State of the Media 20 Years After ‘Bias’

Editor’s Note: From time to time over the course of the rest of the year, I’m going to publish columns about how journalism has changed since my first book came out 20 years ago. This is the first installment.

Twenty years ago I wrote my first book, Bias, about liberal bias in the mainstream news media.

I didn’t write the book as a conservative, mainly because I wasn’t. At the time I considered myself an old-fashioned liberal. Someone who believed in the free exchange of ideas, for example.

But I’m a conservative today — because over the years liberalism kept moving to the left, leaving me, and a lot of others, less than thrilled with what we were witnessing. Liberalism was becoming progressivism. It was becoming something I no longer wanted to be a part of.

I wrote the book simply as a journalist, one who as a correspondent at CBS News for 28 years noticed how unfair, how biased, news coverage could be – and how sanctimonious journalists could be.

My main point was that, contrary to what some conservatives believed, there was no conspiracy. Dan Rather, then the anchor of the CBS Evening News, didn’t summon his top lieutenants into a room where he doused the lights, lowered the shades, gave the secret handshake and salute, and said: “How can we screw those conservatives today?”

It simply did not happen that way. The problem was groupthink – too many like-minded people in the newsroom. And since those like-minded people were overwhelmingly liberal, the news was covered from a left of center perspective and the result was … liberal bias.

Liberals didn’t even see themselves as liberal, as hard as that is to believe. Rather, they saw themselves as … reasonable.

But as bad as it was 20 years ago, it’s far, far worse today.

Fairness and objectivity have been in the crosshairs for quite a while in a media world dominated by journalists who operate in a comfortable liberal elite bubble. Democrats more often than not got easier treatment from reporters than did Republicans.  A lot of journalists, as the title of my 2009 book indicated, had a slobbering love affair with Barack Obama.  Even a liberal like Chris Matthews acknowledged the obvious: that the media had turned Obama into “Saint Barack,” that he had been “deified.”

So putting a thumb on the scale for liberals was nothing new. But things changed, dramatically, when Donald Trump decided to run for president.

I have a theory. A lot of liberal journalists felt responsible for Donald Trump’s victory in 2016. They didn’t believe they were tough enough on him. How else to explain his victory? Did the American people really prefer such a vulgar, dishonest human to their candidate, Hillary Clinton?

Guilt is a great motivator. And so, when Donald Trump won, I believe, a lot of liberal journalists – many at the New York Times, the paper that sets the agenda for other news organizations, including the television networks — were determined to make up for what they saw as their role in such a travesty. That’s when the war on President Trump began. That’s when it went beyond bias.

Bias is something, to one degree or another that affects everybody. It’s part of the human condition. But journalistic bias is another matter. In a democracy we need to have confidence and trust in the mainstream media. We need to know that they don’t take sides.

But when journalists are accused of bias, the knee jerk response is something along the lines of, “We’re professionals. We don’t let our biases affect our work.”

If only it were true.  But, as I had written, there are guys who work the overnight shift at 7-11 and sell Marlboros to insomniacs who have more introspection that a lot of journalists.

Whenever journalists are called out for their biases, they tend to circle the wagons – and if they’re not saying they can set their biases aside and do their job, they’re busy blaming the accuser for being the one that’s really biased.

As a network news correspondent once told me – after being assured I would never identify him by name – “If arrogance were a crime, the jails would be filled with journalists.”

A conservative friend, who if it matters was a liberal back in the 1960s, has been telling me for some time that if leftists ever had the chance they’d stifle and even try to shut down speech and ideas they didn’t approve of.

He saw them as authoritarians, as Stalinists.

I thought he, and lots of other conservatives who shared that dark view were needlessly worried. Sure, liberals, like conservatives, had their biases … but shutting down ideas they didn’t like? That was a bridge too far for me.

Well, it turns out, the concern was well founded; it wasn’t right-wing paranoia.

