Hardcover - 232 pages
First Edition, December 2001
Regnery Publishing, Inc.
ISBN 0-7862-4168-3 / 0895261901
Bias , by Bernard Goldberg
takes on "The News Mafia," as the author calls them
(title of Chapter 1) for their law of silence. If you reveal to
the public the media's secret about their "liberal
bias", you will no longer have a future as a member of the
family. Despite his beginning with a turgid analogy between the
media and the Mafia, Goldberg goes on to clarify that he does not
charge network management or reporters with conducting any sort of
conspiracy. Instead, he argues, they use "leftist"
phrases unconsciously, and they are lazily unaware that a culture
of group-think has crystallized in the news bureaus.
Goldberg's thesis is that, "as everyone who
lives between Manhattan and Malibu knows, there is a leftward tilt
on the big three evening newscasts." [Wall Street Journal
5/24/01, reprinted on page 220] The author uses such exaggerations
frequently. "Everyone to the right of Lenin is a
'right-winger' -- as far as the media elites are
concerned...." [page 13]
Although I disagree diametrically with Goldberg's
viewpoint (I feel that broadcast media content, including the
news, is often biased in favor of the political right), I feel
vicarious satisfaction with the author's success in taking on the
self-appointed news oligarchy.
Bernard Goldberg, now a sports reporter for HBO,
worked at CBS News from 1972 to 2000. He got his start in
journalism after graduating from Rutgers in 1967 and taking a job
with the Associated Press. He proved himself to CBS after going
to work in 1969 for network affiliate WTVJ in Miami. In 1972 CBS
hired him to work at the network's Atlanta news bureau. But
Goldberg became best known as a correspondent from 1981-1988 for
the news anchored by Dan Rather. [51-52]
How did it recently come to pass that Bernard
Goldberg has lost many of his old friendships, while quickly
hardcover nonfiction bestsellers list
Goldberg assumed the role of a whistle-blower on
February 13, 1996 when the Wall Street Journal published his
Op. Ed. editorial [reprinted in
in Appendix A, pages 215-218] In that article he asserted that TV
news has a liberal bias. Overnight and thereafter, according to
Goldberg, Dan Rather regarded him as a "traitor"
(the author's characterization), although Rather hadn't
been singled out by name in the article.
After Goldberg left CBS, in a second WSJ Op. Ed. on
May 24, 2001 [pages 220-223], he named Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and
Peter Jennings as culprits. His critique hit harder than before.
He concluded, "So Dan and Tom and Peter: Stop telling us
that we're the problem and start thinking about what liberal bias
really means." 
Goldberg then wrote
to explain his thesis. By then, CBS, ABC, and NBC were treating
him as an invisible man. As recently as February of 2002, by
which time the newly-released book had already hit #2 on
the New York Times bestsellers list for hardcover nonfiction
(which would seem to indicate that his viewpoint strikes a
resonant chord with the public), the staffs of the Big Three
networks no longer permitted the mention his name, never mind
inviting him in for an author interview.
Goldberg defends his hypothesis adequately only for
those readers who believe that the left to right span of the
political spectrum is defined easily by pro or con positions on
the customarily mentioned test issues: gun control, prayer in
public school, legal abortions, the death penalty, affirmative
action . But this premise itself, that positioning from the
left to the right refers to an identifiable index of the usual
indicators, is taken as an axiom; the author doesn't feel a need
to defend it. Should he encounter someone who doesn't fit neatly
into the simplistic formula, for example, a school prayer advocate
who supports affirmative action, Goldberg's method of classifying
people along the political spectrum must collapse.
Elsewhere, Goldberg makes points that I can't
dispute. He cites an occasion in 1996 when CBS aired a panel
discussion about a conservative proposal to replace progressive
taxes with a flat tax. Three guests were invited, all three of
them opposed to the proposal. [15-19] Since it is inconceivable
that the network was unable to find one supporter of the proposal
who would have been willing to participate, the bias in chairing
the discussion is evident. Goldberg is right.
However, he fails to mention that the media
frequently broadcast discussions in which the more conservative
views are permitted to monopolize, e.g., discussions of military
strategy to which no pacifist has been invited. The author,
therefore, places himself in the position of battling news media
injustices, while limit his focus only to battling those
injustices imposed on "our side."
Goldberg replies largely on anecdotal evidence for
support of his proposition, a method which which every logician
knows can only illustrate a point but can never prove it.
