as a reporter. “I was going over and over what I wanted to say and how they were going to react,” recalls Koppel, now 39. The response came in resonant tones known to millions.
“It’s not going to be easy,” said her father, Nightline anchor Ted Koppel.
But wouldn’t the name alone get her past many a rude receptionist? Perhaps, but as Ted, 63, points out, “No matter where she went, she was going to be Ted Koppel’s daughter. She had to create a reputation of her own. She had to become Andrea.”
And she did. The hard way, slogging up from a local South Carolina radio station—first story: How to get your car inspected—to CNN’s State Department correspondent, a key post as the nation worries about war in Iraq, nukes in North Korea and terror at home. She has broken major stories, such as Iraq’s decision to allow U.N. weapons inspectors back into the country, and she landed an exclusive with Secretary of State Colin Powell after the inspectors’ second report. “We all pay attention when she comes on to see what everybody else is going to start calling us about,” says State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. “Andrea is a classic workhorse, not a show horse,” notes Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz.
Blunter—if less objective—analysis comes from an old hand who used to pound her beat. “I’m glad I’m not still covering the State Department for ABC, because she’d kick my butt,” says her father. “She doesn’t take no for an answer.” Koppel admits to a certain obsessiveness. “I always want to be first,” she says. “If it takes an extra phone call at night and first thing in the morning, I’ll do it.”
Nothing in her early life suggested such a bent for the family business. Born in Manhattan, she was the oldest child of Ted and his wife, Grace Ann, 63, an attorney (Deirdre, 37, is a TV producer, Andrew, 33, a lawyer and Tara, 31, a marketing exec). For her first eight years Koppel was a journalism brat, moving around the world as her father changed assignments. Settling eventually in Potomac, Md., Koppel longed to be a veterinarian. “Then I realized,” she says, “I’d have to go through eight more years of math and science.” After studying Chinese at Middlebury College in Vermont, she took that job as translator in Beijing—which led to the phone call with her parents. “She said, ‘The only people having fun here are journalists,’ ” Ted recalls. ” ‘How do I go about doing that?’ I said, ‘Start at the bottom.’ ”
That would be WLTR, a public radio station in Columbia, S.C. Koppel later moved to TV in Baltimore and Miami and then, in 1993, to CNN. As for fun, she says, few assignments top covering Colin Powell. Once, she recalls, he came to the back of a plane and began crooning ABBA tunes to the press. “He sang ‘Dancing Queen,’ ” says Koppel, adding diplomatically, “He might not be ready for Broadway.”
Koppel’s reportage has also paid personal dividends. One of her best sources was Iraq expert Ken Pollack; they wed in May 2001 and share a house in D.C. Author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, Pollack, 37, was smitten the first time he saw her on TV: “I remember thinking, ‘Ted Koppel’s daughter is a cutie!’ ”
That phrase again. “It’s pretty much followed me most of my career: ‘Koppel, like Ted?’ ” she admits. But she has made peace with her pedigree: “Now I just say, ‘Look at the nose!’ ”
Macon Morehouse in Washington, D.C.