Goldberg Variations

Evil genius or useful idiot? We report, you decide.

As a liberal, I had long suspected that we might have a secret coven over at CBS News. It’s hard to say why, exactly. Maybe it’s that little smirk of Dan Rather’s whenever he gets to report something bad happening to America. Or maybe it was the famous episode when Walter Cronkite ended his broadcast by denouncing capitalism as “a system of class oppression that must be destroyed root and branch.” But it was only a suspicion.

So I was happy to get confirmation from the current best seller (categorized as nonfiction) Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, by former CBS newsman Bernard Goldberg. The book is rich with anecdotes about the horrors—ideological and otherwise—of working for CBS, culled from Mr. Goldberg’s three decades of working for CBS. He must have been chained to his TelePrompTer or something, because a man who “was once rated by TV Guide as one of the ten most interesting people on television,” as his author ID brags, surely didn’t need to spend all those years at a corrupt and dishonest institution.

One story has gotten the most attention. It involves a conversation with CBS News President Andrew Heyward: ” ‘Look, Bernie,’ he said, ‘of course there’s a liberal bias in the news. All the networks tilt left.’ But, ‘If you repeat any of this, I’ll deny it.’ “

Bingo! This was the confirmation that I and every right-wing radio talk show host in America had been waiting for. But then I made the classic journalist’s error: I checked it out. First I talked to Mr. Goldberg himself. “Look, Mike, of course I made that story up,” he said. “It’s brilliant, don’t you think? If Heyward denies the story, that just confirms it in people’s minds. The whole vast right-wing conspiracy has fallen for it. Fox News is so grateful that Roger Ailes is sending me suitcases full of cash. And if you repeat any of this, I’ll deny it.”

“Of course we haven’t fallen for it,” Ailes growled. “We just put it out there as prole meat. This Goldberg is what my Communist pals used to call a useful idiot. And what an idiot! They really don’t build them like that anymore.” Ailes’ humor started to improve. Soon tears of happiness were streaming down his cheeks. “I mean, that stuff about CBS execs taking it up the keister from Dan Rather in prison?” He chortled, “I love it, I really do. And who cares if it’s all true or not?” He winked. “We report, you decide. By the way, if you repeat any of this, I’ll break your legs. And I’ll deny it.”

Finally, I checked with the chairman of the Vast Conspiracy, Wall Street Journal Editor Robert Bartley, who confirmed every detail. “Ailes is a bit of a train wreck himself,” Bartley added with a thoughtful wave of his hookah. “Of course if you repeat any of this …”

Mr. Goldberg’s original act of apostasy was in 1996. After managing to hold his tongue for a quarter of a century, he let loose with an op-ed in the Journal. To his astonishment, people he thought were his friends turned inexplicably hostile, merely because he had publicly denounced them as betrayers of their profession. Conservative commentary on Bias shares Mr. Goldberg’s indignation, if not his surprise. Conservatives know the depths of ruthlessness to which the liberal establishment can sink when its supremacy is threatened.

At the Wall Street Journal editorial page, presumably, if a colleague announces to the world that he holds the institution and those who work there in contempt, he takes a bit of joshing around the water cooler, then everybody gathers for a group hug and returns to denouncing Tom Daschle. Bernard Goldberg was not so lucky. Trapped in an enraged mob of overpaid, middle-aged white men in suits, he was … taken out and tortured? Well, no. Tickled until he begged them to stop? No. Fired? Not at all. Given a cushy job until a bigger pension kicked in at age 55, when he left of his own accord? Yup. Those liberal swine! No wonder Goldberg is regarded (by himself, among others) as a martyr.

OK, OK, Bernard Goldberg may be so dim, or so drunk on self-righteousness, that he can’t see the comic futility of trying to insulate a quote from denial by adding a second quote promising to lie about the first one—all in the name of high journalistic standards. (Who is going to doubt the first quote but believe the second?) But he’s obviously right about liberal bias, isn’t he? Maybe. The point is that this dumb book adds nothing to the argument, and it is the accusers who are offering it as evidence.

Like a stopped clock, Goldberg isn’t always wrong. He’s probably sincere. But he’s remarkably dense. And you have to wonder whether his glorifiers are just as dense, or deeply cynical, or living on a different planet. Do they really think it is devastating evidence of bias that a TV producer would decide to label a full-time ideologue like Phyllis Schlafly as “conservative” but not feel obliged to label avocational activist Rosie O’Donnell as “liberal”?

I don’t doubt that Goldberg heard a colleague disparage Gary Bauer as “the little nut from the Christian group.” Did he never hear casual disparagement of liberal politicians? “I can’t tell you how many times I heard the term ‘white trash’ thrown around,” Goldberg told Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post. Was it ever, perchance, applied to Bill Clinton? Goldberg said he “resents” the term white trash because of his own lower-middle-class background. His resentment is truly omnivorous. Bernard Goldberg may carry many burdens, but the danger of being considered white trash is not one of them.

Other epithets are available.

For what I really think about liberal media bias, if you care, click here.