Bias : A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News , by Bernard Goldberg
"USA Today columnist Juliane Malveaux
says of Clarence Thomas, 'I hope his wife feeds him a lot of eggs
and butter and he dies early like many black men do of heart
disease,' and she gets invited back on TV talk shows all the
"If Robert Novak, the conservative columnist
and CNN commentator, had said, 'I hope Jesse Jackson's wife feeds
him a lot of eggs and butter and he dies early like many black
men do of heart disease,' he's rightly be seen as a nasty
right-wing nut and compared to the Grand Wizard of the KKK.
"Newsweek's Evan Thomas cavalierly
calls Paula Jones 'some sleazy woman with big hair coming out
of the trailer parks,' and he is seen as a pundit instead of a
liberal elitist snob.
"Can anyone in his right mind really imagine a
conservative journalist of Evan Thomas's stature ridiculing a
not-too-sophisticated, not-too-educated, young black or Hispanic
woman, as someone 'with big hair coming out of the ghetto'?"
[From pages 184-185]
Consider the author's accounts of remarks in bad
taste which have been made by some journalists and commentators,
after which he invites the reader to imagine the outrage which
would have followed, had the remark targeted a different
population group. (See the adjacent excerpt.)
I'm looking in vain for the relevance of this topic
to the promise in the book's subtitle that the author will
illuminate "how the media distort the news,"
and more specifically, toward the liberal direction.
If I know what the words "conservative" and
"liberal" mean, and my degrees are in electrical
engineering, then an experienced journalist like Goldberg should
know what the words mean. These terms are not best understood by
the matter of at whom one chooses to sling ad hominem
In fact, these words have very little to do with
one's positions on specific public issues, such as welfare
or taxes or affirmative action.
The words "conservative" and
"liberal" have to do with one's attitude about the
acceptability of the process of reform itself. A conservative is
one who believe that existing political and economic institutions,
whatever they might be, should not be reformed too drastically, as
they seem to function rather well already, and too many reforms
might rock the boat. A liberal is one who asserts that our
political and economic institutions will not function well enough
unless they are reformed, and therefore we should get over our
apprehensions about rocking the boat, and feel free to make plenty
There may be conservative or liberal bias in news
reporting by the mass media. If so, the primary way to identify
such bias would be to recognize occasions in which reporters, by
which events they select to report, or how they present them,
inject their own opinions that our political and economic systems
work too well to be tinkered with substantially (that would be
conservative bias) or that our systems work so deficiently that
reforms are essential (that would be liberal bias).
Were we to adopt Goldberg's method, we'd be off on
the tangent of tallying up the number of times that editors permit
various media personalities to get away with flinging personal
insults at various demographic groups.
"Liberal Hate-Speech" is the title of
Chapter 12  (Some of the comments cited in the book were
heard in private conversations.) In providing "some of the
more noteworthy examples"  Goldberg includes a remark
that Dan Rather made on KOA radio in 1995 -- "Now,
respectfully, when you start talking about a liberal agenda and
all the, quote 'liberal bias' in the media, I quite frankly, and I
say this respectfully but candidly to you, I don't know what
you're talking about."  Is this supposed to be an
example of "liberal hate-speech"?!
Then there's the matter of jokes that are in bad
taste. When Harry Smith of CBS interviewed actor Dennis Quaid
about the latter's portrayal of a philandering husband in a movie,
the news man made the observation that "most men are
putzes." (The word means 'penises.') Goldberg reminds
us that an analogous reference to a woman would not be tolerated.
[132-133] And there was the time Katie Couric of NBC asked a bride
who had been dumped at altar whether she had "considered
castration as an option."  Had a male media personality
made a joke about cutting off a woman's body part, the network,
Goldberg observes, would be promptly "cutting off his
Here I'm still waiting to see some evidence of
liberal bias in news reporting. Why are these anecdotes, which
are neither about the news, nor about reporting, nor even remotely
related to the political theory called liberalism, included in the
Sufficiently buried in the book, we can find
something relevant. Goldberg gets around to the matter of which
events reporters choose to cover. Since events are infinite in
number, and the time and space available to reporters and reports
are necessarily limited, reporters and editors can't cover
everything. Perhaps, in the choices of which events are judged to
be newsworthy, we will find our evidence of bias in news
reporting. It's certainly the best place to start looking.
The author notes that the news has been covering the
issue of estranged fathers who refuse to pay child support, but
these same media have decided to ignore news about men falsely
accused of being deadbeat fathers. The law docked John Johnson's
paycheck even after he proved that he was a different person who
coincidently had the same name as the John Johnson whom they had
sought. [138-140] A court ruled that Tony Jackson has to pay
until the baby reaches the age of 18, even though DNA testing has
proven that his former girlfriend's child is not his. [139-141]
The news media wanted to ignore these cases.