The cancel culture overwhelmingly – though not entirely — is the work of those on the left. They’re the ones who have devised the modern day blacklists, which were once rightly despised by Hollywood liberals who lost their jobs and their livelihoods back in the 1950s because of their political beliefs. Now, they’re something the “enlightened” left has taken a liking to.

It’s as if progressives in America read George Orwell’s 1984 and missed the point. Instead of seeing it as a warning, they saw it as a guidebook on how to shut down “unapproved ideas.”

Editor’s Note: As I say, other columns on the current state of journalism will follow.




The Liberal Media Are Out to Get Donald Trump — Just Ask Ted Koppel

In February 1996 I wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about liberal bias in the mainstream news media.  At the risk of sounding dramatic, it touched off the media version of World War III.

I was a correspondent at CBS News at the time and here I was either biting the hand that was feeding me or speaking truth to power. I guess it was a little of both.

I had written that “There are lots of reasons fewer people are watching network news, and one of them, I’m more convinced than ever, is that our viewers simply don’t trust us.  And for good reason.

“The old argument that the networks and other ‘media elites’ have a liberal bias is so blatantly true that it’s hardly worth discussing anymore. No, we don’t sit around in dark corners and plan strategies on how we’re going to slant the news.  We don’t have to.  It comes naturally to most reporters.”

The morning the op-ed came out my voicemail box at CBS News was filled with messages – all of them thanking me for what I had written.  One of those calls came from a man who simply said, “Goldberg, you got balls.  Call me.”  That message came from Roger Ailes.

Ailes was running a network that didn’t yet exist. Fox News wouldn’t go on TV for 8 more months.  I met with him, he offered me a job, I turned him down, and went back to CBS News where I stayed for 4 and a half more years before quitting to write my first book, Bias which picked up where the Journal op-ed left off.

Liberals weren’t as charming as Ailes or as friendly as the many  “ordinary” Americans who left messages for me, thrilled that someone on the inside finally said out loud what they were saying in their living rooms.  Liberals in the media, on the other hand, did what they always do when faced with criticism: They circled the wagons.

In the New York Post, Dan Rather, whose evening news program I reported for, had this to say about what I wrote:

The test is not the names people call you or accusations by political activists inside or outside your own organization. The test is what goes up on the screen and what comes out of the speaker. I think the public understands that those people are trying to create such a perception because they’re trying to force you to report the news the way they want you to report it. I am not going to do it. I will put up billboard space on 42nd Street. I will wear a sandwich board. I will do whatever is necessary to say I am not going to be cowed by anybody’s special political agenda, inside, outside, upside, downside.

I had no “political agenda” except to finally speak out about bias in the news. Dan was a fearless reporter but he had one glaring fault:  He was either unwilling or incapable of taking serious criticism seriously.

Ted Koppel wasn’t buying what I wrote either. On Charlie Rose’s show on PBS, Koppel said this when asked what he thought of my op-ed:

Forgive me, but I thought it was a little facile. I don’t agree with Bernie on that. I don’t think that people are by-and-large conservative or liberal. I mean he was making the point that they tend to be more liberal. I think that we are anti-establishment. I think that journalists, you know, can make their bread and butter going after the establishment, whoever the establishment happens to be. And whether that establishment is conservative or whether that establishment is liberal makes very little difference to most of my colleagues.

That’s what Ted said on February 29, 1996 – two weeks after my column was published.  This is Ted Koppel on March 7, 2019, speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

I’m terribly concerned that when you talk about the New York Times these days, when you talk about the Washington Post these days, we’re not talking about the New York Times of 50 years ago. We are not talking about the Washington Post of 50 years ago. We’re talking about organizations that I believe have, in fact, decided as organizations that Donald J. Trump is bad for the United States.

We have things appearing on the front page of the New York Times right now that never would have appeared 50 years ago. Analysis, commentary on the front page. I remember sitting at the breakfast table with my wife during the campaign after the Access Hollywood tape came out and the New York Times, and I will not offend any of you here by using the language but you know exactly what words were used and they were spelled out on the front page of the New York Times.

