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But as I'm sitting there I'm not thinking about any of that. To be perfectly honest, what I am thinking is, before Bias caught on with so many Americans, before it became such a hit, no one in the liberal, highbrow book business would have thrown water on me if I were on fire. None of them would have dirtied their hands on a book that would have dismayed their smart, sensitive liberal friends. Before Bias I would have been the skunk at their garden party. But now they can't wait to hear what I think?
But about fourteen seconds in, I am brought back to earth when one of the participants informs me that a friend of his thinks the whole idea of liberal bias is bogus.
I smile the kind of insincere smile I detest in others and look at the guy, wondering if I'm also looking at his "friend." I'm also wondering if everyone else in the room also thinks that bias in the news is just the stuff of right-wing paranoia. I am in Manhattan, after all, the belly of the beast.
And besides, Manhattan is one of those trendy places where the new hot media chic thing is not only to dismiss the notion of liberal bias in the news, but actually to say, with a straight face, that the real problem is ... conservative bias!
This is so jaw-droppingly bizarre you almost don't know how to respond. It reminds me of a movie I saw way back in the sixties called A Guide for the Married Man. In one scene, Joey Bishop plays a guy caught by his wife red-handed in bed with a beautiful woman. As the wife goes nuts, demanding to know what the hell is going on, Joey and the woman get out of bed and calmly put on their clothes. He then casually straightens up the bed and quietly responds to his wife, who by now has smoke coming out of her ears, "What bed? What girl?" After the woman leaves, Joey settles in his lounge chair and reads the paper, pausing long to enough to ask his wife if she shouldn't be in the kitchen preparing dinner!
Joey's mantra in such situations is simple: Deny! Deny! Deny! And in this scene his denials are so matter-of-fact and so nonchalant that by the time the other woman leaves the bedroom, leaving just Joey and his wife, her head is spinning and she's so bamboozled that she's seriously beginning to doubt what she just saw with her own two eyes. She's actually beginning to believe him when he says there was no other woman in the room!
Just think of Joey Bishop as the media elite and think of his wife as you-the American news-consuming public.
You have caught them red-handed over and over again with their biases exposed, and all they do is Deny! Deny! Deny! Only now the media have become even more brazen. Simply denying isn't good enough anymore. Now they're not content looking you in the eye and calmly saying, "What bias?" Now they're just as calmly turning truth on its head, saying the real problem is conservative bias.
What's next? They look up from their paper and ask why you're not in the kitchen preparing dinner?
Having been on the inside for as long as I have, twenty-eight years as a CBS News correspondent, I should have known it would be just a matter of time before they would stop playing defense and go on the offensive. Given their arrogance, I should have known that sooner or later they would say, "We don't have a bias problem-and if you think we do, then that proves that you're the one with the bias problem." Never mind that millions of Americans scream about liberal bias in the media; all the journalists can say is "You're the one with the bias!" The emperors of alleged objectivity have been naked for quite some time now, and sadly, they're the only ones who haven't noticed. Or as Andrew Sullivan, the very perceptive observer of all things American, so elegantly puts it, "Only those elite armies of condescension keep marching on, their privates swinging in the breeze."
But to deny liberal bias, the elites not only have had to brush off their own viewers, they also have had to paint their critics as wild-eyed ideologues-and then completely misrepresent what they say. For example, on March 4, 2003, this is how Nicholas Kristoff began his column in the New York Times: "Claims that the news media form a vast liberal conspiracy strike me as utterly unconvincing." Well, they strike me as utterly unconvincing, too. Exactly who, Nick, is making those "claims"? Got any names? Because I travel all over the country and speak about bias in the media, and I haven't met one serious conservative-not one-who believes that a "vast liberal conspiracy" controls the news. And for what it's worth, I write on page four of the introduction to Bias that "It is important to know, too, that there isn't a well-orchestrated, vast left-wing conspiracy in America's newsrooms." What I and many others do believe, and what I think is fairly obvious, is that the majority of journalists in big newsrooms slant leftward in their personal politics, especially on issues like abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, and gun control; and so in their professional role they tend to assume those positions are reasonable and morally correct. Bias in the news stems from that-not from some straw man conspiracy concocted by liberals in the supposedly objective, mainstream media.
