Bernard Goldberg, Arrogance : Rescuing America From the Media Elite - Book Review

Book Classification : Journalism - Objectivity - Biased New Reporting - Television Networks - Mass Media

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Arrogance : Rescuing America From the Media Elite , by Bernard Goldberg
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Arrogance by Bernard Goldberg -- Please select a book edition to check the price ...
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Hardcover - 310 pages
First Edition, November 3, 2003
Published by Warner Books
ISBN 0-446-53191-X / ISBN 044653191X

Book Review and Editorial Opinion

In his most recent book, Arrogance , Bernard Goldberg continues to make his case that newspaper and television coverage of current events in the United States is distorted with a liberal bias.

Please refer to my review of Mr. Goldberg's previous book, Bias for the background information about how he came to find himself promoting this cause, and, in his view, ostracized.

Buy the book Arrogance : Rescuing America From the Media Elite by Bernard Goldberg

The author claims that the source of this media bias is that the on-air personalities think alike and assume that their common thinking is the fair position. He writes:

"What I and many others do believe, and what I think is fairly obvious, is that the majority of journalists in big newsrooms slant leftward in their personal politics, especially on issues like abortion, gay rights, and gun control; and so in their professional role they tend to assume those positions are reasonable and morally correct." [4]

"I have always argued that there is no formal media conspiracy -- because there is no need for one. The real problem, I have said, is liberal groupthink -- the idea that if everyone at all of the right Manhattan cocktial parties thinks guns should be banned, there's nothing more to be said on the subject. Being against guns becomes the noncontroversial, reasonable, civilized position." [191]

Goldberg does make minimal criticism of conservative news bias, but this is limited to one short remark about how Fox News Network covered the recent war in Iraq. "Personally, some of Fox News 'fair and balanced' coverage was a little too rah-rah, flag-waving for my taste. I didn't need to hear Shepard Smith refer to the Iraqi soldiers as 'the bad guys.' But the truth is, I can't get too worked up over it. Who would have been upset a generation ago if a reporter refered to the Nazis as 'the bad guys'?" [230] The author never raises the real issue, which that all reporters are abusing their position when they tell the public what is good and what is bad , after each of them was taught in journalism school that their job is to tell the public who, what, when and where, and leave all the opinion-forming up to the reader or viewer.

Goldberg continues his irritating habit of using the term "left-wing" to describe support for, or even news coverage of, "abortion, gay rights, and gun control" [4], as though such moderate and mainstream topics were in the same "left-wing" category as Marxism or anarchism. He calls those who put out the New York Times "left-wing ideologues". [54] There is much in society that Goldberg sees as ideological, e.g., he argues that "lifestyle" is a "liberal concept." [63]

In a few places, the author issues denials of specific claims of others. He denies that the media corporate executives manipulate the on-air personnel [54], and he denies that there is an unreasonable amount of racial profiling by police [117-119]. However, most of the book does not cite the assertions of others and proceed to argue against them, but instead focuses on anecdotes intended to show poor journalistic judgement.

He uses the preface to ridicule the position of those who feel that the media have a corporate bias, not a liberal one. He belittles them with such sarcasm as "my eyes are rolling" [11], and describes them as people who hope they might make a ludicrous position stick if they "say it enough times." [10]

Much of the book consists of the author and other conservatives slapping each other on the back and reaffirming each other's wisdom in uniting against the so-called liberal media. Chapter 1 begins immediately with Goldberg's attack on Dan Rather, with the supporting evidence consisting of opinion quotes from Andy Rooney. [22] The author has a dialogue with journalist Tom Russert, where they reinforcing each others' views, but introduce no new or specific information [78-85] Likewise, he shares sympathies with Tammy Bruce , formerly a N.O.W. activist and subsequently reborn as a conservative, who claims that the media have refused to give her enough publicity ever since she criticized Bill Clinton and O.J. Simpson [143-145]

Goldberg attempts to support his thesis by citing examples of what is not necessarily biased reporting, but, instead, sloppy and careless reporting. The two most obvious places where he does this are: (1) He cites cases in which newspapers and magazines at first gave incorrectly elevated statistics about anorexia and violence against women, although he notices that these media subsequently issued corrections [127, 131-134] (2) On January 16, 2002, a school shooting took place in Virginia. Goldberg criticizes the media for reporting how several students subdued the armed student until police could arrive, but not also reporting the fact that some of the students who did the subduing also possessed guns themselves. [185-187]

Goldberg inserts many small modules of anecdotal evidence into the book, without much explanation, if any, and expects the reader to find therein some support for his argument. For example, 'Barbara Walters, Guardian of Standards' is a chapter the length of which is one-half of one-page. It is intended to make some sort of point about the 20/20 anchor by justaposing two short quotes, and the author doesn't add any clarification of what he's trying to accomplish. In the first quote, Walters speaks in favor of "dignity and integrity". In the second quote, a homosexual celebrity being interviewed by Walters mentions that she has a satisfying sex life. [86] The relevancy to the author's thesis that the field of journalism is dominated by leftists is not at all clear.

There are three other short chapters with a similar paradoxical missions. They are entitled, 'What Liberal Media? Part 1' [124-126] followed later in the book by part 2 [163-164] and part 3 [197-199]. Here, various journalists are quoted making statements which are either liberal or what Goldberg imagines to be liberal. Some of these aren't claims of any kind, but simply questions. In one of these quotes, a reporter appearing on a talk show in 1997 asked why the quality of education tends to be poorer in schools attended predominantly by black students, and why so many black men are in prison. [125] In the author's mind, he is heaping on the evidence that a leftward bias pervades the career of journalism in America.