I turned to my wife and I said the Times is absolutely committed to making sure that this guy does not get elected. So his perception that the establishment press is out to get him doesn’t mean that great journalism is not being done. It is. But the notion that most of us look upon Donald Trump as being an absolute fiasco, he’s not mistaken in that perception and he’s not mistaken when so many of the liberal media, for example, described themselves as belonging to the Resistance.

What does that mean? That’s not said by people who consider themselves reporters, objective reporters of facts. That’s the kind of language that’s used by people who genuinely believe, and I rather suspect with some justification, that Donald Trump is bad for the United States and they’re betting that the sooner he’s out of office the better they will like it. Whether that happens by virtue of indictment, impeachment or election, we’ll see. … We are not the reservoir of objectivity that I think we were.

There will be no gloating here.  No I told you so Ted.  But for the record:  Liberal bias in the mainstream media didn’t start with Donald Trump.  They were biased long before he ran for president. That’s what I was saying in 1996 when Ted wrote me off as “facile.”

But let’s look on the bright side:  The good news is an important journalist who is both smart and fair has seen the light and has said what reporters rarely say – in public, out loud: that liberal bias exists and that it’s blatant, even if liberal journalists choose not to see it or do anything about it.

Better late than never Ted.




The Mind Boggling Brian Stelter

Apologies in advance, my friends:  I usually try to write about something or someone important but today I’m making an exception.  I’m writing about Brian Stelter, CNN’s so-called chief media correspondent.

It’s not just that Stelter is a hopelessly biased newsman.  It’s also that he doesn’t know it, that he lacks introspection.  He’s a media critic who doesn’t recognize his own media shortcomings.  #Sad.

Week in and week out he goes after his two favorite targets – President Trump and Fox News.  Good.  No problem.  When they screw up, which they often do, go after them.  Hold them accountable.

But when he had the opportunity not long ago to grill his fellow Trump-detesting liberal, Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the New York Times, he chose instead to do what he does best:  toss softballs and then sit there like a potted plant.

Here’s one of Stelter’s tough questions: What is the cumulative effect of President Trump’s attacks on the media?

Here’s another: Are the attacks out of control?

One more: How much has Donald Trump’s election contributed to a jump in online subscriptions at the New York Times?

I wrote a column about Stelter’s less than stellar performance and suggested a few questions he might have asked the editor of the Times, if Stelter didn’t have a man crush on Baquet.

Do you think diversity is important in America’s newsrooms? Why?

What about diversity of opinion?  Do you think you have enough of that kind of diversity at the Times?

Do you think that a newsroom populated overwhelmingly by liberal journalists poses no problems with bias, subconscious or otherwise?

Would you be okay with a newsroom overwhelmingly populated by conservativejournalists?

Do you believe, as many of your critics do, that there’s a liberal bias at the Times and in the media in general?

You’ve been a frequent critic of Fox News.  Do you think Fox is any more biased than CNN or MSNBC?

There were more questions like that, but you get the idea.

I would have been more than happy to move on, to never write or think about Brian Stelter again.  But along comes Jussie Smollett who inadvertently gives Stelter another opportunity to show us how dense he is.

Why in the world, Stelter wondered, would Smollett make up a story about being mugged by two white guys, who put a noose over his head, poured bleach on him and proclaimed “This is MAGA country.”

“It’s hard to imagine why anyone would think of orchestrating something like this,” Stelter said on CNN.  “It just boggles the mind.”  Several liberal colleagues sitting there with him were equally baffled.

“It boggles the mind! One struggles in vain to think of another profession in which someone could evince or affect as much incompetence as Stelter and Co. and expect to remain employed.” is how Kyle Smith so elegantly put it in National Review.

