Conservative Books and "Studies" Alleging "Liberal
BOOK: "Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the
News" by Bernard Goldberg
"Bias" is another in a historically long line of right-wing
"opinion" (fiction) books (packaged as "fact").
Not unexpectedly, it is replete with misleading or false statements
and just plain nonsense. Needless to say, it failed to prove any
"liberal bias" - and the so-called "liberal media"
did their job trumpeting the book's fakery as "fact",
proving yet again that media is not "liberal".
post by Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler may be a good introduction
to the book:
It’s amazing that someone would try to show
"liberal bias" in the way Bernie Goldberg’s book does.
His allegations seem vast and sweeping, but his targets are rather
selective. He denounces an eight-year-old study of insect mating; he
laments the way Laurence Tribe was introduced on CBS in the 80s (the
way he allegedly was introduced; see THE
DAILY HOWLER, 1/12/02). But in a book released in December 2001,
there is barely a word about the Clinton press coverage, and there isn’t
a word—not a single one—about the treatment of Bush’s tax
cuts. In fact, there isn’t a single word in this book about the
coverage of Election 2000! Can any sane person believe that the
press corps was trying to get Al Gore elected? As Goldberg more or
less acknowledged in his 12/28 WMAL interview, he himself doesn’t
hold that view. So in a book which denounces the corps’
"liberal bias," we simply skip the trashing of Gore.
Instead, we mourn the way Laurence Tribe was introduced on CBS
during Reagan’s first term.
note by Somerby also explains quickly how fact-free
and opinion-filled the book is:
GOLDBERG (page 13): “Then what about the mainstream
media’s treatment of Clinton? You can’t possibly think they
went easy on him, can you?” is what liberals always ask.
It’s a fair question. And the answer is, no, they didn’t
go easy on Clinton. The truth is, reporters will go after any
politician—liberal or conservative—if the story is big enough
and the politician is powerful enough.
Strange, isn’t it? The press corps is
swimming in liberal bias—but they “didn’t go easy on
Clinton,” this generation’s most important liberal pol! (Bernie
doesn’t mention the trashing of Gore.) But then, Bernie can talk
his way out of anything. Here’s the way he gets around the
media’s coverage of Bush:
GOLDBERG (pages 10-11): Perhaps the charge liberals have
been making most often to back their claim of conservative bias is
that the media have given George W. Bush a free ride on some very
important issues involving foreign policy and national security.
For a while you could hardly open up a liberal magazine or go to a
liberal Web site without finding some bitter screed about how the
press was sucking up to the president on everything from the war
in Iraq to supposed civil liberties abuses at home. But the truth
is, all the media were doing was what the media always do in times
of war: They were rallying round the flag.
Can’t you see? There’s an answer for everything! In
BernieVille, the media can “go after Clinton” and give Bush “a
free ride,” but they’re still thick with that rank liberal bias!
To get a sample of how
fraudulent the book is, let's start with David
Brock's coverage of this book - a book which was promoted by
the right-wing media extensively and which President Bush was
photographed with (bold text is my emphasis):
[Some extracts from
Notably, Goldberg averred, as did the Lichters, that this
subconscious bias does not much affect issues of partisan
politics. According to Goldberg and other conservative media
critics, the media is not biased in favor of Democrats or against
Republicans. By and large, conservatives are happy with the coverage
of politics. Their anxiety boils down to the "social
The media elite are charged with favoring civil rights, women's
rights, and gay rights. They are "too sensitive" in their
portrayal of ethnic minorities, women, and gays on television.
Again and again, Goldberg complained that the TV news "dresses
up reality" by showing heterosexual women as AIDS victims,
rather than "reckless" gay men or drug-addled prostitutes,
and by portraying homelessness as a problem of "blond-haired,
blue-eyed" all-American families rather than of criminals and
the mentally ill. While Goldberg may have been on firmer ground
here, he attributed these biases to the fact that the TV news
audience is overwhelmingly white and middle-class: They want to see
people like themselves when they tune in.55 The
villain is ratings, not liberal bias, he concluded. He also
railed against NBC for treating its parent company, General
Electric, with kid gloves. That isn't liberal bias, either.56
Once in the book
Goldberg attempted a verifiable empirical claim. He argued that
conservatives are more often labeled than liberals. "In the
world of the Jennings and the Brokaws and the Rathers, conservatives
are out of the mainstream and have to be identified. Liberals, on
the other hand, are the mainstream and don't have to be
identified," he wrote. He did no research to establish the
Brock cites the work of
Stanford researcher Geoffrey Nunberg, who demolished Goldberg's latter
claim by actually looking at some numbers.
Here's some of the
relevant data from Nunberg's
original Fresh Air piece:
For the most part,
Goldberg's book is a farrago of anecdotes, hearsay, and unsupported
generalizations. But at one point he strays into territory that can
actually be put to a test. That's when he claims that the media
"pointedly identify conservative politicians as
conservatives," but rarely use the word "liberal" to
TV newscasts aren't easy to check, and Goldberg doesn't offer any
research to back up his claim. But Goldberg and the other critics of
media bias also make their charges about the language of the press,
which is available online. So I went to a big online database and
did a search on the articles from about 30 major newspapers,
including The New York Times , the LA Times, the
Washington Post, The Boston Globe , the Miami Herald,
and the San Francisco Chronicle .
