Bashir to co-host prestigious news show for ABC TV

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Bashir will be one of three presenters taking over from Ted Koppel, the legendary, square-jawed host of Nightline on ABC - the closest thing on American network television to the BBC's Newsnight.

Koppel, one of the last icons of excellence in broadcast journalism in the US, is retiringafter 25 years. His last day will be 22 November, the symbolically weighty anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination.

The choice of Bashir - who will co-host with two American presenters, Cynthia McFadden and Terry Moran - is a vindication of his sometimes controversial ability to gain very close access to public figures and coax them into revealing more about themselves than perhaps they bargained for.

His documentary on the world's weirdest pop star, Living With Michael Jackson, caused an international sensation when it aired in February 2003 because the star talked openly about his habit of sharing his bed with young male guests at his Neverland ranch.

The broadcast effectively torpedoed what was left of Jackson's dwindling music career and led directly to this year's epic criminal trial in which the singer was accused, and subsequently acquitted, of molesting a young guest who appeared in the film.

Bashir himself was the first prosecution witness called in the case, and spent an uncomfortable couple of hours attempting to answer as few questions as possible. Asked about his credentials, he explained that he began his career at the BBC, only to have the prosecutor, Tom Sneddon, ask him: "What's the BBC?"

It is probably safe to say that Jackson will not be a fan of the new Nightline line-up, which will be the first time a British journalist has hosted a high-profile US news show. His lawyers described the Bashir documentary as a "betrayal" and a "travesty of the truth" and accused the film-maker of breaking agreements he made with their client about what he could expect.

Bashir has ruffled feathers before, gaining a reputation as something of a sharp operator when it comes to securing access to his subjects and inducing them to open up. The interview with Diana, in which the Princess of Wales opened up about her disastrous marriage to Prince Charles, was overshadowed by accusations that he had made false representations to the Princess's brother, Earl Spencer.

ABC says that it hired Bashir, who is 42, for Nightline because it felt his skills were not being fully exploited in his current job, with another current affairs programme called 20/20. It was no doubt helpful that a long-standing friend of his, James Goldston, was recently appointed executive editor at Nightline.

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