Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sarcasm Is the Lowest Form of Wit: A Review of Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News by Bernard Goldberg

Title: Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News
Author: Bernard Goldberg
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: Regnery Publishing, Inc. (2002)
Pages: 232
Challenges: 2011 GoodReads Reading Challenge
How I Came by This Book: This was found in my search for more conservative sources to use in researching the book I'm working on. It turns out that Goldberg isn't actually conservative, but he does criticize what he considers to be an overabundance of liberalism in the media, so I guess it counts...sort of. This book was obtained from my library.

About the Author: Bernard Goldberg, the television news reporter and author of Bias, a New York Times number one bestseller about how the media distort the news, is widely seen as one of the most original writers and thinkers in broadcast journalism.  He has covered stories all over the world for CBS News and has won 11 Emmy awards for excellence in journalism.  He won six Emmys at CBS, and five more at HBO, where he now reports for the widely acclaimed broadcast Real Sports.

In addition to his ground-breaking book Bias, Goldberg has written four other books on the media and American culture — Arrogance, 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America: (And Al Franken is #37), Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right, and A Slobbering Love Affair, about the news media’s romance with Barack Obama.  All  have all been New York Times bestsellers. (truncated bio; for full biography see here)

Synopsis: Think the media are biased?

Conservatives have been crying foul for years, but now a veteran CBS reporter has come forward to expose how liberal bias pervades the mainstream media. Even if you've suspected your nightly news is slanted to the left, it's far worse than you think.

Breaking ranks and naming names, Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist Bernard Goldberg reveals a corporate news culture in which the close-mindedness is breathtaking, journalistic integrity has been pawned to liberal opinion, and "entertainment" trumps hard news every time.

In his three decades at CBS, Goldberg repeatedly voiced his concerns to network executives about the often one-sided nature of the news coverage. But no one listened to his complaints--or if they did listen, they did nothing about the problem.

Finally, Goldberg had no choice but to blow the whistle on his own industry, to break the code of silence that pervades the news business. Bias is the result.

As the author reveals, "liberal bias" doesn't mean simply being hard on Republicans and easy on Democrats. Real media bias is the result of how those in the media see the world--and their bias directly reflects how we all see the world.

Review: When I picked this book up at the library, I expected a well-documented book that gives an intelligent criticism of network news organizations. What I found, instead, was a personal-experience-driven book rife with thinly-veiled attempts at character assassination and a whiny "I'm-the-victim" attitude that made Goldberg seem just as biased as the media figures he criticizes.

It's obvious from pretty much the first page that Goldberg has a personal beef with CBS. In the age-old tradition of methinks-the-man-doth-protest-too-much, Goldberg asserts ad nauseum that this isn't the case, but throughout Bias he takes pot-shots at CBS and, more importantly, Dan Rather, who Goldberg must really hate. This would all be a lot more excusable if this book were being advertised as a memoir or something of that nature; instead, Bias is touted as a hard-line analysis and exposée of the inherently liberal bias infecting newsrooms all over the country. Goldberg comes off as more of a petulant child than as a real critic.

There are quite a lot of interesting ideas in this book. I don't disagree that there is bias in the media (although I would posit that it's more of a corporate bias than it is a bias leaning either to the left or the right), nor do I feel that it isn't important to explore that bias and to see it for what it really is--an attempt at swaying public opinion one way or the other. I stopped watching the news a long time ago because CNN, MSNBC, FOX, CBS, etc., etc., have all devolved into scare-mongering agents for private companies and corrupt politicians.

There's no mention of any of that in this book. Instead, Goldberg goes on and on about how the media is rife with stories that are designed to evoke a response from the audience that benefits a liberal agenda. Call me crazy (or biased, if you'd like), but some of the things that are ascribed to the "liberal agenda" (income equality, civil rights, universal health care, etc., etc.) don't seem all that problematic to me. Much of what Goldberg finds wrong with today's media hinges on the belief that smaller government and less interference from public interest groups is the ideal for society. Ignoring the inherent bias of conservative news outlets like Fox and The National Review, Goldberg simply warns them not to follow in the footsteps of the dreaded "liberal media." Hate to tell you this, Bernard, but conservative bias in the media is just as real and as prevalent as liberal bias. How can you warn someone against something that they're already doing?

One of the biggest problems I had with Goldberg's book, however, is his constant snide remarks. Adopting a sarcastic tone on everything from feminism to homelessness, he spends more time ridiculing marginalized groups and their advocates than he does exposing bad practices by the media. When he occasionally deems to delve into what he sees as being wrong with the news today, most of his evidence comes from his own experiences, which is fine except that there's little to no corroborating evidence. The book is poorly-cited (meaning, not at all), so anyone wishing to fact-check his claims is unable to do so. While there's no bibliography, there is a self-serving appendix consisting only of letters people sent him congratulating him on his supposed heroism in the face of adversity. Smooth, Goldberg. Really smooth.

This relates to yet another aspect of this book that I found troubling. Goldberg can't seem to decide if he's a hero or a victim. He bounces back and forth between the two roles, bemoaning the unfairness he suffered at the hands of CBS' media moguls, especially Dan Rather, before serving up an unhealthy helping of self-righteousness. He seems to view himself as a light in the dark, a candle that was successful in emancipating itself from the bushel of media politics. It severely diminishes his arguments and ends up making the reader more annoyed than anything else.

Some of the pluses of this book are Goldberg's wit, which is actually quite funny when he's not being a sarcastic jerk; the fact that Bias is a quick, easy read; and his (very) occasional on-target criticism, which is too few and far between to be of much use. Had he spent more time working on a scholarly, unbiased book rather than on a book brimming with a "woe-is-me-and-here's-some-people-I-don't-like" attitude, Bias might actually have been quite good. Instead, it falters under Goldberg's preoccupation with what he considers to be grave ills committed against him.

I'm giving Bias 3 out of 5 Gabriels.



  1. I have never been a fan of Goldberg. I have always found him as biased as the media he complains about. I really liked your review and I agree with a lot of points you made.

  2. I'm disappointed to hear that this is more memoir than expose, lacking in evidence to support contentions. Someone recently recommended a book to me and I used the "look inside" feature on amazon to give the first chapter a quick skim. What I immediately saw were statistics mentioned but not cited, statements made as if they were fact instead of opinion, and more. It was alarming to me because obviously the person who recommended the book didn't understand that anyone can quote anything, declaring that this is what is said. And statistics are notorious for how easily they can be slanted. Knowing who said what and in what context, knowing who did the research behind the statistics and who was asked what questions, these are not details that should be casually overlooked but demanded each and every time.

    Good review, as usual.

  3. Anne: I had never heard of him before, although I've seen him a Fox News talking head. If anything makes me less inclined to read anything else this man has written, it's that fact alone. Glad you liked the review. :)

    Satia: I'm so judgmental when it comes to peoples' use of sources. I had academic integrity drilled into my head for four years and I know the benefit of citing what you're talking about, especially so that others can look at the same sources and come to their own conclusions. I'm always leery of poorly-cited books, especially when most of it is opinionated nonsense. Stats are another story altogether. I hate when people take stats out of context and/or when they abuse them. Numbers aren't absolute truth and to treat them as such is to buy into lies. I'm just glad that I've been well-trained in how to detect B.S. (and that there are others, like you, who have been, too).