For purposes of
comparison, I took the names of ten well-known politicans, five
liberals and five conservatives. On the liberal side were Senators
Boxer, Wellstone, Harkin, and Kennedy, and Representative Barney
Frank. On the conservative side were Senators Lott and Helms, John
Ashcroft, and Representatives Dick Armey and Tom Delay. Then I
looked to see how often each of those names occurred within seven
words of liberal or conservative , whichever was
appropriate. Of course some of those hits involved extraneous noise,
say when the word liberal just happens to find itself near
Barbara Boxer's name with no real connection between the two. But
when I checked a sample of the results by hand, it turned out that
more than 85 percent of them did in fact involve the assignment of a
political point of view, with phrases like "Paul Wellstone, the
liberal senator," or "Senate conservatives like Jesse
Helms." And with a sample of more than 100,000 references to
the names on the list, the results were statistically sound.
In fact, I did find a
big disparity in the way the press labels liberals and
conservatives, but not in the direction that Goldberg claims. On the
contrary: the average liberal legislator has a thirty percent greater
likelyhood of being identified with a partisan label than the
average conservative does. The press describes Barney Frank as a
liberal two-and-a-half times as frequently as it describes Dick
Armey as a conservative. It gives Barbara Boxer a partisan label
almost twice as often as it gives one to Trent Lott. And while it
isn't surprising that the press applies the label conservative
to Jesse Helms more often than to any other Republican in the group,
it describes Paul Wellstone as a liberal twenty percent more
frequently than that.
At first I wondered
whether I had inadvertantly included a bunch of conservative
newspapers in my sample. So I did the same search in just three
papers that are routinely accused of having a liberal bias, The
New York Times , the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles
Times . Interestingly, those papers tend to use labels of both
sorts slightly less than the other papers do. But even there, the
liberals get partisan labels thirty percent more often than
conservatives do, the same proportion as in the press at large.
The tendency isn't
limited to politicians, either. For example, Goldberg writes that
"it's not unusual to identify certain actors, like Tom Selleck
or Bruce Willis, as conservatives. But Barbra Streisand or Rob
Reiner. . . are just Barbra Streisand and Rob Reiner." But
Goldberg's dead wrong there, too. The press gives partisan labels to
Streisand and Reiner almost five times as frequently as it does to
Selleck and Willis. For that matter, Warren Beatty gets a partisan
label twice as often as Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Norman Lear gets
one more frequently than Charlton Heston does.
It's the same with other
figures. Goldberg claims that Robert Bork is always called a
conservative whereas Laurence Tribe is just identified as a Harvard
law professor, but when you look at the data, it turns out that the
two are labeled with almost exactly the same frequency. And the
columnist Michael Kinsley gets a partisan label slightly more often
than George Will does -- and more often than Jerry Falwell.
There are some
exceptions here. Americans for Democratic Action gets a label
slightly less frequently than the Heritage Foundation, though both
are labeled very often. In fact, the ADA gets a label more often
than the Young Americans for Freedom does, and almost three times as
often as conservative groups like the Cato Institute or the National
Association of Scholars. And the overall tendency is overwhelming:
liberals are singled out for their views more often than
I found the results
surprising, not because I assumed the press had a liberal bias, but
because liberal has become such a problemmatic word that
nobody seems to want to use it.
But nobody every talks about "the C-word," and people on
the right are always happy to call themselves conservatives.
I'd have figured that
all that would make the press, too, a bit reluctant to use the
"liberal" label. But it turns out the newspapers label
liberals much more readily than they do conservatives.
 Note: After this
piece aired, I had a couple of emails from people who suggested that
another choice of legislators might have made the results come out
differently. That's true, but a look at the accompanying table will
show that the tendency to label liberals more than conservatives was
no less marked for other figures.
In a follow-up
piece in the American Prospect, Nunberg went even farther in
response to critics:
One response to the
piece came from Bernard Goldberg himself, whose bestseller Bias
has given wide circulation to the notion that the press define
liberals as the mainstream by labeling conservatives far more than
they do liberals. In an op-ed
piece in the Miami Herald, Goldberg offers two numbers to
prove his point about labeling. First, he says that a six-month
search of The New York Times showed that the word
"conservative" popped up in news stories 1,580 times;
"liberal" only 802 times.
Well, but so what?
Goldberg didn't bother to check how many of those instances of
"conservative" and "liberal" were used as labels
of American politicians or interest groups, much less to relativize
those numbers to the occurrences of the names of each. For that
matter, he didn't even try to screen out occurrences of
"conservative" that referred to European political
parties, business suits, or investment strategies, not to mention
occurrences of "liberal" that referred to loan repayment
terms and helpings of gravy. In short, these figures are utterly
Goldberg's other number
involves one of those specious comparisons that critics of liberal
media bias are prone to. In this case, he points out that "the Los
Angeles Times ran only 98 stories about the Concerned Women for
America and identified the group as conservative 28 times. But The
LA Times ran more than 1,000 stories on the National
Organization for Women and labeled NOW liberal only seven
But that's meretricious,
in every sense of the term. Concerned
Women for America is a self-identified conservative Christian
group (it opposes, among other things, abortion, homosexual
adoption, hate-crime legislation, the AmeriCorps volunteer program,
and the teaching of "ill-conceived Darwinian theory" in
the schools). Whereas NOW makes a point of rejecting explicitly
partisan labels -- the appropriate description of the group is
"feminist." To insist on labeling it as
"liberal" would be to assume that to be pro-choice makes
you by definition a liberal, by which criterion Goldberg ought to be
equally indignant that the press doesn't use the "liberal"
label for Christine Todd Whitman or Tom Ridge.
Goldberg has made a
specialty of loaded comparisons like this one -- in Bias, he
complains that the media routinely label Rush Limbaugh as a
conservative talk show host, but don't label Rosie O'Donnell as a
liberal TV talk show host. I mean, Rosie O'Donnell? A serious critic
would have chosen an example better suited to making the point --
comparing Limbaugh to someone like Michael Kinsley or James Carville,
say. But it's precisely the blatant speciousness of the
Limbaugh-O'Donnell comparison that commends it to people like
Goldberg and his devotees, who delight in imagining how annoying it
will be to people on the other side. You have the sense Goldberg's
not really interested in persuading anyone -- this is for the
on my TAP article develops this strategy at length.