Yet the idea that socially liberal reporters might actually take a liberal tack in their reporting is a proposition too many journalists on the Left refuse even to consider. Better to cast conservatives as a bunch of loonies who see conspiracies under every bed, around every corner, behind every tree, and, most important of all, in every newsroom.
In fact, right on the heels of the Kristoff column, the conspiracy thing pops up again in-surprise, surprise-the New York Times. This time in a book review: "The notion that a vast left-wing conspiracy controls America's airwaves and newsprint [is] ... routinely promoted as gospel on the right."
Wrong again! But they are right about one thing: There is plenty of paranoid talk about a "vast left-wing conspiracy" in the newsroom. The problem is, the paranoids dreaming it up aren't conservatives-they're liberals!
And the uncomfortable truth-uncomfortable for ideologues on the Left, anyway-is that there now exists "a huge body of literature-including at least 100 books and research monographs-documenting a widespread left-wing bias in the news," according to Ted Smith III of Virginia Commonwealth University, who has done extensive research into the subject. And much of the evidence comes not from conservatives with axes to grind but straight from the journalists themselves, who in survey after survey have identified themselves as liberal on all the big, important social issues of our time.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, despite all the examples of bias that were documented in my book and others, despite the surveys that show that large numbers of Americans consider the elite media too liberal, despite all of that, the elites remain in denial. Why? Well, for starters, as I say, a lot them truly don't understand what the fuss is all about, since they honestly believe that their views on all sorts of divisive issues are not really controversial-or even liberal. After all, their liberal friends in Manhattan and Georgetown share those same views, which practically by definition make them moderate and mainstream. So, the thinking goes, it is all those Middle Americans who take the opposing view on, say, guns or gay marriage who are out of the mainstream, the ones who are "fringe." Journalists don't usually use the word-not in public anyway-but those supposedly not-too-sophisticated "fringe" Americans are smart enough to pick up on the condescension.
But there's another reason journalists refuse to come clean on liberal bias-one that Dr. Freud would have a field day with. To be honest with the American people and themselves, you see, would be to shake their world to its very foundations. And that, as you might imagine, is not something they're anxious to do, introspection not being their strong suit. By and large, these are people who see themselves as incredibly decent, even noble. They're the good guys trying to make the world a better place. That's why many of them went into journalism in the first place-to make the world a better place. Bias is something the bad guys are guilty of. So rather than look honestly at themselves and their profession, they hang on for dear life to the ludicrous position, to the completely absurd notion, that they, among all human beings, are unique-that only they have the ability to set aside their personal feelings and their beliefs and report the news free of any biases, "because we're professionals," they say.
But so are cops, and they can't keep their biases in check is what journalists tell us all the time. If a cop is biased, sooner or later that bias is going to come out on the job, is what reporters say. And they're probably right. It's human nature, after all. It's the same with judges and corporate executives with biases. No way they have the ability to set their personal feelings and beliefs completely aside-not for long anyway. And, as we all know, no white southern male over the age of five can keep his biases under control, certainly not as far as the elites are concerned. But journalists alone, the guys in the white hats, somehow can do what no other group can. Somehow, all of their life experiences can neatly be set aside as they go about bringing us the news, absent any preconceived notions and prejudices-because "we're professionals."
It's unbelievable. Literally.
Deny! Deny! Deny! By now it's not only their mantra, it's practically official newsroom policy. In one way or another Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, and Tom Brokaw have all dismissed the very idea of liberal bias in the news. Rather has called it a "myth" and a "canard" and has actually said that "Most reporters don't know whether they're Republican or Democrat." Jennings thinks that "It's just essential to make the point that we are largely in the center, without particular axes to grind, without ideologies which are represented in our daily coverage." Ditto Brokaw, Couric, Lauer, Stahl, Wallace, and Bradley. The list, as they say, goes on and on.
But as strategies go, this new wrinkle-"There is no liberal bias in the news, but there is a conservative bias"-is far better. This is what you say if you're a media liberal who is not only tired of playing defense but wants to put his critics on the defensive for a change. This is what you say if you're trapped in a corner, and you don't know what else to do and you think you're fighting for your life.
