Bernard Goldberg should have another winner. In his introduction he
states his intent to continue where his previous work Bias left off.
This he does by providing an introduction to the basic evidence of media
bias, with anecdotes that occurred since Bias was published.
He then shows how the media became an insular community where conformity
is the rule and anyone rocking the boat is subject to censure. Then
he describes how the New York Times and the wire services indirectly
influence what most other outlets present, and the types of pressure that
exist within the media community, causing most outlets to conform to what
is presented elsewhere. It is intelligently written, informative, and
entertaining from start to finish, and should have a place on the list of
books to be read by anyone seriously interested in understanding how journalism
and news coverage works today.
What makes Arrogance a pleasant read is Goldberg’s ability to present
a large amount of his information in a humorous or casual manner. He
is even able to laugh at himself on occasion. He generally avoids complaining,
and offers constructive criticism in many instances. He keeps the book
moving well, and the reader is sometimes clued in to where humor will take
center stage by the clever use of chapter titles such as, “Pass the Mashed
Another excellent tool used by Goldberg is the presentation of full text
conversations with Tim Russert and Bob Costas, covering their views of the
state of the media and where it needs to be fixed. Both interviews
are conducted in a pleasant friendly style, but elicit much to which the
reader should pay attention. Russert, particularly, hits hard at the
lack of diversity of opinion in most news venues, while showing how he has
worked to keep Meet the Press a place where there are no favorites
and where softball questions are not the rule. One has to congratulate
Russert on this point, given the many times we have seen other newsmaker
interview programs throw softballs to their guests and ignore the many times
that these guests evade giving any serious answer.
Not only does Goldberg take on the media as a whole, he takes on the subparts,
including those organizations dedicated to “minority groups” and their role
in promoting conformity and a “herd mentality.” Citing the cases of
John McWhorter and Shelby Steele, he provides us with their view of the situation,
including the telling observation from McWhorter on how the media elites
view him: “Here’s a black person who’s betraying his own cause.” This
is essentially the same statement attributed to Ward Connerly later in the
same chapter. He also tells the story of how McWhorter was interviewed
for essentially a whole day, by reporter Carole Simpson, who displayed two
different personalities; one on camera and one off camera. The story
never aired and McWhorter provides what he believes is the reason why.
It is not a positive observation on the “objective” reporting process.
Along the way Mr. Goldberg sends a large number of well-directed arrows at
the attitudes pervading the newsrooms. He asserts that “Truth Matters”
and that the job of the journalist is to tell the truth. He points
out how people acting as reporters find it all to easy to cross over from
fact to opinion and lose their objectivity in the process. That differences
of opinion are being cast as bigotry, which is, in itself, bigotry.
There is also his assertion that many media types are dealing with assumptions
rather than facts; that there are many cases where untrue items are presented
as facts because the reporter did not take the time to check them out.
This is exacerbated by the habit of always using the same sources, which
are portrayed as “mainstream” when they may actually be agenda driven.
In the end, the reporter or commentator loses professional skepticism in
their eagerness to believe what they want to believe.
While this is on the whole an excellent work, it is not without flaws.
When Mr. Goldberg notes that conservatives and liberals tend to hang out
with their compatriots, he fails to assert one important fact; that conservatives
generally do not tend to display the same herd mentality that many liberals
do. He also takes a very odd position on whether or not the Pentagon,
the command center for the entire United States military, constitutes a valid
target by an enemy.
Perhaps the weakest area of Goldberg’s work is his twelve-step program for
the media to recover its objectivity. Perhaps this program is intended
as tongue-in-cheek. Goldberg makes at least one indication that some
of it is. In any event, the basic difficulty is that in order for his
program to work it will be necessary for major media figures to admit that
they have a problem. As he puts it, “Hello, my name is Dan and I’m
a liberal.” But would Dan Rather or any of the other major figures
do something of this sort? My belief is that it is highly unlikely.
These individuals have spent years building themselves positions that they
will not want to abandon. Admitting that they are guilty of bias or
have slanted the news would strike the very foundations of those positions.
It would be as if someone had exposed Walter Cronkite as a con artist instead
of “the most trusted man in America.” Further, bringing contrary viewpoints
into the newsroom environment would undermine the apparent authority that
media elites enjoy. And likely as not, they take seriously their role
in telling America what to think, rather than how to think, or providing
impetus to intelligent discussion. They would prefer that America thinks
and acts in lockstep the way Goldberg portrays them as thinking and acting.
Finally, I believe that Goldberg’s “Final Word,” in which he suggests that
the media should use Edward R. Murrow as their guide, is seriously misplaced.
Serious research on Murrow and media philosophy suggest that he was one of
those responsible for laying the foundations of today’s biased attitudes.
This should not detract from the overall value of this work. Intelligent
people can disagree on issues such as this, which is precisely what Goldberg
is getting at, and what he would like to see in the media. This leaves
only one question. Is there someone out there who can provide the real
scoop on how Godfrey Cambridge ate mashed potatoes at society dinners?
Steven Laib is a practicing attorney. Bias is available at Amazon.com.