Bozell claims that I ignored studies by the Media
Research Center that show discrepancies in the labeling of what
he takes to be conservative and liberal groups. For example, he
says, newspaper stories on the Competitive Enterprise Institute
included a conservative label 28 percent of the time, compared to
less than one percent for the Sierra Club, and that Concerned Women
for America is labeled far more often than Planned Parenthood.
But those comparisons
are as transparently loaded as Goldberg's are. After all, the Sierra
Club membership came close to adopting a resolution favoring
immigration restriction a few years ago, and Planned Parenthood
out that Peggy Goldwater was the founder of its Arizona chapter.
To insist that the press describe these groups as liberal amounts to
demanding that it adopt the lexicon of the right on a wholesale
basis, like a baseball manager demanding that the team's own fans
should determine the strike zone. Again, this one is for the
It's notable that Bozell
doesn't mention any figures for well-known groups like the Americans
for Democratic Action (ADA) or the Center for Justice, who fairly
deserve to be labeled as liberal or progressive. As it happens, I
for a number of political organizations like these, and if I wanted
to play Bozell's game I could point out that ADA and the Center for
Justice are labeled far more often than conservative groups like the
National Association of Scholars, the Center for the Study of
Popular Culture, or the Competitive Enterprise Institute. But that
would be misleading -- the fact is that there's a lot of
unaccountable variation in the frequency of labeling of groups, with
some groups on both sides, like the Heritage Foundation and ADA,
being labeled far more than others.
responses to my study are worthy of more serious discussion. The
Boyd went to the trouble of replicating a part of the study on
the last six months of the Nexis "Major Papers" database
(probably not the best period to pick, since the coverage of
American politics has been decidedly atypical in the months
following September 11). Boyd used the ten names that I used in my
test set, and found that conservatives on average were labeled as
"conservative" about fifteen percent more often than
liberals were labeled as "liberal."
Not surprisingly, a few
conservative bloggers trumpeted Boyd's results as having
"refuted" my claims. But even if Boyd's results were
valid, that conclusion wouldn't hold. What Goldberg argued, after
all, was that there was a massive disproportion in the labeling of
conservatives, which is not the same as a fifteen percent
difference. Still, Boyd's result surprised me, since the American
papers in the Nexis database are largely the same ones I looked at.
But there turns out to
be a very big fly in Boyd's ointment. He himself points to the
problem when he notes that the database he used contained some
English-language foreign papers that might have skewed the results.
In fact, fully 32 of the 80 papers in the database are foreign,
ranging from the Sydney Telegraph to the Scotsman, the
Tokyo Daily Yomuri, and The Jerusalem Post. And when I
ran these searches in the Nexis "non-US news" database,
which includes all of the foreign papers in the database that Boyd
looked at, it turned out that foreign papers label American
conservatives more than four times as often as they label liberals
-- possibly because of their point of view, but more likely because
"liberal" often has another meaning in foreign contexts
and because American conservatives like Jesse Helms, John Ashcroft,
and Trent Lott are much better known abroad than liberals like
Barbara Boxer, Barney Frank, Tom Harkin, or Paul Wellstone.
introduces a strong tilt in favor of labeling conservatives into the
overall data. In fact, when you correct Boyd's results for the
relative disproportion of labels in the foreign papers in the
database -- a matter of fairly
simple math -- you find that the likely rate of labeling in the
American papers in the database favors the labeling of
liberals by an 18 percent margin. In short, Boyd's data confirm my
own, or at least as best as one can make sense of such a small and
One other point worth
mentioning is that Boyd did another search that included not just
the labels "conservative" and "liberal," but
also the labels "right wing" and "left wing,"
which increased the disparity in the labeling of conservatives to
around 30 percent. Conservative media critics have often claimed
that the press uses "right wing" a good deal more often
than "left wing," and in this they're absolutely right. In
my own data, for example, I found that Jesse Helms was described as
"right wing" about thirty times as often as Paul Wellstone
was described as "left wing." But if you are going to look
at "left wing," you're obliged to look at the other labels
the press uses for liberal politicians, as well -- terms like
"progressive," "on the left,"
"leftist," and so on. In my own data, it turned out that
these labels were applied to Wellstone slightly more frequently than
the analogous labels
with "right" were applied to Helms. And when I did
some searches in the same database that Boyd used, I found that the
inclusion of terms like "progressive,"
"leftist," and "on the left" would have
increased Wellstone's rate of labeling by about fifty percent, and
doubled Barney Frank's. In for a penny, in for a pound.
inclined to lay the deficiencies in Boyd's study to a lack of
sophistication, rather than to the out-and-out disingenuousness of a
Goldberg or Bozell. In any event, all these numbers make it clear
that labeling simply doesn't come out the way that Goldberg and
others say it does. So it isn't surprising that some conservatives
have reacted to my survey by depreciating the labeling differences
entirely. As Bozell puts it: "Nunberg found liberal politicians
were tagged in 4.8 percent of stories to conservatives' 3.6 percent.
There's your 30 percent. Big, big deal." And one blogger
characterized the results by saying "A staggering 1.2%
difference!. . . Come on guys, one percent?"
