Politics & Policy

Goldberg Variations

Notes and an announcement on media bias.

“If CBS News were a prison instead of a journalistic enterprise, three-quarters of the producers and 100 percent of the vice presidents would be Dan’s bitches,’ Goldberg declares on Page 10.”

That’s an excerpt from Matt Drudge’s account of a new book on liberal media bias. What’s shocking is that even though the author in question is named Goldberg; uses sexually loaded prison humor; and makes a conservative argument about the lefty media… I didn’t write the book. And neither did anyone in my family.

I don’t mean that to sound pompous — it’s just that pointing out that there aren’t many conservative journalists named Goldberg (or Greenberg, or Bernstein, or Lipshitz, etc.) denouncing the left-wing media is like saying very few active-duty Marines throw lavish Oscar parties with delightfully provocative endive crudités.

Anyway, Bernard Goldberg’s book sounds great. A multiple-Emmy winner at CBS News, Bernard Goldberg saw firsthand the liberal bias at Dan Rather’s cell-block harem, er, “news enterprise.” I haven’t read it yet, but I pretty much know what it’s going to say. In fact, I would know the substance of his criticism even if Drudge and Howard Kurtz hadn’t summarized it already.

Again, I don’t want that to sound pompous either. The fact is everybody knows that Dan Rather is an egomaniacal liberal. Everybody knows that the major news networks lean to the left. Everybody knows that Grape Nuts tastes like kitty litter. Everybody knows that mainstream journalists see conservatives as “biased,” “ideological,” or “agenda-driven” — yet would argue that Dan Rather reading a press release from the Children’s Defense Fund is simply hard-hitting, fact-based journalism in the tradition of Edward R. Murrow.

In fact, there are only two identifiable groups who do not think — rather, know — that the mainstream press leans liberal: working members of the mainstream press, and hardcore, Lenin-goateed, Mother Jones-reading left-wingers.

Let’s take the second group first, since they’re the easiest to dismiss. The priesthood of editors, media critics, and current and future Columbia Journalism School professors often defend themselves by pointing to left-wing critics who denounce the “conservative, corporate control of the media,” or some similar prattle. They say, “See. there are smart lefties who say we’re too conservative.”

This, needless to say, is an unpersuasive argument for a host of reasons. But let’s just stick to the logic for a moment. If I say you are ugly, you do not refute my assertion by pointing to someone uglier. Alec Baldwin isn’t any less stoopid simply by virtue of the fact that he can point to someone who eats lead paint-chips like they were Doritos and say, “But Cletus thinks I’m really smart.”

Look, it’s hardly surprising that Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Susan Sontag, Stanley Fish, and the rest of that crowd think the liberal media is too conservative. After all, they think avowed liberals are too conservative. If you consider Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Doris Kearns Goodwin, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, The New Republic, or any other liberal icons to be too conservative (or racist, misogynist, whatever), why wouldn’t you think the journalists who worship these people to be too conservative too?

Which brings us to the worshippers themselves.

The rank-and-file journalists at CBS, the New York Times, etc., are part of large bureaucratic institutions with powerful institutional cultures. Such cultures are extremely intolerant and dismissive of outside criticism (sadly, they are even harsher on internal dissent, which is why Bernie Goldberg is being called a “traitor” — and will be called far worse before this is all over — by his old colleagues). It’s no wonder that career-minded professionals drink the Kool-Aid (or to keep the prison motif going, the toilet-water-chilled pruno).

But groupthink is just one of the many plausible explanations for liberal media bias. People who want to become journalists have a certain arrogant desire to “fix” the world, which is disproportionately a liberal impulse. The rise of the modern welfare state and the Cold War made the government the driving engine for almost all big news. When the government — in one form or another — is your biggest source of copy, you’re going to inflate the importance of that source. You’re also going to assume that whenever the government does “something” (what liberals do) it equals progress, and that whenever it undoes something (what conservatives and libertarians do) it’s a giant step backward. (“The new Republican majority in Congress took a big step today on its legislative agenda to demolish or damage government aid programs, many of them designed to help children and the poor,” declared the unbiased Dan Rather during the Gingrich years.)

And of course, the wordy disciplines of academia — art, history, political science, English, and its dumb-blonde kid sister “communications” — carry all 31 flavors of lefty, anti-American buffoonery. And, needless to say, the students who are drawn to (let alone excel in) these disciplines tend to think that corporations are evil, that government is good, and that a herd of think-alike liberals is “diverse” so long as it comes in different colors.

There are other reasons too. But the simple fact is that everyone knows the big-league media leans to the left. Even liberals know it. A Lou Harris poll revealed that 70 percent of self-described liberals think the media tilts to the left. Meanwhile, a Freedom Forum survey found that 89 percent of journalists voted for Bill Clinton in 1992. Their professional heroes — Cronkite, Daniel Schorr, A. J. Liebling, and, most damning, I. F. Stone (see this for more on Izzy) — are uniformly liberal or left-wing.

If they’d admit they have a problem and move on, lots of conservatives would just give up on the topic. It’s the infuriating denial that bugs many of us. It’s like the friend who swears he didn’t drink your last beer. You don’t care about the beer, but you just can’t stand him not admitting it. (You took my beer! Say it!! Say it!!!) By denying the obvious, so many pompous elite journalists drive us batty by acting as if we’re imagining things.

But while the vast, vast majority of journalists are liberals, they are hardly all liberal — or uniformly biased — in the same way. Indeed, my biggest problem with conservative media criticism is the common suggestion that liberal bias is the product of a giant conspiracy. That may sound great in a conservative direct-mail fund-raising letter, but conspiracies require conscious, deliberate, highly organized effort and deception — which is why conspiracies of all kinds are so rare.

If media bias is simply a conspiracy, then every single journalist who denies he’s got a liberal bias is necessarily a blatant, deliberate liar. Some of them must be, of course, but I think conservatives should be generous enough to accommodate the possibility that a sizable number of the deniers are telling the truth as they see it. Now, that does hold open the possibility — nay, likelihood — that some of these people are in a state of profound denial so severe it is indistinguishable from cranial-anal impaction, or are simply morons.

Dan Rather insists that he’s not a liberal. He swears media bias is “one of the great political myths.” He told the L.A. Times in 1992, “I walk out every day trying to have a big ‘I’ for independence stamped right in the middle of my forehead. I try to play no favorites, pull no punches.”

Now, I don’t know if he’s sincere or if he’s a liar or if that “I” stands for idiot; all three are possible. (You can probably tell that I take it as an objective, iron-clad, indisputable fact that Dan Rather is a biased news anchor — as do all people who’ve ever spent two seconds studying the issue. Go buy Bernard Goldberg’s book, if you want to bone up on the topic.)

But if we operate on the assumption that Rather and his comrades know they are biased liberals and are flatly lying when they deny it — we write off any chance of ever making them see the light. They will simply become more defensive, more strident, and less open to criticism.

Of course, that would be fine, save for the simple fact that the Dan Rathers of the world run places like CBS (in fact, I have it on good authority that all of the vice presidents are Dan Rather’s bitches). And I don’t care how wonderful Fox News is, these other institutions are still important, because vast numbers of Americans respect and trust them. If all of the mechanics at Jiffy Lube franchises across America had a liberal bias, we could afford to ignore them or take our business elsewhere. But no newspaper will replace the New York Times as the “paper of record” for a very, very long time. Which is why we need more conservatives at the New York Times, and even at CBS. I myself would give anything for Andy Rooney’s job, and if I got it, conservatism would be the better for it. Besides, I’d love to see Dan Rather try to make me his bitch. I’d wait in my office with a pillow sack full of soda cans and then I’d…

Sorry. I interrupt this long and rambling column to notify readers that I have been invited to become a regular CNN commentator, and I’ve gladly agreed. Which is why I hosted Crossfire last week and was a guest on CNN’s Late Edition. I don’t know what else they have in mind for me. In the meantime, if you have an ideological problem with that — and I’ve learned from the feedback I’ve gotten already that quite a few of you do — I welcome your views on the subject, but all I ask is that before you send “you’re a sell out” criticisms, you read these two columns to understand where I come from on this argument: “Conservatism After Clinton” and “Stand and Fight“. (Please note, however, that the reference to “F*cking Jew Bastard!” was a comment reportedly made by Hillary Clinton, and much discussed in the news at the time.)

We now return to the previously scheduled rant (already in progress):

…and then I’d say, “How you like them apples beeeeyatch?!?” as I made Gunga Dan fetch me some strawberry shortcake from the cafeteria…

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