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Telling the whole story
By Steven Martinovich
It's taken as an article of faith among most conservatives that the mainstream media - as embodied by institutions ranging from the New York Times to the big three television networks - slant their news coverage to the left, especially when it comes to social and cultural issues. In his controversial new book, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, former CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg aims to confirm what conservatives have suspected for a long time.
As Goldberg tells it, the news isn't slanted because of a concerted effort by a vast left-wing conspiracy. The more mundane truth is that the majority of those in the higher echelons of the profession have the same socio-economic backgrounds, went to the same schools and attend the same parties. The simple truth, at least according to Goldberg, is that most people entering the profession are idealists who want to change the world and reflexively report the news from the perspective they know best.
"I don't think that these guys come in, in the morning, roll up their sleeves and say, 'We will slant the news and get those conservatives'. But they are broadcasting for their pals, for their friends. Most of them live in Manhattan or in Georgetown, Washington. They go to all the right parties. They are, generally speaking, liberal people and they don't want to do a story on affirmative action that makes affirmative action look bad," as Goldberg says.
Those expecting a book length academic study of bias in reporting will be disappointed, however, as Goldberg instead highlights several high profile issues like AIDS and homelessness and how political correctness and an overriding desire for "diversity" have tainted reporting. The problem of bias is only exacerbated, says Goldberg, by members of the media establishment who honestly believe that they don't lean towards any direction and represent the American mainstream.
"Why is it that just about the only time you hear the term 'left-wing' on a network evening newscast is when the anchors and reporters are talking about the part of an airplane that caught fire right before the crash?" responds Goldberg at one point.
Evidence gathered by Goldberg and other media critics have suggested bias time and time again. It's been famously reported that in 1996, 89 per cent of journalists had voted for Bill Clinton -- compared with 43 per cent of the public -- and only 7 per cent for Bob Dole, compared with 37 per cent of voters, numbers that likely didn't change in 2000. Socio-economically, journalists often aren't representative of the American mainstream and often are contemptuous of their own audience. Simply put, Dan Rather won't be spotted vacationing in Branson.
If Bias does have a weakness it is the personal manner Goldberg went about documenting what happened to him at CBS after he dared raise the bias issue and his feelings about those involved. Although he evinces praise and friendship towards former colleague Rather (whom he calls "The Dan" and compares to the Mafia several times), it's not difficult to sense the extreme bitterness he feels towards him and the business as a whole. Although it ultimately doesn't detract from the impressive case he builds, it does understandably leave him and his book open to charges that a personal feud is the engine that drives his campaign.
Americans seem to be on the same page as Goldberg despite whatever his agenda may be. The fragmentation of media thanks to cable, talk radio and the Internet has shorn millions of viewers from Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings. A majority of Republicans and a very strong minority of Democrats believe that the media is more liberal politically than they are and the esteem of the profession continues to fall each year. Although CBS, NBC and ABC have decided to adopt an ostrich with its head in the sand approach on the issue of bias - or launched vitriolic attacks against people like Goldberg - millions of critics armed with remote controls have already voted.
Countering bias isn't a simple matter of engaging in ideological math - ensuring there is one conservative for every liberal and vice versa - but rather admitting that personal prejudices plan a role in how a story is told. If Goldberg's penetrating and insightful Bias performs any service, hopefully it will wake the mainstream media into the realization that diversity in the news means more than just displaying a rainbow of opinion from only one side of the political and philosophical debate. Judging by their response, however, it would appear that it will be business as usual once the debate quiets down.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer from Sudbury, Ontario and the editor of Enter Stage Right.
Buy Bernard Goldberg's Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News at Amazon.com for only $19.56 (30% off) or Martin A. Lee's Unreliable Sources: A Guide to Detecting Bias in News Media for only $14.66 (30% off)
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