That's a patently
misleading way to interpret these results, of course. (If the murder
rate in your city went from 3.6 to 4.8 percent, would you be
reassured by a police chief who explained that the increase was only
1.2 percent?) But the very fact that conservatives are pooh-poohing
the labeling disparities suggests that they've decided to back off
from this argument and move on to looking at other, more subjective
forms of close reading.
fair enough, but in this connection I was struck by the fact that
none of the critics took on the single most extraordinary result in
the data I looked at -- this one involving, not labeling, but the
way the press talks about the bias story itself. In the newspapers I
looked at, the word "media" appears within seven words of
"liberal bias" 469 times and within seven words of
"conservative bias" just 17 times -- a twenty-seven-fold
discrepancy. (As it happens, the disproportion is about the same in
the database that Boyd looked at -- 72 to 3).
Now there's a
difference that truly deserves to be called staggering. But how
should we explain it? Certainly critics on the left haven't been
silent about what they take to be conservative bias in the media,
whether in the pages of political reviews or in dozens of recent
books. But the press has given their charges virtually no attention,
while giving huge play to complaints from the right about liberal
bias. That's hardly what you'd expect from a press that really did
have a decided liberal bias, and in fact the discrepancy is far
greater than anything you could explain by supposing that reporters
were merely bending over backwards to be fair -- in that case, after
all, you'd expect them to give at least a polite nod to the other
side, as well.
The media may not have
invented the "liberal bias" story, but people like
Goldberg and Bozell couldn't have put it over without their active
[More on Nunberg's data here.]
Somerby at the Daily Howler has also pointed out how misleading
the results could be when research of this kind is done thoughtlessly.
But this is fairly standard stuff at America’s most ludicrous
dotcom. Routinely, Sullivan misreps op-ed pieces to which he
provides direct links. Translation: Sullivan is so sure that the
cattle can’t read that he’s willing to lie in their unblinking
faces. Does anyone at this oddball dotcom ever link—and
give up on its host?
But with Sully, the lies are just foreplay. Yesterday, he quickly
"defer[red] to a young and fearless blogger," Patrick
Ruffini, who had done "a quick statistical analysis of the use
of the term ‘right-wing’ in a couple of major papers."
Trembling over his acolyte’s brilliance, Sullivan quoted at
RUFFINI, AS QUOTED BY SULLIVAN: Since 1996, the Washington Post
has used this loaded term ["right-wing"] more than twice
as frequently as "left-wing"…This disparity was even
more palpable at the New York Times, where 80.2% of the left-right
mentions on the national news pages since 1996 have spotlighted
the right. The research also found that the more loaded and
derogatory the phrase, the more likely it was to be associated
with the political right. The term "conservative"
outpolled "liberal" by 66-34% in New York Times news
page mentions, while the aforementioned "right-wing"
clocked in at 80% in a similar measure. However, the term
"right-wing extremist" was used at least six times as
frequently than "left-wing extremist" (at 87.4% since
’96 in the Times). [emphasis added]
If that didn’t prove it, nothing would. At the New York Times,
"right-wing extremist" was used much more often than
"left-wing extremist." Case closed.
But duh. Does unequal usage of those terms show a liberal bias?
We were dubious, so we did a test—we checked out the use of these
terms at the Washington Times. How many times did the Wes
Pruden rag use those terms in the last five years? Our finding? The
Washington Times reeks of liberal bias! In fact, its liberal
bias is even worse than that found in the Times of New York!
That’s right, folks. Over the past five years, NEXIS says that
"left-wing extremist" has appeared in the Washington Times
all of eight times total. But the term "right-wing
extremist" has appeared there 72 times, exactly nine times
as often. Surely this fact doesn’t mean that the paper is full
of liberal bias. But that’s the conclusion that Sullivan’s
method would force us to reach. There’s a word for such a dude.
Alas! Ruffini simply counted the use of certain expressions, then
leaped to conclusions about liberal bias. There are so many problems
with this technique that it would take a whole book to explain them.
But no matter. The Brainy Brit quickly bought his method, and soon
was broadcasting drek to the planet.
That’s right, gang. If you buy the Brainy Brit’s latest
researched technique, the Washington Times is swimming in liberal
bias. Count Ruffini will live to research again. But where in the
world—where on earth—did we find his hapless promoter?
Next: Motive mavens
The Times, D.C. and Gotham: Ruffini charted the usage of his
selected expressions "since 1996." According to NEXIS, if
you start your search at 1/1/96, here’s how the Times Two stack
The Washington Times:
Right-wing extremist: 86 uses
Left-wing extremist: 9 uses
The New York Times:
Right-wing extremist: 75 uses
Left-wing extremist: 9 uses
According to Sullivan’s brilliant technique, the WashTimes has
slightly more liberal bias. Question: Where in the world—where
on earth—did we ever come up with this dud?
That Goldberg was just
making up nonsense as he went along is also reflected in
this comment captured by Brock
When challenged during
his TV appearances, Goldberg invariably replied that since so many
Americans believe the claim that the media is liberal, he couldn't
be wrong. But as Nunberg pointed out, this logic has a circular
quality to it. "In newspaper articles published since 1992, the
word 'media' appears within seven words of 'liberal bias' 469 times
and within seven words of 'conservative bias' just 17 times,"
he wrote. "If people are disposed to believe that the media
have a liberal bias, it's because that's what the media have been
telling them all along."
