April 5, 2008

Media Bias

A few days ago I came across a book about liberal bias in the media. And a liberal wrote it!?? I wondered what possible merit there could be to a liberal criticizing the leftward slant of network news (CBS, NBC, ABC). After all, can anything good come out of liberalism? I was a little curious, and skimmed one page in the book...I was hooked. Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News is written by Bernard Goldberg, who is (was) a career CBS reporter. He blew the whistle on network media’s leftward tilting of the news. Obviously, many people are already familiar with Bias since it made #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list.

Bias is one of those rare peeks behind the curtain at CBS, and especially Dan Rather, who considers criticism of liberal bias as treason. I did not put the book down until I was finished reading it. Goldberg’s arguments are well reasoned, amply supported by examples of biased reporting, and witty. Despite Eric Alterman's later attempt, there has been no refutation of Goldberg’s position, which is, network news has a leftward tilt. After years of CBS ignoring Goldberg's complaint, he went public with his complaint to the Wall Street Journal. The response of CBS elites, including Dan Rather, amounted to unprofessional and unethical personal attacks on Goldberg’s alleged motives.

Nonetheless, Goldberg is not only critical of liberal bias in the news, but he explains how network reporters can present news in a fair and accurate manner, despite their personal views on any social or political issue. Goldberg’s exposition of the bias problem coupled with a solution reflects his high standard of journalistic ethics, which is quite laudable.

According to Goldberg, the bias of the network elites is not a blatant bias to tilt the news leftward. He says the problem is far worse than that. So, what is it that is far worse than blatant bias? I will not give you Goldberg’s answer. Read Bias and decide whether you agree with his analysis.

Television news has become so disreputable with viewers that someone wrote a parody of a letter to Ann Landers, which made its way around CBS News. Goldberg quotes the letter:

“Dear Ann: I have a problem. I have two brothers. One brother is in television, the other was put to death in the electric chair for murder. My mother died from insanity when I was three years old. My sisters are prostitutes, and my father sells narcotics to high school students. Recently I met a girl who was just released from a reformatory where she served time for smothering her illegitimate child to death, and I want to marry her.

“My problem is—if I marry this girl, should I tell her about my brother who is in television?”

Goldberg notes that this is “Not a bad question.”

Being the critic that I am, I must note that Bias has a few weak spots. I will mention one problem: Chapter 14: Connecting the Dots…to Terrorism. This chapter notes how, following the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, the liberal media attempted to connect the anti-government talk of conservative talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, as a contributing cause to violence and terrorism. While Goldberg properly criticizes the liberal media's bias regarding the Murrah case, (I would have said it more strongly: “their totally ludicrous bias”), he reveals that his own knowledge of the Middle East, terrorism, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, for instance, has been primarily derived from network news. But in consequence of reading an article in Commentary by a Ms. Nirenstein, Goldberg suggests that network news can balance its reporting of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by reporting more on examples of Arab or Muslim hatred of Israel and the U.S.

Goldberg’s analysis and advice here is na├»ve. First, I am not sure network news is biased, at least currently, in the particular way that Goldberg suggests, i.e., by taking a morally neutral stance toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I know much of the popular print media reports are badly distorted by a significant pro-Israeli slant. But I cannot describe the current television news bias since I quit watching television news years ago (due to its blatant bias). Yet, I have never seen an accurate and informative piece on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on network television or in the popular print media. The more one relies just on the network news and the popular print media for information about the Palestinian-Israeli, the less he understands the conflict.

Second, attempting to grasp the current Middle East crises utilizing conservative news sources, (Goldberg does not suggest this option in regard to terrorism, or Middle East crises), is no solution, either. Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and company, for example, have their own deadly biases in these matters.

Third, the Middle East is a complex of racial, religious, political, and economic (including territorial) tensions. Middle East crises may be too complex in nature for network news to present in an accurate manner. One must rely on the journalists and historians who have studied the Middle East and its history in depth, and who are not reluctant to speak the truth.

In summary, Goldberg’s inadequate discussion of terrorism and the Middle East in no way diminishes the truth and importance of his position regarding liberal bias in the media. For instance, what is the most important story you never saw on television?

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