Oct 23, 2009

Bias: How the Media Distort the News

Align Center
Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News
by Bernard Goldberg, (2002-3, Perennial/Harper Collins)

I'm currently working on a book about the global warming debate. The way environmental issues get presented by the media has become a major theme. This volume, written by a gent who worked on CBS television news shows for 28 years, has provided food for thought. Below is a quick-and-dirty list of some interesting quotes that appear within. Page numbers refer to the US/Canadian paperback edition (the first 14 pages of which comprise a new introduction).
  • "When it comes to arrogance, power, and lack of accountability, journalists are probably the only people on the planet who make lawyers look good." - attributed to Steven Brill (the book's opening epigraph)
  • "...the media divide Americans into two groups - moderates and right-wing nuts." p. 1
  • "...the media elites [are] a bunch of powerful, arrogant, thin-skinned celebrity journalists who can dish it out...but can't take it." p. 2
  • "I kept thinking of how my colleagues treat cigarette...oil, and other company executives in the media glare. The news business deserves the same hard look..." p. 3
  • "When I wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in 1996 about liberal bias among the media elites, my professional life was turned upside down. I became radioactive. People I had known and worked with for years stopped talking to me." p. 4
  • "Right after the WSJ piece came out, I was taken off the air, pending some decision on whether I would be fired." p. 36
  • "...in the elegant phrase of the journalist Brian Brown, liberals these days have forgotten how to be liberal." p. 36
  • "...God forbid someone in their diverse newsroom has a diverse view about how the news ought to be presented." p. 38
  • "Reporters who see more death and destruction than the Red Cross were in pain and suffering over..my opinion?" p. 39
  • "...the rules, which clearly state: We journalists can scrutinize anyone we want...But you had better not scrutinize us or we'll bury you." p. 8
  • "I couldn't get on any network TV news program at any time of the day or night to talk about [this book], despite the fact that it had been a number-one bestseller" p. 11
  • "Remember, these are the people who investigate everybody else - but they didn't want me on their networks talking about their shortcomings." p. 12
  • "The president of a major network news division says he doesn't have any interest in a book about a major problem facing his own news business." p 12
  • "...the media label conservatives far more often than the do liberals because the media elites think conservatives need those warning labels; they think conservatives are out of the mainstream - and therefore must be identified - while at the same time thinking that liberals are the mainstream." p. 13
  • "There are lots of reasons fewer people are watching network news, and one of them, I'm more convinced than ever, is that our viewers simply don't trust us." p. 19
  • "...everybody to the right of Lenin is a 'right-winger' as far as the media elites are concerned..." p. 19
  • "...TV journalism had become: a showcase for smart-ass reporters with attitudes, reporters who don't even pretend to hide their disdain for certain people and certain ideas that they and their sophisticated friends don't particularly like." p. 21
  • "There is absolutely no way - not one chance in a million - that [CBS] would have aired a flat-tax story with that same contemptuous tone if Teddy Kennedy or Hillary Clinton had come up with the idea." p. 22
  • "Can you imagine, in your wildest dreams, a network news reporter calling Hillary Clinton's health care plan 'wacky'? p. 23
  • "...many TV journalists simply don't know what to think about certain issues until the New York Times and the Washington Post tell them what to think. Those big, important newspapers set the agenda that network news people follow." p. 24
  • "I understand why Al Gore and other liberals call something they don't like a 'scheme.' Politicians and partisans are allowed to do that. But should supposedly objective people like news reporters...use that kind of loaded language?"p. 25
  • "...here's one of those dirty little secrets journalists are never supposed to reveal...a reporter can find an expert to say anything the reporter wants - anything!" p 26
  • "The problem comes in the big social and cultural issues, where we often sound more like flacks for liberal causes than objective journalists." p. 28
  • "I had always expressed my concerns privately...All I wanted was a discussion, someone to take these concerns seriously. But no one ever did."p. 28
  • ...the New Yorker's otherwise brilliant film critic Pauline Kael, who in 1972 couldn't figure out how Richard Nixon had won the presidency. 'I can't believe it!" she said. "I don't know a single person who voted for him!" Nixon carried forty-nine states to McGovern's one,for God's sake - and she wasn't kidding!" p. 30
  • "[journalism's] elites are hopelessly out of touch with everyday Americans. Their friends are liberals, just as they are. They share the same values. Almost all of them think the same way on the big social issues of our time...After a while they start to believe that all civilized people think the same way they and their friends do. That's why they don't simply disagree with conservatives. They see them as morally deficient." p. 30
  • "The sophisticated media elites don't categorize their beliefs as liberal but as simply the correct way to look at things." p. 30
  • "I see myself as an old-fashioned liberal. I'm a liberal the way liberals used to be." p. 57
  • "...the national news media...were not just covering this important trend in American culture. They were taking sides." p. 62
  • "...we pointedly identified conservatives as conservatives, for example, but for some crazy reason didn't bother to identify liberals as liberals." p. 62
  • "If we do a Hollywood story, it's not unusual to identify certain actors, like Tom Selleck or Bruce Willis, as conservatives. But Barbra Streisand or Rob Reiner, no matter how active they are in liberal Democratic politics, are just Barbra Streisand and Rob Reiner." p. 63
  • "To Dan Rather and to a lot of other powerful members of the chattering class, that which is right of center is conservative. That which is left of center is middle of the road." p. 65
  • "Why is it that the word 'left-wing' has virtually vanished from the media's vocabulary?...We have right-wing Republicans and right-wing Christians and right-wing Miami Cubans and right-wing radio talk show hosts. Isn't anybody left-wing anymore?" p. 66
