Liberal bias in the media: does it exist? Or is this a misconception born of a persecution complex on the part of the right? Or worse, is it a weapon in the arsenal of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” used to attempt to discredit moderate or liberal voices? Perhaps bias does exist in the news networks, but so what, one might say, FOX is just as biased in the other direction, so it is no big deal. Is liberal bias in the media existent, and if so, how would we spot it, and why should we care?
These are the questions that Bernard Goldberg addresses in his book BIAS. In 1996, Goldberg wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal in which he accused the major television network news programs of a liberal bias in their reporting of news. This article, critical of his employers among others, was impolite and imprudent, Goldberg admits, yet it needed to be written since his internal efforts to bring this to light had been ignored.
This bias is nothing conspiratorial; according to Goldberg, “we don’t sit around in dark corners and plan strategies on how we’re going to slant the news. We don’t have to. It comes naturally to most reporters” (from the op-ed article linked above). This bias is simply denied as being existent, that the views being expressed are balanced and neutral and ought to be acceptable to every normal American. If they are indeed being presented in a balanced and neutral fashion, then the charges are without merit; if, however, it can be shown that bias in favor of certain political interests consistently exists in the delivery of the news, it should be recognized by the network executives, reporters, and the general public as coloring the ability or willingness of these agencies to report the unfiltered truth. As it turned out, these news networks, who pride themselves on prying into everyone else’s business and ferreting out dirty laundry, did not appreciate Goldberg’s accusation and exposure. He soon found himself out of a job and ostracized by his former friends and associates at CBS who proceeded to label him a right-wing ideologue, simply by having raised the question and proposed the accusation.
After describing his ousting from CBS and the vindictiveness with which he was treated, Goldberg describes the television report which raised Goldberg’s own awareness of this bias and compelled him to write the article. The bias was expressed in the February 8, 1996 CBS Evening News segment “Reality Check” in phrases such as “flat-tax scheme,” “economic elixir,” and “wackiest flat-tax promise” in describing Steve Forbes flat-tax proposals that year. The reporter, Eric Engberg, then interviewed three economists who all opposed the flat tax. There was no representative of the affirmative side; this seemed like a rather large imbalance to Goldberg. He rightly points out the uproar if a network reporter had referred to Hillary Clinton’s health care program as “wacky.”
Further, according to Goldberg, this sort of double standard is rampant. He cites as another example, the coverage of the Clinton impeachment trial in 1999, when the senators were signing their names in an oath book, swearing impartiality and fairness. As each came forward, Peter Jennings identified each, taking care to label each conservative senator, but only mentioning the names of the liberal ones, as if the viewing public needed to have them identified and warned of dangerous views. Liberal politicians and organizations (such as NOW) do not need to be labelled because, Goldberg contends, the media elites do not view them as liberal, but as reasonable,middle of the road moderates, the same as themselves.
Goldberg gives many other examples of one-sided reporting and liberal slant, but the overarching conclusion seems to be that the big problem may not be that there is bias, but that it is denied and presented as a balanced view.
I found this book to be fairly compelling in its presentation and in the examples cited. As I do not have the resources to fact-check his research, I presume them to be correct. Does this acceptance of Goldberg’s contentions of liberal bias definitionally make me a ultra-right-wing conspiracist? Well, I don’t have on a tin-foil hat yet; besides, as it is said, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you, right?
(BIAS, A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, by Bernard Goldberg, Perennial Publishing, 2003.)