Eric Alterman in a Nation
column said it succinctly:
Sorry, I know enough can
be more than enough, but this quote of [Andrew Sullivan] is
irresistible: "I ignored Geoffrey Nunberg's piece in The
American Prospect in April, debunking the notion of liberal
media bias by numbers, because it so flew in the face of what I knew
that I figured something had to be wrong." When a conservative
pundit "knows" something to be true, don't go hassling him
with contrary evidence. It so happens that linguist Geoffrey Nunberg
did the necessary heavy lifting to disprove perhaps the one
contention in Bernard Goldberg's book Bias the so-called
liberal media felt compelled--perhaps out of misplaced
generosity--to accept: that the media tend to label conservatives as
such more frequently than alleged liberals. Tom Goldstein bought
into it in Columbia Journalism Review. So did Jonathan Chait
in TNR. Howard Kurtz and Jeff Greenfield let it go
unchallenged on Communist News Network. Meanwhile, Goldberg admits
to "knowing," Sullivan style, happily ignorant of any
relevant data beyond his own biases. He did no research, he says,
because he did not want his book "to be written from a social
scientist point of view." [eRiposte
the unbelievable exchange where Goldberg said this.]
In trying to defend his fact-compromised book,
Goldberg continued to fabricate things during his media appearances.
Here's an example from Bob
Somerby at the Daily Howler:
But Bernie was all over the TV last weekend discussing this very
same topic. In a book event in Washington, D.C. which C-SPAN was
clever enough to tape, several spoilsports kept asking Bernie why
his book seems to have so few data. First, a political
science professor asked why he hadn’t done a systematic analysis
of Jennings’ statements. "I didn’t want this to be written
from a social scientist point of view," Goldberg said, adding,
"I have total confidence that the point here is accurate."
But twenty minutes later, he was challenged again, this time by a
man named Sandy Grossman, a retired employee of one of the nets:
GROSSMAN: I think the professor brought up a big problem. I
mean, you say when they name a liberal they don’t say,
"He’s a liberal"…Now I’m thirteen years older than
you and I’ve been watching the news longer than you have. And I
have heard Teddy Kennedy always, virtually, identified as
"the liberal Democratic senator from Massachusetts." So
unless you’ve got some kind of numbers, I think it’s very hard
for you to make your major thesis…
Goldberg batted it out of the park. Grossman had handed him
"an easy one," he said. We include Goldberg’s own
GOLDBERG: Let me say this. And I want to say this as clearly as
I can. You are dead wrong. Dead wrong. Not even close about
Teddy Kennedy. You have not, almost every time they mention
his name, heard "liberal." I will say this—you have
heard the word "liberal" almost never mentioned
when they say his name, on the evening newscasts. They just
don’t. That part—I mean you gave me an easy one, and I
appreciate that. It doesn’t happen.
Except, of course, it does happen. Kennedy isn’t on the
evening newscasts that much—they mostly deal with back pain and
neuralgia—but we looked at the first six months of 2001, as
President Bush entered the White House. During this period, Kennedy
was in the news several times. And so, it turned out, was the
January 23, 2001. Bush has been president all of three days.
Senator Kennedy hails the chief. Ands Lisa Myers reports to the
MYERS, NBC Nightly News,1/23/01: Tom [Brokaw], it was an
unusual day at the Capitol. Instead of the usual partisan sniping,
many Democrats say they are encouraged, even excited by seven—70
to 80 percent of the president’s plan, but are prepared to do
battle over the rest. Listen to the Senate’s leading liberal
after meeting with Bush.
KENNEDY (on tape): There are some areas of difference, but the
overwhelming areas of agreement and the support are very, very
Myers had called Ted a liberal. But so did her colleague, David
Gregory, reporting on February 2:
GREGORY, NBC Nightly News, 2/2/01: Privately, some
Democrats wonder who is the real George Bush. The Republican, more
conservative than he seems, who nominates the very conservative
John Ashcroft, today showing up for work at the Justice
Department? Or a true centrist who courts the Congressional Black
Caucus this week and leading liberal Ted Kennedy, inviting
him and other family members to the White House to watch Thirteen
Days, a film based on the Cuban missile crisis?
Gregory hit it right down the fairway—Kennedy was a liberal and
Ashcroft was a con. On May 23, Ted was in the news again as James
Jeffords left the GOP. And this time, look who was naming the
BROKAW NBC Nightly News, 5/23/01: Tim [Russert], a lot
of people may not realize if this all goes as we expect that it
will, Monday morning Tom Daschle will be the new Senate majority
leader as the leader of the Democratic Party. Not even power
sharing with the Republicans.
RUSSERT: Tom, if this happens it is a big deal. Look at the
issues. Take judicial appointments, including Supreme Court, no
longer overseen by conservative Orrin Hatch. Liberal Democrat
Pat Leahy. Education? Ted Kennedy is the new chairman.
Environment, oil drilling, nuclear power? Jim Jeffords becomes the
new chairman of that particular committee. Missile defense, Carl
Levin, liberal from Michigan. All of the Bush agenda will have
to be modified significantly in order to pass the Senate.
Russert didn’t explicitly call Teddy a liberal, but
Leahy and Levin explicitly were. On June 14, Myers was back,
discussing the education bill:
BROKAW, NBC Nightly News, 6/14/01: It wasn’t all bad
news for the president today. He was part of a big victory on
Capitol Hill, as members of both parties in the Senate voted
overwhelmingly to approve a major new education bill. As NBC’s
Lisa Myers reports tonight, this was a spectacular case of the old
saying about strange bedfellows and politics.
MYERS: Today’s victory for the president came thanks to a
most unlikely ally, the liberal lion of the Senate: Ted Kennedy.
Why did he do it? Kennedy says he became convinced this Republican
president cares about educating poor children.
According to Goldberg, "they just don’t" call Teddy a
liberal on the evening newscasts—"it doesn’t happen,"
he said. At NBC, that is plainly false. But then, ABC had its
moments as well:
TERRY MORAN, World News Tonight, 2/1/01: Well, Peter
[Jennings], you might call it the courtship of Teddy Kennedy. A
little while ago, Senator Kennedy arrived at the White House with
his wife Victoria. And he seemed to be carrying some kind of gift
for the president, some kind of photo—framed photograph. This
marks the fifth time since President Bush’s inauguration that he
has met the nation’s leading liberal. It’s a personal
and political dance that has official Washington buzzing.
