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Arrogance by Bernard Goldberg

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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.

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About Kevin

  • jadester

    i don’t know nearly enough to comment on the state of (north) american journalism, but here in england i can tell you that the general bias of reporters is VERY subject to change, almost always on a weekly basis. They tend to follow popular opinion in order for their articles to be more agreebale to the largest possible audience (customer base). Not necessarily a wholly wrong approach to take, as long as it is clear that such writers are most definitely not unbiased. It’s almost impossible not to have at least a minor bias on any issue – that’s how we have opinions.
    As for actual political stance, i would consider myself quite close to being “unbiased” in that there are parts of both left and right politics that i disagree with and likewise parts of both i agree with. Strictly speaking though, that’s still not unbiased.
    The problem with this situation though is that the “circle of influence” swings round – on the one hand, big media journalists are influenced by popular opinion in order for their reporting to have the widest appeal. On the other, their reporting affects popular opinion, at least where it is actually taken in.
    The only real antidote would be to have a truly unbiased, very big (possibly international) media company with no agenda other than to report items of news to the general public (without any kind of slant in the reporting)
    To be honest, at the moment, Blogcritics (and any other similar site) is probably the closest to unbiased there is. granted, everyone who writes here is biased towards and against various stances on issues, but because there is such a wide range of biases you get to see more than one angle, at least on some issues.

  • So, Goldberg attacks the media and they only strike back with vindictiveness and at him? Sure. Does “the media” make its own bias a public story. Frequently. Yes. Do they obsess about it as much as bloggers do? No.

    Shit, news officials encounter such claims every day. Do newsrooms meet regularly when such issues come up? Absolutely? do things change? Absolutely. Have they changed to Goldberg’s or your liking? Guess not. So what.

    Oh – do you mean the national media TV outlets only. Well then I agree with you. That is Goldberg’s area of expertise and he has not learned anything except the write time to catch a nation’s attention.

    Bloggers have a vested interest in thinking they are better. That’s arrogance, too

  • Goldberg’s claims in Bias were utterly unconvincing. Just the same old Rightwing kant and caterwauling about businesses that are owned by . . . conservatives. The media is no more liberal than reporters can sprout wings and fly. Heck, if the press were anymore in Shrub’s pocket, he would appear to have a penis. I recommend Eric Alterman’s book, What Liberal Mediaas an alternative. Take it from a former reporter, the situation he describes is pretty close to the truth.

    Kevin, do you ever promote anyone who is not a ninny (Goldberg) or a white supremacist (Derbyshire)?

  • typical diva. first, diva is no more a journalist than she is a lawyer. unless she can prove otherwise. her mewing about credentials is tedious impotence to say the least.

    holtsberry tries to have a dialogue and diva regurgitates her hate-filled nonsense. and then she cites one of the worst examples of hysterical hard left hate, eric alterman, who lazily redefines the terms of debate to support his book.

    alterman and coulter should get together and have some militantly moderate progeny.

  • Eric Alterman, now there is a a fair and balanced source! The business is always conservative and therefor media is conservative is a silly argument. Is Ted Turner conservative? Is Bill Gates? If you expect me to believe that NBC, CBS, and ABC are conservative because they are owned by businessmen then perhaps pigs will fly down and pick up a few journalists.

    I don’t know you Mac Dvia but I must admit based on your comments you are one of the most closed minded people and arrogant people I have come across here at Blogcritics. Do you ever do anything except dump on people’s posts?

    By the way did you see my critical review of Ann Coulter’s book? Did you see my interviews with Brock Clark of Jay Nussbaum? Why don’t click on the link provided to see what else I have posted at Blogcritics before you ask stupid questions. Funny how opposed you are to sterotypes and yet you fling them around at will.

  • Yes, Bill Gates and Ted Turner are pretty conservative. (In fact one would have to be way out on the Right Wing limb not to realize that.)

    Goldberg is laughed at because he is an empty suit. Nearly three decades in the business and he still doesn’t understand it. The most amusing aspect of Goldberg’s ‘mission from God’ is that he believes most people would agree with his extreme Right views if they only had more exposure to them. We already have too much exposure to Right Wing kant. We don’t reject it because we are ignorant of it. We reject it because we don’t believe it.

    (Some people would dispute my view of the funniest thing about Goldberg. They’d say his incredible narcissism is the bomb. That is even referenced in Publisher’s Weekly review of Arrogance. For someone concerned about arrogance, the fellow has a problem. I wonder why a certain Right Winger who claims he doesn’t like arrogance likes Goldberg.)

