Imagine that a Cardinal is disgruntled with the way the Church makes policy. After years of complaining to his fellow Red Hats -- to no avail -- he takes an extraordinary step: He calls a reporter from CBS and exposes the entire decision making process.
What might happen to this Cardinal? No doubt that members of the media would elevate him to hero status, and celebrate his bravery in coming forward to blow the whistle on bias inside the Church.
Now, stop imagining. The story did happen, and is the starting point for Bernard Goldberg’s excellent new book “Bias”. Except, instead of CBS News exposing the bias, CBS is the church being exposed.
Goldberg is an award-winning reporter who spent 28 years at CBS News. His problems inside that “church” began with a 1996 op-ed he wrote for the Wall Street Journal, taking Eric Engberg to task over a report on the CBS Evening News. Goldberg pointed out that the piece used loaded language – Engberg spoke of Steve Forbes’s “Number One Wackiest Flat-Tax Promise” and called the flax tax idea a “scheme” designed to be an “economic elixir”. Goldberg pointed out that Engberg had interviewed three liberal economists, and zero conservatives. Goldberg pointed out that Engberg never identified the economists he interview as representing liberal organizations.
Goldberg says that before he went to the Wall Street Journal, he discussed the Engberg piece with the executive producer of the CBS Evening News, who didn’t see anything wrong with it. Neither did anyone else in the CBS hierarchy.
As Goldberg points out, that’s the problem. “It’s important to know, too, that there isn’t a well-orchestrated, vast left-wing conspiracy in America’s newsrooms. The bitter truth…is arguably worse.” That truth is, “if you hooked network news reporters and producers to polygraph machines and asked them, ‘Do you think you are guilty of liberal bias?’ most would almost certainly answer, ‘no.’ And they would pass the polygraph test because they’re not lying.”
The liberal bias is so ingrained in the newsroom culture that journalists aren’t even aware of it anymore. That’s why Goldberg says no one on a conference call objected when a producer in the Washington bureau referred to a Republican activist as “Gary Bauer, the little nut from the Christian group.” And it’s why Peter Jennings, when calling the role of U.S. Senators during President Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, identified several Republican senators as “conservative” but didn’t identify a single Democratic senator as “liberal”.
Goldberg talks about how Bill Clinton cured homelessness, at least on the network news. “In 1990, when George Bush was president, there were 71 homeless stories on the ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN evening newscasts. But in 1995, when Bill Clinton was in the White House, the number had gone down to just nine!” He says a liberal bias has colored the reporting on such stories as the AIDS epidemic and the effects of daycare on children.
Bias is also seen in the way that certain groups are portrayed. Journalists will say things about men that they would never even think of saying about women. For example, liberal CBS anchorman Harry Smith once told a guest, “I’m under the assumption that most men are putzes.” And NBC morning star Katie Couric once asked a jilted bride, “Have you considered castration as an option?”
Can you imagine an anchor saying, “Aren’t all women ditzes?” Or “Are you thinking of cutting her breasts off?” Of course you can’t. An anchor who said one of those things would be fired immediately, no questions asked.
Today, Eric Engberg -- the reporter whose story triggered Goldberg’s anger back in 1996 -- is still with CBS News. It’s Goldberg who had to leave the “church”. But with this book, he’ll have the last laugh. At last check, “Bias” was the best-selling book at Amazon.com, and the ratings for the CBS evening News have dropped by half since 1981. Bernard Goldberg knows why those ratings are so low. After reading his book, so will everyone else.