Never mind that Stelter, as Smith points out, “has lived nearly his entire life in the era of hate-crime hoaxes” and so, you might think, wouldn’t find Smollett’s made up story so mind-boggling.

Did Stelter forget about the Duke-lacrosse gang-rape hoax of 2006?  How about the University of Virginia gang-rape hoax of 2014? What about the incident just after Trump’s election when a woman on the New York City subway claimed drunken white men had ripped off her hijab – did CNN’s chief media reporter forget about that too? Did he forget about the Catholic high school kid in the MAGA hat in Washington and how the media got that story all wrong?  Does the name Tawana Brawley ring a bell?

“Smollett purchased with his story things of immeasurable value: Attention, sympathy, love,” Smith says. “The world’s eyes were upon him when, the weekend after the attack, he gave a tearful, impassioned performance on stage in L.A. ‘I had to be here tonight, y’all. I couldn’t let those motherf***ers win. I will always stand for love. I will only stand for love.’”

Whatever you say, Jussie!

What about Brian Stelter? What does he stand for?  Well, we can start with gullibility and move on to cluelessness.  Like so many liberals, both in an out of the media, he was eager to believe the worst about Trump supporters, which led to his bafflement on why such a nice gay, black man would ever make up such a story.

But there’s a piece of evidence that should have set off alarms for Brian Stelter and his baffled compatriots in the media, in Hollywood and in the world of pandering politicians: Al Sharpton didn’t jump on a jet and head to Chicago to hold a well-publicized rally at the “scene of the crime.”

When white guys attack a black man in the dead of night and shout a pro-Trump warning at their helpless victim, and Reverend Al doesn’t head for the cameras and microphones … there probably is no scene of the crime.




Chuck Todd Is Wrong on Why the Media Are Distrusted

Editor’s Note:  I’ll be off for a few days so John Daly will take over the featured spot with a column on the roots — real and perceived — of media bias.

Bernie 

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The other day, in a column published by The Atlantic, NBC’s Chuck Todd appealed to his colleagues in the media to start “fighting back” against what he calls President Trump’s “campaign to destroy the legitimacy of the American news media.”

It’s an interesting piece that’s definitely worth a read. Todd makes some valid points, especially in regard to the importance of a free press in a free society, and how Trump’s “fake news” offensive has helped drag public confidence in the media to dangerously low levels.

Still, Todd’s harshest words weren’t reserved for the president, but rather an entity that he blames for creating “the conditions” that allowed someone like Trump to brand the media as the “enemy of the people,” and actually have that message resonate with a large number of Americans.

But before you get too excited over the premise of a prominent member of the mainstream media exercising some serious self-reflection, and condemning decades of trust-squandering liberal bias within his profession, let me assure you that this did not happen.

No, Todd actually let the mainstream media off pretty easy. While he did acknowledge the existence of journalistic bias, he reduced it to its most incidental forms:

“The questions [reporters] ask, and the stories they pursue, are shaped by things as simple as geography. I grew up in Miami; I follow Cuban politics more closely than many other Americans did. As a result, when I covered the White House, I was more likely than my colleagues to ask questions about Cuba.”

While regional bias certainly exists, it’s not why people distrust the media.

Todd gets a little closer with this statement:

“Critics, for example, may be pointing to the way that certain journalists pay more attention to some issues than to others, or complaining about the unquestioned assumptions reflected in journalists’ work.”

Sure, that’s part of it, but Todd ignores the much larger complaints about the media’s widespread political and ideological biases.

There have long been glaring double standards when it comes to how Republicans are covered versus Democrats. These inclinations are well-documented and were perhaps illustrated best during the Obama era.

For some, the recent passing of John McCain brought back memories of the 2008 presidential election cycle, when Barack Obama was treated as royalty by a fawning press, while McCain’s campaign had to constantly fight for coverage (when the New York Times wasn’t accusing the Arizona senator of having an affair with a lobbyist).