LINDA DOUGLASS, World News Tonight, 6/23/01: If Jeffords
switches, Democrat Tom Daschle would be the Senate’s leader.
Democrats would control which legislation comes up for a vote.
They would chair the committees. Liberal Patrick Leahy, the
Judiciary Committee, with power over the selection of Mr. Bush’s
judges; liberal Ted Kennedy, the Health and Education
Committee, in charge of prescription drug legislation;
conservation-minded Jeff Bingaman, the energy—overseeing Mr.
Bush's energy plan.
LINDA DOUGLASS, World News Tonight, 6/24/01: But many
Democrats were already flexing their new muscle. On the Judiciary
Committee, liberals say they will now block judges they deem
KENNEDY (on tape): We will not be stampeded. We will not be a
rubber stamp for the administration for ideological justices.
Douglas called Teddy a liberal two nights in a row! Why,
it even happened at corrupt CBS:
JOHN ROBERTS, CBS Evening News, 1/23/01: Liberal
Democrats, eager to show bipartisan support for education
reform, gave high marks to most of the plan, but when pressed, said
they will fight Mr. Bush’s voucher proposal to help students
leave failing schools and take federal money with them.
KENNEDY (on tape): I’m opposed to it. We’ll have chances along
the way to oppose it. He understands that.
But that was it for CBS; they only called Teddy a
"liberal" one time. Were they hiding Teddy’s liberal
ways beneath a burqa of their own making? Actually, they were hiding
Teddy altogether. We checked CBS for the month of June, when the
other two nets were calling him "liberal." Teddy was
mentioned on the Evening News only once, on a night when Bob
Schieffer subbed for Dan:
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS Evening News, 6/15/01: And that’s
the news. Sunday on Face the Nation, we’re gonna talk with
Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy and the Senate Republican
leader, Trent Lott…And Dan Rather will be back on Monday. This
is Bob Schieffer in New York.
That was the only time Teddy was mentioned all month. And
you’ll notice that Schieffer identified Teddy and Trent in a
Clearly, Goldberg was totally wrong in his statement to Grossman.
He implied that network newscasts never call Ted a lib, and
that is plainly false. Do they identify Kennedy more or less often
than they do with conservative solons? That question we simply
can’t answer. We don’t plan to do all Bernie’s research
for him—but that is a question he should have studied before he
published his laughable book, and before he went all over the
country making pleasing but flagrant misstatements.
Indeed, Goldberg’s attitude on this matter is an insult to the
American public interest. Here is the question put to him by that
PROFESSOR: When you were thinking about writing this book, did
you consider not using anecdotes, but rather having a research
assistant to do a systematic analysis of the number of times
Rather, Jenning, Brokaw said "conservative" and not
"liberal," because I think that one of the criticisms
one can lodge at you is that, "Hey, you heard Jennings say it
once. How many times has he said it over the course of a
year?"…As a social scientist, I think you could have and
We chuckled at the perfesser’s assumption—his assumption that
a CBS newsman would have to hire an assistant to gather some actual
facts. But Goldberg’s reply simply says it all about Bernie and
others just like him:
GOLDBERG: I did think about it. And I didn’t want this book
written from a social scientist point of view. I understand the
question and it’s a perfectly legitimate question. But I am sure
enough, based on things that I’ve seen that social scientists
did do—people in this town have done studies that they named
conservatives like ten times more than liberals. And I also
knew—and please understand how I mean this; this is not some
smart-ass thing I’m about to say—I also knew that this would
be important to social scientists, but not to regular folks who
just want to read about what somebody experienced at CBS News.
Incredible, isn’t it? "Social scientists" might care
if Goldberg is right, but "normal people" just want a good
story. That is a process we’ve often described. We’ve called it
"throwing feed to the cattle."
When he was challenged later by Grossman, Goldberg also referred
to the "numerous studies" that nailed own his points so
well. He also admitted that he couldn’t quite name them. (Goldberg
rarely shows any sign of knowing anything about his
own subject.) But why was he sure about his claims? Bernie sketched
that out too. "I mean there are certain things that we just
know are true because, because it’s just out there," he said.
Of course, Bernie also knew-it-was-true that the evening newscasts
never call Ted a "liberal." That claim is also "out
there," thanks to Bernie. The claim is "out
there"—and it’s totally false.
We pointed out, in our earlier HOWLERS, that Goldberg’s book is
a laughable mess. To the extent that it discusses real issues at
all, it is cut-and-pasted from other sources, some of them highly
unreliable; Goldberg clearly did no original research at all in
putting this opus together. It presents a list of shaky claims which
Goldberg puts forward because they’re "out there." Of
Bernie Goldberg’s inexcusable work, therefore, we ask this one
question: Where are standards?
Next: How easy is it to yell "liberal bias?" A
blast from the past helps you see.
And now for something else totally false: Once Tim had
mentioned THE DAILY HOWLER, Bernie knew that he had all the
facts. But the schmoes he met at the bookstore event were handed
GOLDBERG (bookstore event): So why does Peter Jennings—a
bright guy, a decent guy, I’m sure he’s a fair guy, you know
this wasn’t intentional—why does he think that he has to
identify every conservative who walks up as
"conservative" and doesn’t have to identify any of
As we pointed out in the past, Jennings most definitely did not
"identify every conservative" on the day which Goldberg
constantly cites. Bernie didn’t peddle that bullroar to Tim. The
folks at the bookstore weren’t so lucky.
[More on the "liberal" labeling nonsense, here.
A similar labeling-based attack (the operating word?