    And, now back to you, Kevin. The goal of the people in the white supremacist group Derbyshire is part of (Steve Sailer’s) is to pass themselves off as respectable. My goal is to out them when they try to get away with that. If you publish a piece lauding one of them, as you did, I feel justified in describing the person more fully, which I did. If they don’t want to be known as racists, then they should stop not being racists.

  • Correction: . . .try not being racists.

  • And by “stop being racists” you mean “stop disagreeing with Mac Diva.”

  • Diva,
    If you want to be taken seriously you might want to try being serious. Under any sensible or common definition of political or cultural conservatism Ted Turner doesn’t fit. You can scream about Right-Wing extremism all you want but people wont take you seriously unless you have some semblance of balance.

    I really don’t mind that you think Derb is racists but it is laughable that you call him a White Supremacists when if anything he thinks Asians are the smartest (he is married to a women of Chinese decent). And I wasn’t lauding his views on race I was describing a book on math. See the review was about the book not your agenda.

    I also don’t mind that you disagree with me on issues but I find your insulting and arrogant attitude rather tired. You can make fun of Derbyshire and Goldberg all you want but why come to Blogritics and insult me? Just becuase I post views you disagree with you have to make snide remarks about me and what I post? I find that especially insulting as you obviously haven’t even read the other things I have posted.

    I would enjoy some intelligent debate but your childish remarks don’t count.

  • Joe

    Just a minor point, for the established journalist and legal scholar (if not practicioner), the word is cant. Kant is a proper noun and he was hardly right wing.

  • Kevin, you are being . . . unsophisticated. What will you say next? That Thomas Jefferson was not a racist because he had a decades long relationship with one of his slaves and fathered children by her? Interracial relationships are hardly proof of a lack of bigotry, particularly when they fit the pattern of white male dominance.

    I am surprised you did not know the kettle of fish you were dumping a flounder into when you posted a piece lauding Derbyshire. (Assuming you didn’t know to be charitable.) Material about Derbyshire and the white supremacist group he belongs to is all over the Web, including the blogosphere. A person would have to be blind to miss it. Yet, you are reacting as if I am the first person to ever notice the fecal odor that emanates from Derbyshire. Far from it, I was relatively late to the Derb Fest. If I reminder correctly, Atrios turned me on to it.

    Here is a nice photo of the light of your life.

  • Thank you Bernard Goldberg!! You serve as an inspiration for greatly improved journalism!!

    Here are two examples of 1) how the Iowa media will not report the decline in Iowa K-12 student achievement, and 2) how Iowa school officials and the Governor set a very low student proficieny standard to make Iowa schools LOOK better.

    When you visit websites: http://crlive.com/iowalive/ and http://www.crlive.com/iowalive/disaster.htm you will see how Iowa K-12 student achievement has fallen for the past 30 years–despite dumbed down tests and norms, 158,000 fewer students, 9,000 more teachers and aides, and a $31 billion increase in state funding alone. Increases in local and federal funding bring the total to about $41 billion. But this is not the only story the media Iowa refuse to report.

    They also fail to report that the Iowa Department of Education and Governor Vilsack have established the 40th National Percentile Rank as the standard for Iowa students to be claimed proficient (expert)in a subject. Unfortunately, this standard is so low it allows school superintendents to claim that a student reading at the 6.9 Iowa grade equivalent level is a Proficient (expert) 8th grade reader!!! This is of course ludicrous and smacks of deviousness, if not fraud. BUT IT MAKES THE IOWA SCHOOLS LOOK BETTER!!

    We won’t even get into how many school superintendents classify students as Special Edication students, and then don’t include their scores in performance reports, which also makes the Iowa schools look better.

    Bernard Goldberg is right on track! Iowa school officials and Iowa media deny there is a problem just as Bernard so eloquently described.

    iowalive A network of professionals for improving Iowa.

  • (Scratching head.) You don’t mention any sources for comparisons for student achievement over the years. Mere recalibration of tests to account for changes in teaching methodology and more students taking them can produce what look like higher failure rates if the re-norming is not taken into consideration. You need to make a better argument than this to convince any thinking person something is wrong with the testing — or the way the media reported it.

  • Lucile

    I’m just happening by, a week after the last salvos. I have to say that Mac Diva is one of the most comical, yet sad examples of myopic liberalism I have ever encountered. Good grief! We’re supposed to reason with people like her? Sheesh.