Of course, McCain finally got some media attention after asking Sarah Palin to be his running mate, but in the closing weeks before Americans voted, a study showed that only 14% of McCain’s coverage was positive in tone. Obama’s positive coverage was more than double that.

After winning the presidency, Obama joked at a White House Correspondents Dinner that everyone in attendance had voted for him. Only, it wasn’t so much a joke. The media’s love-fest lasted for the duration of his presidency, and was visible in everything from an eagerness to accommodate his class warfare narratives, to aiding him in political debates, to demonstrating a breathtaking lack of interest in stories like Benghazi and the spread of ISIS throughout Iraq (which would have been used to crucify George W. Bush, had he still been in office).

The media has been presenting liberal viewpoints as prevailing wisdom (and conservative viewpoints as misguided and intolerant) for as far back as many of us can remember. Stories are routinely framed with deference to progressive social-justice themes and identity politics. Key elements of stories, that would lend credence to conservative sensibilities, are often omitted or glossed over. Liberal causes are typically presented as righteous while conservative causes are portrayed as callous. Movements like the Tea Party are vilified while movements like Occupy Wall Street are romanticized and legitimized.

The list goes on and on, and none of this is new. Yet, the liberal bubble that encases most of the media in this country isn’t seen as a culprit by Chuck Todd. Instead, Todd blames distrust in his profession on (you guessed it) conservatives — specifically the conservatives on television and radio who’ve been pointing out examples of liberal media bias for decades.

In other words, it’s not the cheating husband who ruined the marriage. It’s the fault of the friend who told the wife that her husband was cheating on her.

Todd takes particular aim at the late Roger Ailes, describing his programming strategy at Fox News as being less about a platform for alternative views, than it was an effort to make the public “hate” the other side (aka Democrats and liberals). He even goes as far as to accuse Ailes of creating a “mythology of a biased press.”

Mythology. You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

Narrowing down the argument for a moment, has Todd honestly never watched MSNBC (which he appears on regularly)? Has he not paid any attention to the network’s longtime, routine demonization of Republicans and conservatives, going back to at least the Bush administration?

Does Todd put no stock at all in the numerous examples documented over the years by people like Bernard Goldberg? Does he not lend credence to his former colleague, Tim Russert, who believed that close-mindedness on the subject of media bias was “totally contrary to who we’re supposed to be as journalists”?

It would have been interesting to hear Todd’s thoughts on NBC’s efforts to block Ronan Farrow’s reporting on the Harvey Weinstein story, but unfortunately, that topic wasn’t mentioned in his Atlantic piece.

Again, Todd does make some valid points in the column, but those points are much more applicable to what’s been going on in the Trump era than they were to the pre-Trump era. While the Fox News of yesteryear undeniably provided a plank for (usually legitimate) charges of media bias, that’s not primarily what we’re dealing with now.

Identifying media bias isn’t the same as declaring news to be “fake.” These are very different accusations with very different consequences. Bias is often unconscious (which is why people like me advocate for more ideologically diverse newsrooms) and it is by no means a fabrication of facts.

What Trump has done with his “fake news” campaign is take a legitimate problem (media bias) and twist it into a hyperbolic, highly dishonest narrative (“the media is just making things up”) that he uses for his own political purposes. Todd is wrongly conflating the two charges.

Trump’s strategy is indeed harmful in our free society, and he should be called out (and called out loudly) whenever he employs it. The media-conservatives who go beyond exposing bias, by echoing and promoting Trump’s “fake news” angle, should be called out as well. Some of the common violators Todd points out include Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Tucker Carlson.

I also don’t have a problem with Todd appealing to his colleagues in the media to aggressively defend their work (when it’s fair & accurate). That’s all fine and good. I want a reliable press, and if the reporting is credible, it should be defended.

But if one is truly alarmed by how little faith the public places in today’s news media (as I believe Todd is), the first step is to recognize the true origins of the problem. People like Ailes and Limbaugh didn’t create this mistrust. The establishment media did. And the problem won’t be effectively addressed until proper responsibility is taken, and serious internal efforts are made to raise journalistic standards.

