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by Steven D. Laib, J.D., M.S.
05 November 2003Arrogance

“Hello, my name is Dan and I’m a liberal." A review of Bernard Goldberg's book on the liberal news media.

In Arrogance 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 Potatoes, Please.”

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.

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