Bernie non grata

Saturday, January 5, 2002

$$$Start

From The Wall Street Journal

There are certain facts of life so long obvious they would seem beyond dispute. One of these -- that there is a liberal tilt in the media that shapes news coverage and dictates, all too often, what can and can't be said on the air or in print -- continues to provoke hot denials and even rage. Ask Bernard Goldberg, longtime "CBS Evening News" correspondent, who had the temerity, a few years back, to speak the obvious in public and cite examples from his own news organization.

For this he would become, overnight, persona non grata at CBS News -- the object of dismissive reflections on his state of mind and none too subtle insinuations, from CBS insiders, that the correspondent's observations sprang from something strange and twisted in his character. Today, Mr. Goldberg's newly published book on the slanting of the news -- "Bias" -- is flying off the shelves and headed, this coming weekend, to sixth place on The New York Times best-seller list.

That Americans should be buying up Mr. Goldberg's book faster than stores can stock it ought to worry TV executives as a symptom of a deeper commercial problem. For those who have spent any time watching network news, there is nothing the least bit strange in the proposition that a political bias shapes the coverage. This is something viewers have known for a long time and a prime reason so much of the once-hefty network news audience has fled to cable. In 1994, 51 percent of the nation's TV sets were tuned into CBS, NBC or ABC for the evening news. In 1997, viewership was down to 49 percent, and by the summer of 2001, it was down to 43 percent.

It is no accident that Fox News, which has emphatically staked its fortunes on its identity as an organization that delivers news straight, without tilting left or right, is one of the chief beneficiaries of the exodus from network news. In prime time its cable news channels ratings are now regularly higher or tie those of CNN, which has access to a wider market. To be sure, many in the media world and outside it perceive Fox as a bastion of political conservatism. Our point here isn't to tout Fox or its programs but to cite its undeniable success in the marketplace. Clearly it is filling a niche many viewers don't see filled anywhere else on TV.

None of this would come as a surprise to Mr. Goldberg. His journey to this moment began in 1996, when he wrote -- on these pages -- the op-ed piece that all but ended his CBS career. (Read it on Opinion.Journal.com.) The book he has now written is packed with observations drawn from his nearly 30 years at the network. Some are hilarious. All are instructive.

He explains matters like the strange way anchors have of identifying conservatives as such but not those on the other side of the political spectrum. And so CBS identifies the famously radical feminist and leftist Catharine MacKinnon as a "noted law professor" while Phyllis Schlafly is a "conservative spokeswoman." Rush Limbaugh is the "conservative radio talk-show host," but Rosie O'Donnell, who (while hosting a fund raiser for Hillary Clinton) referred to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as "New York's village idiot," is not described as the liberal TV talk-show host. What this says, Mr. Goldberg notes, is that conservatives require identification because -- in the world view that prevails at the networks -- they are outside the mainstream.

... A CBS correspondent, whose biased report Mr. Goldberg cited in his original op-ed piece, describes him bitterly as "not a team player."

We'll drink to that, and if they took some time to reflect maybe TV journalists would as well. Mr. Goldberg's message and his book's success are signs of trouble that smart journalists would surely note if they occurred on their own beats. If Mr. Goldberg were a whistle-blower in another industry he might even be featured on "60 Minutes." In an era of talk radio, the Internet and ever more media outlets, denial is not a winning strategy. Like it or not, the TV networks could use a few more non-team players like Mr. Goldberg.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: