In July 2000 I quit CBS News where I had worked for 28 years. A year and a half later – 10 years ago this very month — my first book came out. Bias was about liberal bias in the mainstream news media and it caused quite a stir. Despite the fact that it got more than a few crummy reviews – mainly from journalists (big surprise, there) and other liberals, Bias became a New York Times #1 bestseller, demonstrating how out of touch journalists were with so many Middle Americans who embraced the book. The Times, to my surprise, gave my book a good review and the Wall Street Journal did too. There were others, including the one that follows, written by someone who’s been in the news quite a bit lately: Newt Gingrich. On the 10th anniversary of the book’s release, I thought I’d share what he wrote with you.
Bias By Bernard Goldberg Regnery. 232 pp. $27.95
Allowing me to review a book about bias in the news media almost seems unfair. After all, I was portrayed as Scrooge on the cover of Time magazine just before Christmas 1994. They portrayed me holding Tiny Tim’s broken crutch. The headline read: “How Mean Will Gingrich’s America Be to the Poor?” (You could tell it was unbiased because there was a question mark.)
Not to be outdone, Newsweek decided that I more resembled a Dr. Seuss figure, the cover exclaiming, “The Gingrich that stole Christmas.” All this before I had served a single day as speaker of the House.
Bernard Goldberg’s memoir-exposé-essay is a very revealing portrait of the television side of the news. It’s a good read, and Goldberg is a good storyteller. It’s clear he is angry with CBS News in general and Dan Rather in particular (“The Dan even speaks his own secret language, which around CBS is known as Dan-ish. . . . In Dan-ish, ‘it’s all my fault’ means ‘it’s all your fault . . .”). The book is worth its price if only to enjoy the sheer viciousness of the payback. They got Goldberg, and now he is getting them. Anyone who has ever gotten mad over what they perceive as liberal bias in the media will find some satisfaction in this part of the book.
Goldberg, a 28-year CBS correspondent who left the network last year, has done a service by telling insider stories out of school. He describes the bias inherent in ensuring, on the one hand, that minorities do not look bad and, on the other, not showing too many minorities, because doing so might hurt ratings. But he is at his strongest in outlining the sensitivity of the media toward criticism directed at it. An industry that treasures whistleblowers from any other trade, isolates and seeks to expel any such in its own business (which is what happened to Goldberg).
The book makes a strong case that liberal media bias led to a remarkable increase in reporting on homelessness under Presidents Reagan and Bush, followed by its magical disappearance under President Clinton and its sudden (within weeks) reappearance under President George W. Bush.
Goldberg also cites Ben Wattenberg’s observation that 59 percent of reporters thought the “Contract with America” was an “election year gimmick,” while only 3 percent thought it was “serious.” That might have been fair during the election. But even after 70 percent of the Contract was enacted into law, the media continued to report that it had been abandoned. So, despite the first comprehensive welfare reform in 68 years, the first tax cuts in 17 years, the first increase in defense spending in more than a decade, the first four consecutive balanced budgets since the 1920s, we still had not, according to media observations, accomplished anything.
Goldberg quotes Peter Jennings on the 1994 election results: “Some thoughts on those angry voters. Ask parents of any two-year-old and they can tell you about those temper tantrums. . . . Imagine a nation full of uncontrolled two-year-old rage. The voters had a temper tantrum last week.” Now there’s an impartial analysis of an election in which nine million more Americans voted Republican than in 1990 (the largest one-party off-year increase in American history). Jennings was at least open in his contempt for what we were doing. The hard thing to deal with in so many of his colleagues is their pretense of professionalism.
One of the news channels or networks ought to give Goldberg a half hour every week to explore bias in the media. It would be a lively program. If he were as aggressive and risk-taking on air as he is in this book, it would be a very provocative show.