Goldberg has gone cherry-picking to find instances that he can cite. In January, 2001 it was revealed that Jesse Jackson had a child out of wedlock. [119] Goldberg criticizes the New York Times for "burying the story on page 21." [120]

Goldberg says two things that undermine his own thesis. One is that bias is inherent in "human nature" [5-6] If that is true, then it is inescapable, and it implies that the author would merely like to see some of the alleged liberal bias replaced by a larger dose of conservative bias. The other position of the author which contradicts his own thesis is that part of the news media bias is based on "what they don't cover." [14] or "what they choose not to report." [15] If this is the case, media bias is not leftist but solidly anti-leftist, since no network has ever televised, for example, a national convention of the Socialist Party, an exclusion that is hardly consistent with Goldberg's expressed goal of a "free and open exchange of ideas." [112]

The author complains that journalists display a "deep suspicion of America's military" [9] He fails to point out that, if such suspicion is a fault, then many of the nation's founders had the same fault. James Madison wrote in 1787, "In time of war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the executive magistrate. Constant apprehension of war has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force with an overgrown executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger have always been the instruments of tyranny at home."

Goldberg quotes Benjamin Franklin : "Our critics are our friends. They show us our faults." [295] Apparently, that advice is given mainly to those whose fault is that they're not conservative enough. He doesn't seem to think highly of protesters who try to be the nation's 'friends' by pointing out the nation's 'faults'. He calls them the people who "blame America first." [9]

Goldberg criticizes ABC News president David Westin for his reply "I don't have an opinion on that" when asked whether he thought the Pentagon was a "legitimate military target" on 9/11/2001. [200-201] The author doesn't drop the subject until page 217, making it one of the most lengthy discussions in the book. For all the words expended, he doesn't make room for the obvious, which is that, for all we can tell from Westin's short comment, he might have been speaking in either of two other contexts. (1) Westin might have been talking about the fact that journalists are there only to convey the news in the form of who, what, when and where, and are not there to tell the public what is or is not a "legitimate military target". (2) Westin might have been talking about the fact that terrorism is defined by the U.S. government as attack on civilians, therefore the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon may be better described as an assault by one army against another, rather than a terrorist incident.

The famous news footage of the 20 foot tall statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down in Baghdad was recorded on April 9, 2003. Goldbery criticizes editorializers who said that, when the U.S. Marines briefly covered the statue's head with a U.S. flag, that symbolic act was unwise and sent the wrong message. [227-228] He fails to note that those who criticized this use of the flag were doing so from the standpoint of the Bush administration's own position that it was vital to convey the message to the people of Iraq that the purpose of the invasion was liberation and not occupation. Goldberg doesn't realize that they were actually conservative editorials that he is citing, not liberal ones.

A three-page section where the reader is challenged to "match the angry celebrity with the offensive quotation" consists mainly of emotional anti-Bush quotes from entertainers. [218-220] However, on the very next page, Goldberg uses as much hyperbole as the hate-Bush crowd have used. He writes, "To be honest, there are times when I miss my old pals from network television. I miss how those well-educated, sophisticated correspondents, who would sell their children into prostitution if it meant getting more airtime, still root for each other -- to get hit by a bus." [221]

Although Goldberg ends the book by urging others in journalism to "stop taking it personally" when he points out their faults [295], he shows throughout the book that he takes it personally when they point out faults in his thesis. In chapter 3, he responds to bad reviews of his previous book with his own attacks on the critics [34]. As though the political debate were about him rather than analysis of the socioeconomic situation, he writes, "Maybe I shouldn't have called this book Arrogance . That only makes them angry. And if they get too angry, they'll never take me back." [221]

Goldberg makes two points that are logically sound, and for these he deserves recognition. Both points have to do with racial equality, and are presented closely together in the book. In the first, Goldberg shows that the media have largely failed to give coverage to those who believe it's time to move ahead to a color-blind society, and to discontinue the consideration of race in hiring and college admissions. [106] On this subject, he sites one organization where he sees this group-think taking root: "Indeed, based on its public agenda, the American Society of Newspaper Editors might think about changing its name to the American Society of Racial Bean Counters." [104] The other point is that certain reporters failed in their duty in several cases when black suspects, sought in connection with hate crimes [113-114] and rape cases [116], were still at large. The reporters, fearing the charge of racism, declined to indicate the suspects' color, although putting out descriptions of the suspects might have helped the police to apprehend them. Goldberg's error here is to describe such media tendencies as 'liberal' or 'leftist', which are designations from political theory which mean something specific and are not general synonyms for either 'unfair' or 'incompetent'.

As for factual accuracy, the book doesn't contain any serious errors, but a few minor ones. The author misspells the last name of Alan Colmes in two of the three times he writes it [correctly on 232, but incorrectly as "Combs" on 151, 303].

The book closes with a 63-page section [237-295] proposing "Twelve Steps" to cure the media of their liberal bias. The publisher is promoting this feature as something new which goes beyond the content of Goldberg's previous book. The back cover of the newer book says: " Bias identified the problem. Arrogance offers a solution." In fact, these Twelve Steps are merely the same content as the previous book, with the syntax reworded to take the form of imperatives. Step 3 is a recommendation to establish "a newsroom that thinks like America" [248] Step 11 advises journalists to "expand your Rolodex" [280] by adding contacts in such conservative causes as the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the National Right to Life Committee.

Book review by M. Lepore for

Hardcover; 10-page 2-column index; no illustrations.

Arrogance : Rescuing America From the Media Elite by Bernard Goldberg
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