As we all know (especially if we’ve seen Spinal Tap), there’s a fine line between clever and stupid. For professional writers, particularly ones who try to be biting or funny, this is an insight of perpetual relevance because writing, by definition, is very much about how you say something and not just about what you say. Insulting is easy: “You’re ugly.” Insulting with ingenuity is more difficult; “Why didn’t the crows finish eating your face?”
I bring this up because I’ve just read Tom Shales’s “review” of Bernard Goldberg’s book, Bias. Tom Shales can write good movie and TV reviews. Maybe he can write good book reviews. But having only read this one, I must say, the evidence weighs mightily against him. To be honest I cannot recall having read a review that was snottier, sillier, more feeble and hysterical than this one. I certainly can’t remember one from a high-profile writer with talent. If I were Shales I would be mortified for having written it. It speaks for itself.
The handful of half-points Shales makes are so dipped in irrationally bitter rhetoric they seem intended only to serve as moments of pause for him to catch his breath before the bitchy shrieking resumes. He addresses no arguments in a manner even in the most distant orbit of good faith. He stipulates up front that it is a “canard” that the media is liberal or left-leaning and then proceeds to protest so much that a rational person can only conclude Shales himself knows this is a lie. I’ve got no quarrel with full-throated criticisms. But stringing together a collection of unthinking, unfunny, inane, ad hominem attacks obviously based in personal animosity takes as much skill as saying “I know you are, but what am I?”
Is Goldberg beyond criticism? Of course not. I myself find conservative media criticism to be, among other things, a bit tedious. Not because it’s not valid, but because everyone knows it is (See Goldberg Variations). But, if I were Bernard Goldberg I would take great pleasure from Shales’s review. It’s the best proof so far that Bernie has hit a nerve.