Editorial by John Ziegler

If A Tree Falls in the Forest....?

2/17/2002 6:08:16 PM

If a Tree Falls in the Forest...?

For those of us who have been frustrated over the years by the clear liberal bias in the news media, there was always a dream that kept us from complete resignation on the issue.

This fantasy went something like this: What if someone from one of the major news networks wrote a comprehensive book proving what we had known about the news media all along? What if that author was no conservative, but rather was a well-known liberal who actually voted for George McGovern, twice? What if this work revealed the truth about Dan Rather, Katie Couric, Peter Jennings, and the rest (except for that author's current boss Bryant Gumbel) of the media establishment as the blatant liberals that they really are. What if this book got good reviews and enough publicity to allow it to rocket to the top of the best-seller list?

Surely then, we thought, a firestorm of national conversation would be lit and the currently entrenched system of liberal bias in the media would be reduced to mere ashes.

Well, as you probably already know, the core of this wish has been granted, but, like those provided by an evil genie set on squandering our good fortune, the fruits of victory have been largely denied.

Sure, it is nice that the record will now show that this "liberal media bias" mantra was not just the paranoid musings of some right-wing nuts, but I am dumbfounded and disheartened by how little impact the success of Bernard Goldberg's book "Bias" has really had.

Despite being written by a liberal, spending twelve weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list (and still going strong), having a popular President be prominently photographed carrying the book, and the author doing almost 400 radio and TV interviews in twelve different countries, nothing has changed.

Incredibly, CBS and Dan Rather (for whom Goldberg used to work), have not even been forced to legitimately answer a single question about the book. Instead, they have only issued a tersely worded statement that addressed none of the issues raised in "Bias" and implied that Goldberg was nothing but a disgruntled former employee.

Can you imagine the reaction that CBS's own "60 Minutes" would have if a public institution as important as a major television network had a best-selling book written about it that posed grave questions about its integrity, and that institution refused to even comment on the work?! My guess is that Don Hewitt would have someone camped outside of their offices 24/7 until they either agreed to an interview or at least were made to look like cowardly fools. Of course, in this case, nothing of the sort has happened.

While many in the news media (except for CBS) have attempted to at least maintain the illusion of credibility by marginally acknowledging the book's existence and by throwing Goldberg a bone by agreeing to do an interview with him, they have done so in a manner that was as harmless as possible.

One of the many "dirty little secrets" of the news media in this new cable-dominated fragmented world is that it is no longer what gets REPORTED that matters, but rather what gets REPEATED that is really important. This is why each of the news outlets can safely run their one story/article/interview regarding "Bias," pretend that they have maintained their objectivity, and call it a day. They know that, unless they all decide to give the story legs (which none of them, expect for Fox News, has any incentive to do), it will quickly fade away.

After all, even a best-seller like "Bias" is only read by a tiny fraction of the population and most of those willing to pay $27.95 for the details probably didn't require much convincing to begin with. A book like this can only have any real impact when it is allowed to be injected into the "mainstream" where the vast majority of the population hasn't a clue that what Katie Couric is telling them may not be completely objective or truthful. It should be no surprise that the players involved have been careful not to let that happen.

For example, the normally fair (though still liberal) Tim Russert did an outstanding interview with Goldberg on his show that runs on the weekend on CNBC/MSNBC. However, despite openly hoping on the air that the book sparks a further discussion on media bias, Russert has not had Goldberg on his far more watched and respected program, "Meet the Press" (even though he has had Pat Buchanan on to promote a far less popular offering).

While the book has inspired some meek "navel gazing" on the part of a couple of news outlets (NPR's Ombudsman comically concluded that NPR is not really too far "left," but rather too "narrow") the media have largely ignored the book. Some liberal "reporters" (like Tom Shales and Michael Kinsley) have taken pathetically weak swipes at it, and the rest have completely failed to follow up on any of the important questions raised within "Bias."

The media have also shown no inclination to alter any of their maddeningly transparent behavior. With remarkable arrogance (even for the news media), the vast majority of outlets are simply pretending that the book was never published.

In fact, the creator of NBC's "West Wing," cocaine and hallucinogenic mushroom user Aaron Sorkin, actually had the gall last week to criticize NBC's primetime special, "The Bush White House: Inside the Real West Wing" as a "valentine" to President Bush. Despite the reality that the "news" special was designed as a promotion for his OWN show, Sorkin somehow still felt comfortable not only ripping NBC's handling of the program as being too soft (which was no different than it had been for prior administrations), but also took the opportunity to bash Bush himself and question the President's courage.

The irony in Sorkin's attempt to claim a pro-Bush bias in the news media is that the dearth of reporting on Sorkin's inappropriate remarks indicates that the pervasive bias about which Goldberg wrote is still very much alive and well.

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