Newt's Latest Book Review

Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News
by Bernard Goldberg

I'll start by stating that allowing me to review a book about bias in the news media might almost seem unfair. After all, I was portrayed on the cover of Time Magazine just before Christmas, 1994 as Scrooge. They portrayed me holding Tiny Tim's crutch, but just holding the crutch wasn't enough, they had to show me with the little guy's broken crutch. The title on the cover was "How Mean will Gingrich's America be to the Poor?" You could tell it was unbiased because there was a question mark. Not to be outdone, the editors of Newsweek decided that I more resembled a Doctor Zeuss figure, the cover exclaiming, "The Grinch that stole Christmas". All of this before I had served a single day as Speaker of the House. Of course, being a conservative Republican who had watched President Reagan's entire career I knew that the New York based elite media would have a hard time understanding any values other than their own.

Now we have in Bernard Goldberg's memoir-expose-essay a very revealing portrait of the television side of that elite bias. It is a good read Goldberg is a good story teller. It is clear he is angry with CBS News in general and Dan Rather in particular. The book is worth the cover price if only to enjoy, at a slightly less than dignified level, the sheer viciousness of the payback. Purely and simply, they got Goldberg and now he is getting them. Anyone who has ever gotten mad at the liberal bias in the media will find some satisfaction in this part of the book.

But in a real way, Goldberg has done a service by telling insider stories out of school. He describes the bias inherent in ensuring that minorities do not look bad against the countervailing bias in not showing too many minorities because it might hurt ratings - the gap between liberal guilt and liberal behavior. Goldberg suggests that affirmative action commitment might lead senior television personalities to agree to step down as long as a woman or a minority personality replaces them. He notes that pocketbook interests will block enthusiasm for affirmative action, which is terrific if it is applied to others but not a good idea if applied to their industry.

Goldberg is at his strongest in outlining the almost paranoid and narcissistic sensitivity of the media to criticism directed at itself. Hypocrisy dominates an industry that treasures whistleblowers from any other trade but isolates and seeks to expel any in their own business.

The book makes a strong case that liberal media bias led to a remarkable increase in reporting on homelessness under Presidents Reagan and Bush followed by its magic disappearance under President Clinton and its sudden (within weeks) reappearance under President George W. Bush. The calendar precision of coverage would be worth a serious expose just on the topic of overt bias for political effect except who would do the expose?

Goldberg is on much weaker ground in his argument about children and the impact of childcare. As an historian I found his case here far too narrow and far less convincing than any other part of the book. I felt he had a belief to articulate and then built a case around his prior conviction. This is however a very small caveat in a fascinating book and a terrific read.

I should note in my own experience of bias that Goldberg cites Ben Watenberg's observation that 59%of the reporters thought the "Contract with America" was an 'election year gimmick' while only 3% thought it was 'serious.' That might have been fair in 1994 during the election. However, even after we had acted on and passed nine of the ten items in the House (we lost only one on a constitutional amendment requiring a 2/3 majority for term limits but we voted on it within the time limits promised by the contract) and ultimately got 70% of the Contract enacted into law, the elite media continued to report that the Contract had disappeared or been forgotten. So despite the first comprehensive welfare reform in 68 years, the first tax cuts in 17 years, the first increase in defense spending in over a decade, the first four consecutive balanced budgets since the 1920s we still had not accomplished anything according to the liberal media assertions.

Goldberg cites Peter Jennings' view on the 1994 election results "Some thoughts on those angry voters. Ask parents of any two year old and they can tell you about those temper tantrums; the stomping feet, the rolling eyes, the screaming...Imagine a nation full of uncontrolled two-year-old rage. The voters had a temper tantrum last week....Parenting and governing don't have to be dirty words . . . the nation can't be run by an angry two year old." Given that impartial unbiased analysis of an historic election in which nine million more Americans voted Republican than in 1990 (the largest one party off year increase in American history) and the Republicans unexpectedly won control for the first time in 40years, it is little wonder the liberal media could not understand either the American people or the conservatives they had put in charge. The admirable thing about Jennings was that he was open in his contempt and dislike for what we were doing. The hard thing to deal with in so many of his colleagues was their pretence of moralistic professionalism while in fact they shared the same biases. Goldberg simply makes clear how deep and persistent these biases are.

One of the news channels or networks ought to take Goldberg up on his argument and give him a half hour every week to explore bias in the media. It would be a lively program. If he is as aggressive and risk taking on air as he is in this book it would be a well watched and much talked about show. His book is.