Respectable news organizations like CBS, NBC and ABC would never allow their journalists to flash their opinion on television and pass it off as news, right? Bernard Goldberg would disagree. The perspective is hidden in the semantics, said Goldberg in “Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News.”
So what? Who cares? Well, while the writing is about as interesting as watching corn grow in Iowa, “Bias” raises questions that everyone – especially those in the newsgathering and reporting field – should have already been asking.
Goldberg’s book is not about an overt liberal media bias, but it does make a case for an inherent, unintentional perspective, which alienates conservatives as not mainstream. In other words, whenever the news media report on a big issue, say abortion, they tend to put a well-spoken female gynecologist up against an angry, overzealous, male pro-lifer who’s screaming about blowing up an abortion clinic.
Regardless of whether one agrees with every word of Goldberg’s book, especially its self-righteous tone, it’s easy to see this argument is stacked in favor of pro-choice.
Goldberg argued that large numbers of Americans are showing their disagreement with the liberal perspective of the “media elite” by switching to more conservative media channels such as Fox News. Citing their higher ratings as proof, Goldberg credited the success of Fox News, and specifically Bill O’Reilly, as the result of the public’s distaste for a liberally biased media.
Goldberg’s argument falls short. He does not provide evidence beyond ratings to support the idea that the news slant is in discord with mainstream America. Maybe the network news, sans Fox, is an accurate reflection of main stream perspective. Maybe the ratings system is flawed – maybe not. Goldberg did not address this issue and neither does he reinforce what the ratings say with any other evidence.
After reading the book, the focus becomes less about proving Goldberg right or wrong or analyzing the political situation of the majority. Instead, the reader must question Goldberg’s claim and the lack of evidence to supply the burden of proof.
Early in “Bias,” Goldberg explains that network news, under the present system, tries to oversimplify complex issues by presenting two correlative points. In reality, if either side were one hundred percent correct, there would be no controversy. There would be only one side. Goldberg knew this to be true because as an insider he should question his own objectivity.
The hype created by a Wall Street Journal editorial Goldberg’s penned back in 1996 with the same message will probably have more of an effect on journalism than the book “Bias” itself. Even Goldberg admits that his claims of liberal bias in the media are not news to journalists but to the public. But, because of the increased sensitivity of the audience for bias in the media, journalists who strive for objectivity will have to choose their words more carefully. Much more of the public is now aware of how biased commentary can slip under the radar, passing as news so long as it aligns with the bias of the newsgatherer.
In addition to snooze-inducing writing style, “Bias” overdramatizes Goldberg’s resignation from CBS, which resulted from the op/ed in the Wall Street Journal. Goldberg wastes the first third of the book by painting himself as a martyr and Dan Rather as the guy with horns and a forked tail throwing all the stones.
Everything aside, “Bias” should be thought of as a required reading not because of what it says, but because of what it forces the reader to ask.
Joe Shaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org