John Leo
Some 440,000 copies of Bernard Goldberg's book "Bias" are now in print. Who knew that a complaint about news bias would become a runaway best seller? You could tell the book was touching a nerve when two very good journalists, columnist Michael Kinsley and TV critic Tom Shales, both attacked Goldberg with be rserk and sputtering, almost vein-popping rage.

Goldberg says reaction to the book shows "a total disconnect between regular people and media people." He thinks most "regulars" understand that the packaging of news reflects the worldview of the packagers, while most media people take the fundamentalist view that the news is neutral and pure, so anyone who thinks otherwise must be a right-wing nut.

Goldberg got a good ride from radio and cable TV, but the three old-line TV networks have pretended that his book doesn't exist. He thinks "Bias" is the first No. 1 non-fiction best seller of modern times that failed to get a single TV minute on CBS, NBC or ABC. He was interviewed by the Italian "Nightline," but not by the American version, the one that will cause the republic to fail if it is ever replaced by David Letterman.

The reluctance of the news business to hold seminars and conduct investigations of news bias is almost legendary. In 1990, Los Angeles Times media critic David Shaw stunned everybody with a 12,000-word, four-part series on press coverage of the abortion issue. He essentially concluded that the American newsroom culture is so strongly pro-choice that it cannot bring itself to report the issue fairly.

This apparently explosive report provoked no self-examination, no panel discussions. It quickly made the rounds of newsrooms like dangerous samizdat. Privately, lots of reporters and editors said it was true and a few articles appeared, but in general, journalists reacted as if the Shaw report had never happened.

I arrived on the advisory board of the Columbia Journalism Review a year later and pushed hard (but, of course, late) for CJR to examine Shaw's findings. No dice. Everyone was determined to look the other way. I cannot think of a major newspaper series that got less attention. And the reason, I think, was obvious: Feminists in the newsroom would not stand for this issue to be aired. So it wasn't.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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