Goldberg is right if he's criticizing the media
either for being inept or for using bad judgment. He's wrong in
calling it "liberal bias." Remember, liberalism is the
political theory that the degree of imperfection of our
institutions makes it become necessary promptly to reform them.
How is it to be termed the "liberal" viewpoint to be
tolerant of cases in which the government tramples on the civil
liberties of two of its male citizens? On the contrary, it is
liberal of Goldberg to take up these two men's cases.
Goldberg attends the right ballpark but drops the
ball. To prove his hypothesis, he rightly studies the issue of
which event reporters cover and which they neglect. However, he
cites these journalistic omissions, adds the fact that it has
become popular lately to use the word "liberal" as a
general-purpose dirty word for anything that one considers unjust,
and his syllogism is complete -- the news media are
Bernard Goldberg ignores the obvious conservative
tendencies in news reporting. For example, TV journalists call
foreign militants "freedom fighters" if the U.S.
government gives them aid, but calls them guerrillas and war-lords
if the US government doesn't give them aid. The reporters told us
that the people of Kuwait were "now free" and
"liberated" when that nation's monarch was returned to
his throne, along with his regime that outlaws all opposition
parties and labor unions. The reporters on the TV news use the
phrase "those who support the troops" to refer to those
who agree with the government's decision to deploy troops, as
though the opinion that such deployment is unwise were the same as
not having fond feelings for American soldiers.
Media coverage of nonsense is also a conservative
tactic, as it distracts public attention from proposals to make
social changes. The media lull the populace with the ancient
Roman formula of bread and circuses. The daily report about
"the upturn in the strength of the economy" are the
official promises of bread. Coverage of politicians' sex
scandals, and every meaningless move made by Hollywood
celebrities, is the circus. The nonsensical preempts coverage of
social problems that go unsolved, many of these problems, at
best, being cyclical in their limited range from the very bad to
the extremely bad.
No doubt, if we delete from the record all examples
of conservative bias in the news, what will remain can only be
either objectivity or liberal bias. One can "prove"
anything by truncating the data. I could prove to you that all
warm-blooded animals have feathers, if I may first delete all
mention of mammals, so that we will consider only the birds.
Goldberg draws his conclusions from truncated data.
Elsewhere, Goldberg is quick to assume that
statistics speak for themselves, when in fact the conclusions are
not so easily made. Citing a 1985 nationwide survey by Los
Angeles Times, he points out that "23 percent of the public
said they were liberal; 55 percent of the journalists described
themselves as liberal."  Similarly, quoting the research
reported in the March 2000 issue of Brill's Content
magazine, "Seventy four percent of Republicans believe that
most journalists are more liberal than they are.... Perhaps
more surprisingly, Democrats also perceive the liberal media tilt:
47 percent believe that most journalists are more liberal than
they are...." 
Some people who scan these statistics will, like
Goldberg, conclude readily that journalists both possess and
display a liberal bias. Others will draw a different conclusion.
They may feel that the the numbers constitute a defense not only
of the liberal journalists but of liberalism itself; that is,
one's having chosen a career as a journalist is correlated with
one being a college-educated person who makes a lifetime study of
current events and their historical background, thus vindicating
both the liberal journalists and their views. Clearly, the raw
data do not speak for themselves; they are subject to
interpretation. After putting up the numbers, Goldberg is too
hasty to rest his case.
I'm hard pressed to draw any conclusions at all from
some of the data presented. For example, Nielsen Media Research
has found that TV program ratings would differ if we were to rank
them separately for black and white viewers, instead of using a
single average. For the second quarter of 1999, the program that
came in first place for black viewers, The Steve Harvey
Show, ranked at 150 for whites, and the show in first place
for white viewers, Frasier, ranked at 105 for blacks.
[148-149] Psychologists and sociologists may find something
interesting to do with these figures, but as for how they might
lend any support to the author's thesis that network news
reporting has a liberal bias, I don't have a clue. Around this
data was wrapped the anecdote of some NAACP activists who accused
the networks of not hiring enough minority actors; knowing this, I
still don't find the connection. An author who presents a thesis
bears a burden of proof. The lawyer is waving his hands
mysteriously in front of the jury.
Goldberg has well composed his documentation that
media magnates and their appointees are sometimes unfair and
sometimes incompetent in their presentation of the news. He has
failed to present any evidence that the character of this trend is
best described as bias toward "left" or
"liberal" points of view. His agenda of getting off
his chest about how angry he is at Dan Rather might have
remained in his personal wordprocessor instead of being
inserted into the manuscript.
Opinion by Mike Lepore, editor for crimsonbird.com