Will that happen? Not when people like Chuck Todd are clinging to the notion that a “biased media” is a myth.




If Donald Trump Cured Cancer……

If Donald Trump cured cancer, this is exactly what I would expect to happen.  The Left would be outraged and I would expect headlines in the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, on CNN and MSNBC to read, “What Took Him So Long?”  “My Body, My Choice!”  “Trump Cures Cancer But Unable to Tackle the Common Cold!”  “Cure for Cancer No Substitute for Universal Healthcare!”  “Will Cancer Cure Be Available to Illegal Aliens Under Trump Administration?”

I could go on and on and I have absolutely no doubt this is exactly what would happen.

No matter what this man does, he gets push back from the media, the Congressional Democrats, and, what’s most discouraging for me, from his own party, not to mention the endless lawsuits to stop his executive orders.

Just over a year ago, Mike Pompeo was confirmed as CIA director with a Senate vote of 66-32, which included 14 Senate Democrats including Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein.  Yet, this week, the vote was 57-42 to confirm him as Secretary of State.  Only three Democrats voted for him and only because they’re up for re-election in states Donald Trump carried in 2016.  In other words, those Democrats wanted to save their own hides.  Last year, Rex Tillerson, was confirmed as Secretary of State with only a 56-43 vote.

Contrast this to the Obama Administration.  When Hillary Clinton was nominated for Secretary of State, the Senate confirmed her appointment by a vote of 94-2;  when John Kerry was later nominated, he was confirmed 94-3.

The Republicans, at that time, didn’t flee to safe places to lick their wounds; didn’t behave like a bunch of snowflake cry babies; they put on their big boy/girl panties and accepted the fact President Obama won the election and it was important enough to join together and confirm, barring any obvious missteps or improprieties, his nominees without obstructing the process.  The business of the United States was of paramount concern.

Fast forward to 2018 and we have a whole different mentality.  The Left will not give up.  They will not accept the fact that Hillary Clinton didn’t win.  They will not acknowledge the fact President Trump won the election.  Even some Republicans are hell-bent on obstructing President Trump and his agenda every step of the way.  This is most disheartening for me.

I can still remember the stone-cold faces of the Congressional Black Caucus members at this year’s State of the Union address when President Trump announced black unemployment is at its lowest ever.  That statistic clearly related to the President’s economic policies but, instead of giving any credit to him, these phonies sat there emotionless which only told me, and probably millions of other Americans watching, they could not care less for their constituents and their only concern was their own self interests.  How these people continue to be elected and re-elected and re-elected boggles my mind.

Lastly, on Friday’s front cover of the Wall Street Journal is a historic photo of Kim Jong Un, North Korean leader, with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.  This is the first time in my lifetime the North Korean leader set foot in the South.

Instead of some recognition of Mr. Trump’s efforts being instrumental in creating this seemingly burgeoning relationship, what I saw on the CNN and MSNBC websites was more “news” about Stormy Daniels and more stories about the non-existent Trump-Russian “collusion.”  Pitiful.  Will someone please tell those networks execs there was no Trump-Russian collusion.  Please!

It will be very interesting to see how the media reports the upcoming meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un.  They were absolute naysayers several months ago when they donned their Chicken Little masks and cried the world was coming to an end, Donald Trump’s finger was millimeters away from pressing the nuclear attack button, he was mentally unbalanced in his taunts of the North Korean leader and we were all going to die.  Instead, we may witness a meeting between these two leaders, something which, again, has not been seen in my lifetime.

Donning my own Pollyanna mask for a moment and visualizing a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, I wonder if those folks in Norway would be willing to award President Trump the Nobel Peace Prize.  Living in reality though, my Don Henleymask would seem far more appropriate – “when hell freezes over.”

I don’t get it, but if you do, God bless you.