"homophobe" or derivates) is also shown to be bunk, here].
Goldberg also took it a step further comically accusing
his critics of personal attacks! To see how ridiculous that is,
here's an example from Bob
GOLDBERG: Yes, but the proof is in
the pudding, as they say, pardon that cliche. If they felt the
same way, then they wouldn’t attack on the most vicious, nasty,
you know, level that they do.
You could tell that Bernie was
shaken. "Most of the reaction has been positive," he told
Bill. "Even the negative reaction has been civil. But the
personal stuff is real interesting, isn’t it? The personal
stuff—Kinsley says it’s a dumb book, as you said."
But then, it was also a very dumb interview.
Imagine the cattle, sitting at home, listening to Bernie weep and
play victim—then reading the things which he himself said in his
own brilliant small tome. The truth is, Bernie hadn’t been such a
big Sensitive Guy when he was the one sitting down at the
keyboard. On the second page of his book, for example, Bernie says
this about CBS, with "Dan," of course, being Dan Rather:
GOLDBERG (page 10): 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
And no, we didn’t make that up.
That was fine for Bernie to write, but when Michael Kinsley called
him "dumb," he pretended that he had to see a shrink to
figure out how scribes can be so cruel.
There’s nothing this phony won’t do and say to get the cattle to
go buy his droppings. Goldberg’s weeping appearance on Monday
night was the latest bit of well-staged herding—an attempt to get
the cattle aroused about those perfidious lefties. We just hope the
herd recalls Bernie’s angst when they get to this part of his
GOLDBERG (page 109): Dan Rather made
sure I was kept off the air (or off his evening newscast, anyway),
which is death to a television reporter. Peter Johnson, who writes a
TV column in USA Today—and who would break his nose on Dan’s
behind if the anchorman ever stopped quickly—wrote that many
of my colleagues dismissed me as "dead wrong, an ingrate, a
nut, or all of the above." [emphasis added]
Do you see a certain recurrent theme
in the Great Author’s smutty renderings? Of course, Goldberg’s
colleagues were saying the things which Johnson reported, as
Goldberg himself recounts in his book. But, just for daring to write
the truth, Johnson got smutted by Bernie. All throughout
Goldberg’s book, meanwhile, Rather and other CBS execs are
compared to figures from organized crime. Various individuals are
smutted around in the manner displayed above. The book closes out
with an image of Goldberg shooting Rather in the eye (with his
remote). But when Kinsley states an obvious fact—this is,
in fact, a very dumb book—our poor little victim goes on TV and
wonders how people can be so hard. We found ourselves wondering
something quite different—how people can be such big phonies.
[Also see this
post to see how Tim Russert of MSNBC disgraced himself with
fact-free, pandering to Goldberg, returning Goldberg's favor.]
has another example from the book:
In Chapter 9, Bernie
goes on—and on; and on—about the way the mainstream press
mistreats men. At one point, he shakes his fist at the New York
Times, "the paper that worries about ‘the wounding power of
slurs.’" As a guy, Bernie’s very ticked off at the Times.
He supplies a wounding example:
GOLDBERG (page 134):
Take a story by Times reporter Natalie Angier that begins this
way: "Women may not find this surprising, but one of the most
persistent and frustrating problems in evolutionary biology is the
male. Specifically…why doesn’t he just go away?"
To Bernie, those are
notes from Big Slur. So we checked Angier’s piece, and what did we
find? We found an 1800-word article in the "Science Desk"
section, written back in 1994, which explored the biological reasons
for sexual reproduction among the lesser orders. "Scientists
say they still cannot explain to their satisfaction why the great
majority of species on earth reproduce sexually," Angier
wrote—and she explored the reasons for such reproduction among
snails, and snakes, and insects. The article had absolutely nothing
to do with males and females of our tribe ("men" and
"women"). Indeed, here’s a part of the wicked
horse-whipping we "males" were receiving this day:
evolutionary biologists point out that most mutations are
potential trouble, and the entire system of copying chromosomes
from one generation to the next has evolved to prevent accidental
alterations to the genetic text, not to court them. Thus, Dr.
Redfield’s new calculations underscoring the mutational guilt of
the male put a heavier burden than ever on theorists seeking to
explain the purpose of sex.
Wow! And Bernie had to
go back eight years to gimmick up this bogus
complaint! This is how the talk-show right laughs in the face of its
also laments how haplessly incompetent some of the reviews of
Goldberg's book (by the mainstream media) were - showing in
itself, that there was no "liberal bias" in the media:
With Bernie Goldberg’s lazy book now at the top
of the best-seller charts, it’s worth examining the way the tome
has been limned by the major press. Alas! When Janet Maslin penned
her review in the Times, her somnolence almost matched Bernie’s.
What is wrong with our public discourse? Goldberg’s book is a good
example. But so, of course, is Maslin’s review. Her nugget
MASLIN (pgh 3): Even among those who reject [his
central] premise, or some of the ad hominem bitterness on display
here, "Bias" should be taken seriously. Unlike Bill
O’Reilly, whose best-sellers (like "The No-Spin Zone")
trumpet a bullying brand of conservatism as they recycle transcripts
of television interviews, Mr. Goldberg has done real homework and
has written a real book. Whatever his conclusions, however shaky his
suppositions, he asks questions that are worth asking.
Too bad Maslin hasn’t "done real
homework!" O’Reilly has only written one best-seller (his
latest) which "recycles transcripts of television
interviews," and if Maslin thinks Goldberg has "done real
homework," maybe she’s been out of grade school too long.
