Bernard Goldberg has become famous for tackling an issue that is familiar to most residents of, and visitors to, The Blogosphere: the bias and arrogance of the media elite. He brings something to the task that most bloggers do not, however, and that is 28 years inside the business. In his first book, Bias, he tackled the issue of liberal bias head on and thereby endured the wrath of his fellow journalists. In writing a follow-up to that best seller – Arrogance: Rescuing America From the Media Elite – Mr. Goldberg has likely further ostracized himself from the leaders of the media establishment. Doggedly, Goldberg continues to insist that the major media elite insert a biased viewpoint in their reporting and that their failure to admit and deal with the issue threatens their relevance to mainstream America.
As a longtime journalist himself and self-described old fashioned liberal, Goldberg is not coming from a polemical perspective, aka Ann Coulter. Rather his tone is one of frustration and tired amusement at the antics of his fellow journalists. He doesn’t believe there is a secret conspiracy to destroy conservatives or an orchestrated attempt to be one-sided. Rather, Arrogance paints a picture of journalists living in a cultural and political bubble and too arrogant to step outside that bubble and challenge their own assumptions. Goldberg repeats what he said in Bias:
What I and many others do believe, and what I think is fairly obvious, is that the majority of journalists in big newsrooms slant leftward in their personal politics, especially on issues like abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, and gun control; and so in their professional role they tend to assume those positions are reasonable and morally correct. Bias in the news stems from that – not from some straw man conspiracy concocted by liberals in the supposedly objective mainstream media.”
What continues to bug Goldberg, and what motivates Arrogance, is that no matter how may examples one points to, and no matter how many Americans believe this to be true, the media elite simply refuses to face the issue. Not only that, when confronted wit the issue they often attack the person who dares to raise this uncomfortable topic. Goldberg obviously has experienced this first hand. Despite becoming a best seller, Bias was either ignored by the media elite or vilified via personal attacks. The viciousness and cheap shot nature of these attacks surprised even some veteran journalists, and likely won a few to Goldberg’s side. The most effective response, however, was to ignore the issue entirely. Goldberg was excluded from any major network news program and ignored even by the morning talk shows (with the exception of a brief and hostile slot with Katie Couric).
What is it about this issue that drives the media establishment crazy? Why do they feel it necessary to ignore or viciously attack anyone who brings it up? What Goldberg outlines in Arrogance is cultural and political groupthink. The stars of the media establishment live in a closed world where everybody thinks like they do – or virtually everybody. In this bubble world journalist’s natural, and mostly unchallenged, assumptions about a host of social and political issues become the norm by which all else is judged. America is racist, sexist, homophobic and dangerously aggresive. Abortion is a fundamental right without qualification. Guns are bad and dangerous. Affirmative action is good. These are the unquestioned beliefs of most newsrooms. Any issue or idea that conflicts with these core beliefs is morally questionable. Combine this groupthink with the idealism of most journalists – many of them joined the profession to make the world a better place – and you have an inability to take the other side seriously. Goldberg points out with concrete examples and a host of damaging quotes that on these hot button social issues the media slants its coverage to fit its perspective. If it is a story on race then the slant is that racism is rampant in America. If it is a story on feminism then the slant is always pro-feminism as defined by liberal interests groups like NOW. If the issue is guns then the slant is always anti-gun and pro-gun control. The pattern is clear. If a journalist puts forward a story that goes against the grain or offends the editor’s liberal sensibilities it is shot down. Goldberg reviews major stories on TV and in print to show how this works in practice and he shares his own experiences inside the newsroom. The result is a clear picture of the bias and arrogance that so frustrates Goldberg.
Throughout the book Goldberg’s tone is lighthearted and open. His is not an intellectual or ideological perspective. What Goldberg values are what he calls the basic liberal ideals: open-mindedness and a sense of fair play. Goldberg feels that political correctness and groupthink have led liberals away from these basic ideals and that the news has suffered as a result. What is ironic is that journalists often avoid interesting stories and angles for fear of upsetting the status quo. As a journalist who is always looking for the most interesting story, this infuriates Goldberg. When the media ignores the crucial issues of out-of-wedlock births and single parent families for fear of being branded racist, not only do they lose out on an interesting story the American people are prevented from learning about an important issue. When the British rapidly rising crime rate is reported but without mentioning the recently imposed strict gun control policies, not only is the story predictable and less interesting but an important public debate is stymied.
So what? Some might point to a growing conservative “counter-culture” of talk radio, internet web sites, and cable TV as a balance to this liberal perspective. Goldberg is aware of this argument and takes it on. The problem with this argument is two-fold. One the reason these balancing mediums exist in the first place is because the establishment refuses to address the issues and ideas of a large chunk of Americans. The argument assumes the media is biased. Secondly, the argument ignores the dominance of the mainstream media. The New York Times dominates the medium from the network nightly news programs to the Associated Press and other wire services. Plus, the very liberal assumptions that lead to bias are pervasive in mainstream culture. As a result, while plenty of conservatives may live life in a bubble, liberals are practically trapped in theirs:
In America, unless you live in a cave, it’s nearly impossible not to be exposed to liberal attitudes and assumptions on all sorts of issues ranging from guns to gay rights. Liberals, on the other hand, if they avoid just a couple of spots on the radio and TV dial – and especially if they live in liberal ghettoes like Beverly Hills or the Upper West Side of Manhattan – can pretty much stay clear of conservative attitudes and assumptions and even conservative people, secure in the knowledge that they are not really missing anything worth knowing.
What one is left wondering after reading Goldberg’s indictment is “Can the media change?” It doesn’t take a deeply cynical person to doubt the near term possibility of significant improvement. Goldberg himself offers a 12-step program with steps like: “Don’t stack the deck,” “Tell the whole story,” and “Expand your rolodex.” In fact, he includes the contact information for a variety of conservative and independent think tanks and interest groups that could provide a different perspective on important cultural and political issues. But what is more likely to provide the most impetus for change is the readers and viewers who are leaving in droves. Goldberg believes that if the media elite don’t start taking this issues seriously they will become an awkward remnant of the past. With cable television, the internet, and a host of new technologies changing the media landscape Americans are no longer forced to get their news from the big three networks or from the major newspapers. As a result the media elite face a challenge: return to your ideals and become relevant or fade away.
Goldberg has again provided a readable and thought provoking book for those interested in the role of the media in our society. For those already aware the problem, Arrogance will only confirm and perhaps deepen their disdain for the media elite. For the few Americans out there who are not yet aware of the issue, Arrogance may surprise and infuriate them. The big question is how the media establishment itself responds. If they continue to ignore or deny the issue they will only confirm Goldberg’s analysis and continue on the path of irrelevancy. If they rise-up and address the issue perhaps they can again serve a useful role in American society. For a media that prides itself on providing courageous and important public service this is a unique opportunity. The choice is theirs but excuse me if I don’t hold my breath.Powered by Sidelines