  • John Sullivan

    I was late in catching “Arrogance” but in my spare time had been filing away mental Post-it notes about examples of the liberal distortions in main-stream media. I started my journalistic career more than 50 years ago, and still remember my extraordinary surprise (and resulting depression) a few years later as I came to realize how easy it is to distort the news from the copy desk of a major newspaper. Owner Publisher Gene Pulliam was among the ultimate in right-wing conservative back in the middle of the last century, but I somehow doubt he ever caught on how easily his writers and copyreaders could have twisted a story with a headline, or by dropping a paragraph, or moving a key graph from near the top of the story to the bottom where it always was cut to fit available. The slot-man was the gatekeeper, the centurion who kept things honest, and he learned every trick of the trade. If he was good, and dedicated, and honest, he prevented much of the crap that passes for journalism today. If he was a lackey, or let his own beliefs over-ride his professionalism, you had something similar to the New York Times of TODAY rather than the NYT of yesteryear, the newspaper we all dreamed of someday serving.

    Goldberg’s got it right (my experience never carried me into the electronic area of whiz-bang “journalism”) and is particularly telling to someone who knows how the game is played. What brought about this post was a story today about CNN admitting its staff had “overplayed” the “I have a scream” story of Howard Dean. How nice. . . how decent . . . how late. . . and how positive as proof that Goldberg is right on target. I cannot remember when I have heard anyone in today’s mass media admit they had done a hatchet job on a Republican.

    Another nice example of bias came a few days ago when the Labor Department’s BLS reported 112,000 new jobs in the last reporting period, and the liberal talking heads all hastened to follow their4 brief reportage with quick criticism– the new jobs creation lagged behind estimates, it was too low, it proved continuance of economic problems.

    First out with the Labor Department’s report was good old fair and impartial AP, with a story just like that described above. Down in paragraph 13, however, someone questioned the validity of the figures, pointing out flaws in the BLS survey, and noting that another “household” survey which doesn’t survey employers but rather workers’ households, found 496,000 new jobs in the same period of time. The difference was contract employees, self-employed workers, etc. A couple paragraphs later a BLS executive referred to the “households” survey, admitted flaws in the basic BLS job creating survey, and said it is investigating.

    Care to guess how many network news shows that little tidbit made? I recorded a number of business reports and never heard it mentioned once. After all, when news is transmitted by the second rather than by the inch, who ever gets down to the 13th graph of a routine story?

    Seems like I spent much of my lifetime in a sorry profession. Yet I thank God that I was in it at the right time. We at least aspired to be fair, to the “just the facts, ma’am” concept of the late Joe Driday. My peers really6 believed we could change the world by letting the reader know the truth. In retrospect, we were naive, perhaps fools, but at the same time we were pretty damned proud of our work.

  • The biggest journalism screw-up of last year was because of conservative bias. Actually, let me expand that. I can think of at least three, offhand:

    *The Jessica Lynch is a hero caper courtesy of the WaPo and Steno Sue Schmidt.

    *The treatment of ‘WMD in Iraq’ as if there were any basis to believe such claims.

    *Failure to expose conflicts of interest involving Bush, Cheney and their cronies in ‘rebuilding’ Iraq.

    A person would have to be either poorly informed or senile not to realize that any bias in the media tends to serve the powerful, not the powerless. Since the powerful tend to be conservatives, I believe most of the bias is in that direction.

    The newsrooms of 25, 30, 40 or 50 years ago were exclusively the province of usually middle-class, conservative white men. Most of them reflected the biases of that demographic. So, yes, people coming from that background often consider the new newsrooms, which are more representative of the population, unacceptable. Having known my share of aging newsmen who are furious that they are no longer the only ones allowed to work in the field, I have a suspicion John Sullivan fits right in. But, perhaps I am in error. I invite him to tell us what he has done to make American society a fairer place.

  • Shark

    Goldberg’: “…liberal ghettoes”

    ah, the marketing poetry of the unelite.

    Shark’s Universal Rules:

    1) If media are biased, they’re biased in favor of whose product has the highest sales, lowest cost, and biggest margins.

    2) All news is marketing; all marketing is news.

    3) True: Journalists are a relatively rare, elite bunch in contemporary America: THEY CAN READ.

    4) Lord knows the semi-literate average moron consumer NEVER has anything aimed at his poor little abused and discriminated pea-brain. (other than everything)

    5) You hear what you choose to hear.