  • "...we must make sure to identify them as conservatives so our audience won't think that they're objective - or worse, heaven forfend, that they're also sensible, reasonable, and rational." p. 67
  • "If you hooked network news reporters and producers to polygraph machines and asked them, 'Do you think you are guilty of liberal bias?' most would almost certainly answer, 'No.' And they would pass the polygraph test because they're not lying. They honestly believe what they're saying." p. 68
  • "No matter how bad a problem really is, advocates think they need to portray it as worse. This is standard operating procedure with lobbies...We have come to expect this of advocates. They know their cause is worthy, so what harm can a little exaggeration do? But reporters - when they also see the cause as worthy - buy into it. They also become advocates." p. 72
  • "It's as if our coverage...was being directed not by objective journalists but by the advocates for the homeless themselves. We took what they said at face value even though we would never do that with advocates for causes we did not embrace." p. 73
  • "...advocates for the homeless misled us about all sorts of things - the number of the homeless, who they were, why they were homeless - and because we embraced their cause...we pretty much said, 'Hey, no problem,' and passed their misinformation on to the American people." p. 73
  • "For years,the activists played the media as if they were part of the homeless PR machine...A lot of news people, after all, got into journalism in the first place so they could change the world and make it a better place...showing compassion makes us feel good about ourselves..." p. 74
  • "Did anyone, least of all seasoned reporters who pride themselves on their skepticism, really believe that the vast majority of the homeless - the addicted and the mentally ill - would virtually disappear from America's streets if only Ronald Reagan hadn't cut housing programs?" p. 76
  • "Once again, the media were more than willing to set aside their usual skepticism and go right along. While AIDS was devastating minority and gay communities in America, while it was leaving Middle America virtually untouched, the news stories conjured up some other reality." p. 83
  • Oprah Winfrey in 1987: "Research studies now project that one in five - listen to me, hard to believe - one in five heterosexuals could be dead from AIDS at the end of the next three years. That's by 1990. One in five. It is no longer just a gay disease. Believe me." p.83
  • "...an epidemic was racing across America. An epidemic of fear. You couldn't open a newspaper, turn the page of a magazine, or tune in to the nightly news without reading or hearing about the deadly link between AIDS and heterosexuals." p. 84
  • "In 1987 the highly respected surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, said AIDS was 'the biggest threat to health this nation has ever faced.'" p. 84
  • "...journalism by sentiment...Victims of America correspondents, the ones who specialize in uncritical stories about the downtrodden." p. 85
  • "That anyone is still contracting HIV is a tragedy of huge proportions. That the gay lobby would try to mislead us is understandable. That the media go along is disgraceful." p. 90
  • "When the cover of Life told us in1985 that 'No No One is Safe from AIDS,' it had the story all wrong. So did all the others that warned of the coming heterosexual AIDS epidemic." p. 95
  • "This is what happens when entertainment 'values' infect the news." p. 96
  • "48 Hours point was to scare the hell out of America. Scaring the hell out of people makes for good television even when it makes for shallow journalism." p. 97
  • "The men who started up the networks in the earliest days of television thought news was special. They made their money on Lucy and Ricky and Jackie Gleason and Jack Benny. For years and years, news wasn't a money-maker and wasn't expected to be. Don Hewitt, the creator...of 60 Minutes, loves to tell the story about how, when the show first went on the air, Bill Paley, the founder of CBS, told him, 'Make us proud!' 'Now,' Hewitt says, 'they tell us: Make us money!'" p. 98
  • "infotainment" p. 98
  • "If news could actually make money, the suits who ran the network would expect just that. Sure they would want quality, in theory. But they wanted ratings and money, in fact." pp. 98-99
  • "So if Andrew Heyward didn't get ratings for 48 Hours and didn't make the network money, they'd cancel it. He knew it, and he lived with that sword hanging over his head every single week." p. 99
  • "So do I believe my good friend Andrew Heyward would put on a scary program whose primary goal was to get high ratings even if it meant telling half-truths about who was getting AIDS in America and how they were getting it? In a word, Yes!" p. 99
  • "If you want to sell newspapers or get people to watch your show, you want to say, 'This is a threat to you, too.'" - attributed to the late Randy Shilts "the best-informed journalist on AIDS in all of America" who later succumbed to the disease p. 100
  • "...the activists did what they felt they had to do. They got the word out that it would spread to all of us. And the media passed it along to America, at first because they didn't know better, then because they thought heterosexual AIDS was a better story, but eventually because it was another way to show compassion." p. 101
  • "...perhaps on Planet Bizarro in some parallel universe [journalists'] personal views about life and the world really wouldn't matter. But they do here on Earth, because...reporters and editors really are only human, which means they bring all their biases and life experiences to their stories." p. 124
  • "Does anyone think a 'diverse' group of conservative journalists would give us the news straight? I sure as hell don't. They'd be just like the Left...It's the human condition." p. 126
  • "No conspiracies. No deliberate attempts to slant the news. It just happens. Because the way reporters and editors see the world, the way their friends and colleagues see the world, matters." p. 127
  • "...if long ago we came to the conclusion that newsrooms with too many white men were a bad idea because all we got was the white male perspective, then why isn't it just as bad to have so many liberals dominating the culture of the newsroom?" p. 127
  • "This is a big country with a lot of people, and there's room for all sorts of views." p. 128
  • "89 percent of journalists said they voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, compared with just 43 percent of the nonjournalist voters." p. 129
