What Bias?

Posted: Dec 21, 2001 12:00 AM
There are two new books out documenting the infuriating bias of the press. The first, "Bias" by CBS veteran Bernard Goldberg, is flying off the shelves. The second, "Coloring the News" by William McGowan, is equally deserving of best-seller status. Both books nail it precisely -- and neither book is the work of a conservative. Goldberg's account is nothing if not spirited. He introduces the writer Hunter Thompson this way: "Hunter Thompson ... who only did drugs if they began with a letter of the alphabet ..." The whole book is like that, so it's fun. And Goldberg provides telling examples of the press's bias on any number of subjects. The chapter entitled "How Bill Clinton Cured Homelessness" offers numerous examples of pious reporters staring into the lens after heart-breaking stories about homeless people (who were always blond, blue-eyed, and middle-class), lamenting that "Reagan budget cuts" had brought the nation to this terrible pass. Goldberg also documents the factually false, but politically correct, picture the media painted of the AIDS threat to non-drug-abusing heterosexuals. The threat is minimal, but the press, obedient to the wishes of the AIDS lobby, said otherwise. Goldberg cites many examples, but this excerpt from a 1996 CBS news broadcast was typical: "Ten years ago, at age 14, Luna (Ortiz) was infected with the HIV virus, the very first time he had sex -- unprotected sex. ... At least one American teen-ager is becoming infected every hour of every day." The story strongly implied that average teen-agers were contracting AIDS by having "unprotected" heterosexual sex. In fact, as Goldberg reports, "almost all of these teen-age AIDS cases (and the press, he points out, wildly inflated the numbers) involve homosexual sex or IV drugs or tainted blood." People tend to notice when the picture the press paints is wholly at odds with their own experience. Could it be, Goldberg asks, that this helps to explain the diminishing numbers of people who watch network news? Goldberg became a pariah at CBS for saying these things in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. His longtime friend and boss Dan Rather became so frosty after Goldberg published his critique that Goldberg never again appeared on "Evening News." Senior producers, who were not above describing a Gary Bauer as "the little Christian nut," told Goldberg that his sin was unforgivable. Goldberg quotes Reinhold Niebuhr: "Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith, but in doubt." William McGowan shows where the networks get their material -- from the leading newspapers. And he illustrates, to devastating effect, just how corrupted the great newspapers of the country have become. About a decade and a half ago, the major papers declared that what ailed the news business was a lack of "diversity." Accordingly, with utterly unsubtle measures like hiring bonuses for bringing in women, Latinos, blacks, gays and other favored groups, they set about transforming the look of the newsroom. McGowan thinks hiring more minorities was a good thing. What he doesn't like is the political homogeneity the policy has wrought. McGowan's examples of biased reporting are meticulously documented. There is the contrast in coverage, for example, between the Matthew Shepherd murder case in 1998 and the Jesse Dirkhising murder case of 1999. The whole world knows of the Shepherd case. In the month after the murder, there were 3,007 stories in press. But few know of the Dirkhising murder. Jesse Dirkhising was a 13-year-old Arkansas boy who was gagged, tied down, raped and left to slowly suffocate by two homosexuals who lived next door. In the month after Dirkhising's murder, the national press ran only 46 stories. The New York Times, which had run 195 stories about Shepherd, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS ignored the story entirely. When McGowan asked these news organizations for an explanation of the disparity, they claimed that Dirkhising's was only "a local crime story." The truth, of course, is that they would rather not air or print stories that do not reflect well on homosexuals. This is pure bias, and it infects the news business up and down on a number of key issues. Goldberg and McGowan have both adduced enough hard evidence to close the debate over press bias definitively. And both raise important and pressing concerns about the damage that persistent bias works on our society.