'Let's get nasty'

Posted: Jan 19, 2002 12:00 AM
It’s an old debating trick -- if you’re losing (or have lost) an argument, change the subject. One way to do that is by attacking your opponent instead of his ideas. Maybe that explains recent columns by Mike Kinsley, editor of Slate magazine, and Tom Shales, a media critic for the Washington Post. Both men pretend to review the best-selling book “Bias” by former CBS News reporter Bernard Goldberg. What they’re really trying to do is refute Goldberg’s thesis that the mainstream media has a liberal bias. But, being unable to do that -- because there is, in fact, a left wing bias in the mainstream media -- both men quickly descend into silly, personal attacks on Goldberg. Writing in Electronic Media Online, Shales immediately goes for the throat, calling Goldberg a “full-time addlepated windbag” in his first sentence. But the hits just keep on coming. “Goldberg was, let's face it, not a bright shining star in the firmament of CBS News. He usually looked disheveled and bleary-eyed on the air”, Shales writes. “Goldberg was not only a flop as a network correspondent, he's a lousy writer besides”. Oh. I guess that settles that. Why should any reader accept the arguments of a man who’s a tired, poorly dressed failure? Although it is surprising to see Goldberg described as a flop. After all, he worked at CBS News for 27 years and pocketed six Emmy awards. Most would agree that “grizzled veteran” is a better description of him than “flop”. Shales dismisses the point of the book with a wave of his hand. “Goldberg has picked this moment in time to haul out the old canard about the media being ‘liberal’ and the news being slanted leftward.” But you don’t defeat an argument by dismissing it. If media bias is simply a canard, it should be easy to disprove. Shales never bothers to try. Instead, he goes on the offensive again, lashing out at the Wall Street Journal editorial page because it leans to the right. “Gosh” he writes, “it is soooo (sic) hard to figure out where they're coming from.” Apparently, to Shales, it’s all right for supposedly unbiased news outlets to lean to the left, but it’s not acceptable for an editorial page to swing from the right. Next up to take his hacks is Michael Kinsley on the Washington Post’s Jan. 11 op-ed page (which usually leans to the left -- but I’m still waiting for Tom Shales to criticize it). Kinsley mocks Goldberg for working so many years at CBS if he didn’t like the network’s bias: “He must have been chained to his TelePrompTer or something, because ... (he) surely didn't need to spend all those years at a corrupt and dishonest institution.” Well, Goldberg probably thought it would be better to try to improve CBS News from within, rather than throw up his hands and quit. Maybe he hoped he could make a difference -- and that’s quite a liberal notion, when you think about it. But Kinsley spends most of his piece focusing on a quote in Goldberg’s book from CBS News President Andrew Heyward: “'Look, Bernie,' he said, 'of course there's a liberal bias in the news. All the networks tilt left.' But, 'If you repeat any of this, I'll deny it.' ” Kinsley goes on to make up a few insulting quotes from Goldberg; Roger Ailes, President of FOX News; and Robert Bartley, editor of the Wall Street Journal. Then he gets the knives out: “Bernard Goldberg may be so dim, or so drunk on self-righteousness, that he can't see the comic futility of trying to insulate a quotation from denial by adding a second quotation promising to lie about the first one.” Of course, that’s not what Goldberg’s doing. He’s just using what Heyward said to him to point out the uncomfortable fact that even leaders in the journalism business realize there’s a liberal bias. Kinsley himself doesn’t deny that: “he's (Goldberg’s) obviously right about liberal bias, isn't he? Maybe. The point is that this dumb book adds nothing to the argument”. Wrong. The point is that the mainstream media has a liberal bias. And neither of these reviews make any attempt to deny that. They only attack the messenger who dares to report it. Must be because they’re losing the argument.