  • "There's hardly a candidate in the entire United States of America who carries his or her district with 89 percent of the vote. This is way beyond landslide numbers. The only politicians who get numbers like that are called Fidel Castro or Saddam Hussein." p. 129
  • "In the world of media elites, Democrats outnumber Republicans by twelve to one and liberals outnumber conservatives by seven to one." p. 130
  • "...it's not just that so many journalists are so different from mainstream America. It's that some are downright hostile to what many Americans hold sacred." p. 133
  • "...some real diversity to the newsroom, not the make-believe kind we have now." p. 136
  • "News executives are always saying we need our staffs to look more like the real America. How about if those reporters and editors and executives also thought just a little more like the real America? And shared just a little more of their values?" p. 136
  • "...over the years, news has morphed into entertainment...News isn't special, the way it was in the early days of television. News magazines aren't on the air to perform some public service. Maybe they were when 60 Minutes first got started, but not anymore. Prime-time news magazines are on TV to make money, just like everything else on television. So they have to play by entertainment's rules." p. 160
  • "...national TV reporters, as a group, are lazy. I know this is a generalization, and I know that Mark Twain said generalizations aren't worth a damn, but it's generally true nonetheless. 'There's no culture of ideas around here,' one CBS News executive told me, meaning hardly any of his reporters ever look out at the bigger American culture and wonder why certain things are happening and come up with something resembling an original story. These reporters and producers cover news conferences and plane crashes and hurricanes and easy stuff like that." pp. 173-174
  • "One can be in favor of women's advances and still be concerned about the attendant costs, especially when the costs are borne by children. If the media were open-minded, there would be a true debate about this issue." p. 175"
  • "...once again the elite journalists on television have taken sides...I am not against 'better day care,' and I have no problem with the evening news doing stories about how that might be done. The problem is that they don't let the other voices on." p. 177
  • "...whenever you hear an anchorman or reporter use the word 'controversial,' it is usually a signal that the idea that follows is one the media elites do not agree with." p. 178
  • "Why is one point of view valid and the other nonexistent on the evening news?" p. 181
  • "Why is it that when liberal media stars say nasty things they're merely sharing their thoughts with us and (even more important) their feelings, but when the same sentiment comes out of a conservative's mouth, it's seen as mean-spirited?" p. 191
  • "The media elites...can hear even the whispers of what they consider hate speech fifty miles away - whether they imagine it's coming from conservative talk show hosts or right-wing religious fundamentalists or just about anyone opposed to affirmative action. But they can't hear it dripping off their own nasty tongues..." p. 192
  • "...twenty-one years later, in 2001, the share of the audience watching network news had sunk [from 75 percent] all the way to 43 percent." p. 194
  • "...that's not entirely the fault of the evening stars...Today, there are cable and satellite TV and the Internet, competition that Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley didn't even have to think about....[Americans] haven't abandoned the news. Just the news people they no longer trust." p. 194
  • "It's about how they frame the big issues of the day...On these issues they are reliably and predictably left of center." p. 197
  • "...because of newsroom framing, the real national conversation on homosexuality is not really being reported." p. 199
  • "In an 'entertainment culture,' even the news is entertainment." p. 201
  • "The message was clear: Conservative talk radio and conservative politicians created an anti-government atmosphere in America that spawned Timothy McVeigh and therefore were at least partially to blame for his [Oklahoma City federal building] terrorism." p. 204
  • "Why would journalists, so interested in connecting the dots when they thought they led to Rush Limbaugh, be so uninterested in connecting the dots when there might actually be dots to connect - from the hateful, widely held popular attitudes in much of the Arab world straight to the cockpits of those hijacked [9/11] jetliners?" p. 205
  • "...sometimes even the underdog can be evil." p. 212
  • "...to a lot of liberals, Fidel isn't a communist dictator. I mean, technically, he is. They know, for example, that he hasn't allowed a free election in the last forty years or so, that he doesn't tolerate dissent, and that he'd rather drink battery acid on the rocks with a touch of lime than allow a free press. Mere technicalities...To the...liberal cognoscenti in the media - Fidel is a celebrity. So what if he doesn't tolerate freedom of the press? That doesn't mean an American newsman can't like the guy, does it?" p. 215
  • "...a high percentage of the American public has been lectured to since the early sixties and is a little fed up with it." - attributed to Michael Jordan, then chairman of Westinghouse, CBS' parent company p. 216
  • "...it's just Newzak, the TV news version of elevator music." p. 220
  • "The [New York] Times is a newspaper that has taken the liberal side of every important social issue of our time, which is fine with me. But if you see the New York Times editorial page as middle of the road, one thing is clear: You don't have a clue." p. 227-228
  • "Conservatives must be identified because the audience needs to know these are people with axes to grind. But liberals don't need to be identified because their views on all the big social issues - from abortion and gun control to the death penalty and affirmative action - aren't liberal views at all. They're simply reasonable views, shared by all the reasonable people the media elites mingle with at all their reasonable dinner parties in Manhattan and Georgetown." p. 228
  • "Liberal bias among the television networks has done something that market forces could not have engendered, the revitalization of radio. Rush Limbaugh would never have become the success he has if the firm of Rather, Brokaw, and Jennings had done its job." - attributed to Herbert T. Russell, p. 237