It was Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader in the Senate, who fired the first shot (unless you want to go back a few years to Hillary Clinton and her warning about the vast right-wing conspiracy) when he went after every liberal's favorite punching bag, Rush Limbaugh, in November 2002. That was right after the Democrats got hammered in the midterm elections and lost control of the Senate. Daschle accused Limbaugh and other conservatives on talk radio of inciting violence against liberals like himself. How would that work? you ask. Well, apparently Senator Daschle thinks the people who listen to talk radio are a bunch of crazy, drooling, scary rednecks who-if they're in a good mood-merely send out death threats to the liberals Rush was complaining about. If, on the other hand, Rush riles them up-and they're in a foul mood-well, then, who the hell knows what those morons might do?
This was so pathetically lame that it would have just been a one- or two-day story, except up popped Al Gore to stir the cauldron. Gore expanded the target list from Limbaugh to an entire Conservative Axis of Evil-an unholy trinity made up of talk radio, Fox News, and the Washington Times, whom Gore said were nothing more than mouthpieces for the Republican Party. "Most of the media [have] been slow to recognize the pervasive impact of this fifth column in their ranks," he declared, "that is, day after day, injecting the daily Republican talking points into the definition of what's objective as stated by the news media as a whole."
Once Al Gore spoke the gospel of conservative bias, it took only seconds for left-of-center journalists to start hopping on board the bandwagon.
"Al Gore said the obvious," wrote the left-wing New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.
"The legend of the liberal media is finally dead," proclaimed Joe Conason, the liberal columnist of the New York Observer.
"Sooner or later, I think we're all going to have to acknowledge that the myth of liberal bias in the press is just that, it's a myth," according to Jack White, one of TIME magazine's liberal columnists.
The true "new bias," according to E. J. Dionne Jr., one of the many liberal columnists at the Washington Post, "adds up to [a] media heavily biased toward conservative politics and conservative politicians."
Then on January 1, 2003, a weary world woke up to a page-one story in the New York Times, a story that made it all official. According to the Times, liberals are so sick of being beaten up by pro-conservative media, like talk radio and Fox News, that they are looking to create liberal outlets of their own for "balance"-everything from "progressive" radio talk shows, as the Times described it, to "a cable network with a liberal bent."
This seems like a good place to state the obvious: Yes, Republicans do indeed have friends in some conservative places like talk radio, Fox News, and the Washington Times, whom I'm sure they use to get their talking points out.
Excerpted from Arrogance by Bernard Goldberg Copyright ©2003 by Medium Cool Communications Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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|A (Very) Few Minutes with Andy Rooney||21|
|File It Under "H"||31|
|Mauling the Messenger||34|
|One Cheer for Honesty!||49|
|A Conversation with Tim Russert||78|
|Barbara Walters, Guardian of Standards||86|
|A (Black and White) Hollywood Ending||87|
|Pass the Mashed Potatoes, Please||100|
|What Liberal Media? Part 1||124|
|Who Stole Journalism?||127|
|And the Nobel Prize for Hillary-Gushing Goes To ...||146|
|Speaking of Sports and a Lot More with Bob Costas||152|
|What Liberal Media? Part 2||163|
|And Now, the Rest of the Story ...||185|
|What Liberal Media? Part 3||197|
|Actually, I Don't Have an Opinion on That||200|
|You Can't Make This Stuff Up||208|
|Welcome to the Gulag||209|
|Liberal Bias? Never Mind!||221|
|Step 1: Face Up to the Problem||238|
|Step 2: Lose the Enablers||241|
|Step 3: A Newsroom That Thinks Like America||248|
|Step 4: No More Balkans||252|
|Step 5: Teach the Children Well||254|
|Step 6: Stop Following the Leader||258|
|Step 7: Don't Stack the Deck||261|
|Step 8: Tell the Whole Story||266|
|Step 9: Don't Confuse Journalist with Activist||272|
|Step 10: Make Bias a Punishable Offense||276|
|Step 11: Expand Your Rolodex||280|
|Step 12: Stop Taking It Personally||295|
|A Final Word||296|