It is no secret that liberal media bias exists. However, after reading Bernard Goldberg’s Bias, I am convinced that many reporters are simply forgetting what their job is: to report news in an objective and unbiased manner. As a result, many Americans, including myself, have diminishing trust in the news.
While Goldberg’s opening chapter initially makes him come off as a bitter ex-CBS news correspondent, comparing the mafia to the media (with “no disrespect to the mafia”) and referring to CBS news producers as “Dan [Rather]’s bitches”, he makes a valid point – many of them.
In Goldberg’s controversial op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal in February 1996, appropriately titled “Networks Need a Reality Check”, he didn’t just open the door to expose the “elephant in the room”, that is, liberal media bias. Goldberg audaciously busted down the door, calling out his own employer, CBS, and “longtime friend” Eric Engberg on his heavily biased report of Steve Forbes’ flat tax, in which he reported it as “wacky”.
If it is so wrong of Engberg, or any reporter for that matter, to present such a report filled with personal opinions, then why is it aired in the first place? Why didn’t Engberg’s editors step in? Goldberg proposes that they simply cannot recognize such bias. He says, “We don’t sit around in dark corners and plan strategies on how we’re going to slant the news. We don’t have to. It comes naturally to most reporters.” To any American citizen that pays any attention to the news, this is a frightening reality, and the very root of our distrust in the news.
Another subject that struck me dumbfounded was the industry insider pointing out that network news “steals just about everything from print.” I have learned through my studies that journalists are supposed to present unbiased articles and readers can derive from them their own opinions. It is a news reporter’s job to deliver straight news. Goldberg gives examples of news reports that not only slant the news, but present the biased opinions coming from various newspapers. In the case of Forbes’ proposed flat tax, Goldberg says that if newspapers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times oppose the flat tax, networks like CBS and NBC “can’t and won’t be far behind.” Television networks don’t know what to think of something until a newspaper tells them what to think.
In October, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan accused liberal media bias of affecting their campaign form the very start. In an article for the Christian Science Monitor, op-ed contributor Joel Brinkley says that while Romney and Ryan have a “valid point”, in his thirty-plus years in the industry, he has never experienced an editor allowing a biased story to appear in print or on air. “Never once during all of that time did any editor ever approach me or any other reporter I knew and request a partisan change to a story,” he says. “The only instruction of that sort editors do offer is to make sure a story is not improperly tilted in one direction or another and therefore unbalanced or unfair.” The Pulitzer Prize winner recalls the time when journalism experienced a major revolution, changing journalists’ mission to “uncover wrongdoing and bring positive change.” I understand Brinkley to be correct, as it is a journalist’s job to serve the public by exposing the truth, but I was not sure what to make of his next statement. He says, “Isn’t that actually the original definition of a liberal? So haven’t most of us in the media, almost inadvertently, fallen into that camp?” Is Brinkley calling all journalists liberals? Would that be excusing them of their slanted reports? Although a UCLA study showed that “of the 20 major media outlets studied, 18 scored left of center”, this does not excuse liberal bias, or any bias for that matter. As Michael Gartner, former newspaper editor and president of NBC News, said in USA Today, “Taking sides isn’t good journalism. Taking care is.”
What seems to be the problem is that, according to Goldberg, “the sophisticated media elites don’t categorize their beliefs as liberal but as simply the correct way to look at things.” If Goldberg and Brinkley ever had a discussion about this topic, I imagine that Goldberg would point out that what Brinkley says about journalists essentially being liberals is parallel to what Goldberg says in his book about elite journalists’ inability to relate to everyday Americans. He says that because these elite journalists’ “friends are liberals, just as they are”, having the same beliefs on big social issues, “they start to believe that all civilized people think the same way they and their friends do.” They rarely surround themselves with peers of dissimilar values. In effect, liberal bias isn’t just a result of opposition to conservatives, but the fact that journalists “see them as morally deficient.”
One of the best parts of Bias is the sample of supportive responses from other reporters and people in the news industry. Many industry insiders of Goldberg’s caliber and higher offered their congrats and bravo’s and the occasional, “I hope you don’t lose your job!” Herbert Russell, the president of CBS news, wrote to Goldberg and credits liberal bias in television networks to spurring the “revitalization of radio”. He adds, “Rush Limbaugh would have never have become the success he has if the firm of Rather, Brokaw, and Jennings had done its job.”
Bias has opened my eyes to the good, bad, and ugly in the world of journalism and news, a field that I hope to dive into someday. However, I can only hope that the media might take Goldberg’s criticism seriously and use it constructively to gain back Americans’ trust in the news. For the time being, my feelings toward the media and news people are accurately summed up in Goldberg’s statement: “It’s scary to think that so many important people who bring Americans the news can be so delusional.”
Taylor Giancarlo, December 2012