IT’S BEEN VASTLY entertaining watching liberal pundits break into fits of apoplexy over Bernard Goldberg’s new book, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News. When the subject of media bias is brought up, liberals, like wearers of adult diapers, lose all control. They start to resemble ranting sufferers of Tourette’s Disease. A case in point is Michael Kinsley’s recent review in the Washington Post. Eschewing all subtly, Kinsley calls Goldberg "remarkably dense" and his book "dumb." Not to be outdone in the ad hominem department, movie and TV critic Tom Shales goes truly ballistic, christening Goldberg a "full-time addlepated windbag," and his book a "hate campaign."
To paraphrase Shakespeare, "Methinks they doth protest too much."
For the uninitiated, Bernard Goldberg is a veteran broadcast journalist and former reporter for CBS News, where he won seven Emmy awards for his reporting and worked closely with Dan Rather. His book, Bias, which has steadily inched its way up the bestseller lists, is a full-frontal attack on the leftward tilt of the major news networks, notably CBS, ABC, and NBC. It chronicles his three-decades-long experience as a reporter for CBS, and relates his battles with a corporate news culture that is unbelievably close-minded and has sacrificed journalistic integrity for received liberal wisdom.
Goldberg’s thesis is simple and straightforward. He argues that media bias is not a conspiracy; it is not a conscious effort to be "tough" on Republicans and "soft" on Democrats. Rather, it is a culture-wide phenomenon in which liberal assumptions are so much taken for granted by so many people, that those assumptions are rarely – if ever – questioned. In simple terms, the news media broadcast stories that confirm their own worldview. And, because the vast majority of reporters and journalists are liberals and leftists, many of the stories they broadcast are slanted to the left. For liberals like Kinsley and Shales, such a thesis is, of course, anathema. Liberal bias is something that liberals cannot – and will never – admit. To do so would be to betray the entire liberal ethos they hold so dear.
This may sound far-fetched. But bear with me.
Liberals have long viewed themselves as opponents of the "Establishment," brave, iconoclastic rebels locked in battle with the repressive powers-that-be. They pride themselves on standing up for the "little guy," comforting the despised and downtrodden, and fighting the "good fight" against racists, sexists, homophobes, and bigots of all stripes.
In the last thirty or so years, however, liberals have ascended to heights previously unimagined. No longer are they rebels, mavericks, or outsiders trying to find a place at the political and cultural table. They are, in fact, the new "Establishment." Liberals now occupy many of society’s most powerful and influential positions, particularly positions in academia, entertainment, law, and the news media. In journalism, moreover, liberals are so vastly over-represented that they have a virtual lock on opinion-making. (This was one of the reasons, for example, the conservative Fox News Channel was created – to compete with the liberal media). Most importantly, though, liberal assumptions form the new intellectual orthodoxy. As Thomas Sowell points out in his excellent book, The Vision of the Anointed, liberalism is the prevailing intellectual paradigm among modern America’s intellectual and political elite. He adds: "This vision so permeates the media and academia…that many grow into adulthood unaware that there is any other way of looking at things…"
Despite liberalism’s pervasiveness, the image of the rebel continues to resonate with many of today’s liberals. Many believe they are still fighting a repressive "Establishment," still "speaking truth to power," still confronting the "evils" of capitalism. And, in their own minds, still lonely and maligned voices "calling in the wilderness" (even fully tenured left-wing professors earning a cool six-figure income). In many respects, however, they are in dialogue with themselves. Their opinions and assumptions are now so commonplace that the contemporary counterculture, ironically, is made up of individuals holding conservative opinions.
All this obviously causes a dilemma for liberals – a dilemma that goes to the heart of their philosophical underpinnings. How can self-respecting liberals pose as political and cultural rebels when, in fact, they are part of the "Establishment?" And, as members of this new "Establishment," how can they justify their heavy-handed dismissal of opposing viewpoints? Wasn’t this something that, as political outsiders, they claimed to have fought so hard against? But, most importantly, how can self-respecting liberals be true to their ideals – such as a purported openness to all viewpoints and the promotion of intellectual diversity – while simultaneously allowing their own prejudices and ideological biases to color what is supposed to be objective reporting and, in effect, censor opinions with which they disagree? Indeed, what could be worse for a liberal – who claims to be guided by the principles of fairness, justice, and tolerance – than to be accused of hypocrisy, double standards, and censorship?
The best (or most cowardly) way to deal with this dilemma is to ignore it altogether. Rather than hold the subject open to honest debate (and try to find out why so many people believe the media are biased), liberals choose the intellectually lazy path: Deny the existence of liberal bias and ridicule anyone who happens to think otherwise. This is exactly the tactic critics like Kinsley and Shales employ. Dispensing with any attempt at intellectual honesty, they characterize liberal bias as a figment in the paranoid minds of right-wingers to discredit any and all journalism. This is why Shales can so blithely call liberal bias an "old canard," without ever engaging in honest debate (or, in fact, ever explaining why he thinks liberal bias is a canard). It also explains why they can so easily level colorful invective at Goldberg.
In truth, liberal bias exists. It is widespread and destructive of journalistic integrity. Several studies and polls (notably by the Roper Center, the Center for Media and Public Affairs, and the Media Research Center) have documented the lopsided, left-leaning nature of the news media. Goldberg’s book is simply an insider’s attempt to document, via anecdotes, what these polls and studies have shown (and what many, many Americans believe). Nonetheless, liberals like Kinsley and Shales, and others, will continue to ignore these facts and, indeed, ridicule anyone hapless to bring up the subject. An honest airing of this debate is simply not in their lexicon. But insults and ridicule are.