Oct 18, 2009

The Folly of "Us" and "Them" Thinking

A friend of whom I'm fond, posted a provocative piece on Facebook recently. It was written by a FB friend of his, whom I'll call Sue.

Titled Random Thoughts On The Difference Between “Us” And “Them” it's a 9-point list which begins with the following:

If a conservative doesn’t like guns, they don’t buy one.
If a liberal doesn’t like guns, then no one should have one.

Points 2 and 7 are in a similar vein:

If a conservative is a vegetarian, they don’t eat meat.
If a liberal is, they want to ban all meat products for everyone.

If a conservative doesn’t like a talk show host, he switches channels.
Liberals demand that those they don’t like be shut down.

I think these are valid observations. The Left thinks of itself as tolerant, but often it doesn't behave that way.

The difficulty, however, is that Sue implies that the Right is composed of broad-minded free-thinkers by comparison. Not quite. I left this comment on Facebook, beneath Sue's list:

Some valid points, but alas, life is perhaps not so simple. Many conservatives have their own laundry list of things they want to prevent other people from doing:
  • watching pornos
  • smoking pot
  • drinking booze (there still are dry counties)
  • marrying someone of their own sex
  • having an abortion
Independents like moi are kept busy fending off the busybodies from both directions.

I felt my contribution was polite and respectful. Nevertheless, Sue's response was telling. She likes to present herself as tolerant, but when she encounters someone who values different things than she does, she's quick to reach for the ridicule. Here's the response she posted a few hours later:

i won't be complete until I'm smokin pot and chuggin' a brewski, while watching cheap porn with my newlywed lesbian lover, after having had my abortion after that crappy "other" relationship folded. yeah! Now I am really liberated, unopressed and my life is complete! burp! do I feel better now!!! thanks for the input.

The moral of this story is that there is no "Us" and "Them." The more we insist we're better than other people, the more we embrace the very characteristics we say we despise.

True tolerance is hard work.