Does Goldberg "ask questions that are worth asking?" That,
of course, is easily done. But has Goldberg actually done any
homework? Reading Maslin, one suspects that pampered Times scribes
may no longer grasp the key concept:
MASLIN (4): "Whenever you hear an anchorman
or reporter use the word ‘controversial,’ it is usually a
signal that the idea that follows is one the media elites do not
agree with," he maintains. And whenever you hear the word
"conservative" on one end of the political spectrum, he
adds, you won’t often hear "liberal" on the other.
That, he says, is because network heavyweights regard their own
opinions as middle-of-the-road and simply assume that the wider
world agrees with them. (He twice quotes Pauline Kael’s
astonished reaction to the fact that Richard Nixon had been
elected president. "I don’t know a single person who voted
for him!" she exclaimed, despite the fact that Nixon won in
49 states. She did live in the 50th state, Massachusetts.)
After noting that Goldberg has "done real
homework," Maslin immediately cites an area where Goldberg did
almost no work at all. His claims about ideological identifications may
be true, but he makes absolutely no effort to support them (see THE
DAILY HOWLER, 1/14/02). But then, would Maslin know evidence if
it bit her? She seems to think that the views of Kael—a movie
critic—are relevant to Goldberg’s claims about bias in political
coverage. This takes "anecdotal evidence" to a whole new
realm; in this case, even the single anecdote cited is
irrelevant to the topic at hand.
A few paragraphs later, Maslin displays her
puzzling concept of evidence once again. She limns Goldberg’s
efforts on race:
MASLIN (7): [W]hen it comes to race-related
issues, Mr. Goldberg also presents his strongest evidence. He
claims that a CBS producer was chided ("We have to be more
careful next time") for filming too many black prisoners on
an Alabama chain gang, even though only one prisoner happened to
be white. If the program was truly sensitive to race, he asks, why
not investigate whether the black convicts had been unfairly
arrested, instead of worrying about putting them on the air? And
why, he wonders, are there demonstrably fewer black interviewees
on newsmagazine shows during the all-important periods that
determine advertising rates? "South Africa in the bad old
days was more integrated than ‘Dateline’ during sweeps!"
In the latter part of this passage, Maslin falls
for one of the most ludicrous parts of Goldberg’s book—the
section where he comically claims that TV magazine shows are guilty
of "liberal bias" when they strive to keep minorities
off the air! Maslin fails to see that Goldberg’s claim argues against
his broader thesis. But she also fails to note the groaning problem
with the "evidence" presented to back Goldberg’s
assertion. Maslin highlights Goldberg’s claim that magazine shows
use fewer blacks during "sweeps" month—the
"all-important periods that determine advertising rates."
Alas! Goldberg cites absurdly limited data in this area; in keeping
with the total sloth on display in his book, he only examines one
sweeps month, May of 2000. (By total coincidence, Brill’s
Content had already examined this month; Goldberg simply uses
their data.) And what did those limited data show? Goldberg mentions
only four magazine programs, but concerning one, Sixty Minutes,
he notes some interesting facts. During sweeps month, the show
featured seven black main characters in its twelve stories. Two
months later, in Goldberg’s non-sweeps "control" month,
the show featured two black characters, in fifteen
stories. In short, Sixty Minutes used far more
minorities during sweeps month; the other three programs used
marginally fewer. But Goldberg made his sweeping claim about sweeps
month despite these contradictory data, and Maslin,
laughably, praises him for it. Indeed, in keeping with the
general tone of Bias, Goldberg presents the data from Sixty
Minutes without so much as stopping to note that the data flatly
refute his thesis. But then, why shouldn’t he go ahead and lodge a
claim which is contradicted by his facts? Even a critic from
our greatest paper is too lazy and inept to notice the problem.
Indeed, Maslin thinks that this burlesque is an example of the
book’s "strongest evidence."
One further note about Maslin and race, this time
concerning those prisoners. Goldberg describes a CBS producer who
was concerned with footage from a prison work gang, but the problem
is not as Maslin describes it. Goldberg quotes the producer saying,
"Well, we have to be more careful next time. We don’t want to
give the impression that the only prisoners down there are
black." We would have thought that only a 90s-era Angry White
Male could fail to see the good judgment in that; assuming that
Alabama has white convicts too, it would surely be better to avoid
showing chain gangs where the dudes are all black. (This is, of
course, especially true because of the very history of race-on-TV
which Goldberg assails in this book.) But Maslin joins Goldberg in
his incomprehension of the producer’s concern. She even misstates
the nature of the problem; the problem was the fact that the chain
gang was almost all black (and the prison system probably wasn’t),
not the fact that the cameraman filmed the prisoners who were
Goldberg’s book is a total joke—a lazy insult
to the American public discourse. But then, when we see the areas
where the New York Times thinks Goldberg presented his
"strongest evidence," we see that the Goldberg’s
obtuseness and sloth may have entered the bloodstream elsewhere.
Indeed, Maslin closes out in grand fashion, failing to notice the
greatest absurdity in a book that spills over with same:
MASLIN (9): In the end, the observations in
"Bias" about the economics of television are as
disturbing as what he has to say about women in the work
force…the homeless…or religion… The most important bias to
contemplate here is the one against serious, unglamorous news.
"Edward R. Murrow’s ‘Harvest of Shame,’ the great CBS
News documentary about poor migrant families traveling America
trying to survive by picking fruits and vegetables, would never be
done today," he says. "Too many poor people. Not our
audience. We want the people who buy cars and computers."
[END OF REVIEW]
As we noted last week, the claim that Harvest
of Shame wouldn’t be aired today is an argument against
the central claim of Bias—the claim that liberal bias is
ruling the media. But Goldberg didn’t seem to notice, and Maslin
didn’t notice either. Maybe it isn’t "liberal bias"
which we should fear most from the Times.
A lot more here
FAIR has some comments here.