Ex-newsman’s case full of holes

Jan 7, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Disgruntled has-beens everywhere have a new hero and role model: Bernard Goldberg, the one-time CBS News correspondent and full-time addlepated windbag who is trying to make a second career out of trashing his former employer. Goldberg has picked this moment in time to haul out the old canard about the media being “liberal” and the news being slanted leftward.
It’s the first refuge of a no-talent hack, that argument, and about as old as the printing press; in fact, wasn’t poor old Gutenberg denounced in some circles as a heretic and a radical? Mr. Goldberg would have been leading the charge, especially if he’d earlier attempted to work in Mr. Gutenberg’s shop and had made a spectacular botch of it.
Obviously hoping to follow in the footsteps of Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, two intellectual giants by comparison, Goldberg has fashioned his rantings into a book succinctly titled “Bias,” which, appropriately enough, won the dubious honor of a commendatory editorial from The Wall Street Journal. And we all know how unbiased those Journal editorials are. Gosh it is soooo hard to figure out where they’re coming from.
Goldberg’s laughably inept hate campaign began in the Journal in 1996 when it published his tirade, “Networks Need a Reality Check.” Goldberg’s specialty is conjuring vast, sweeping generalizations that fit in with his own very obvious bias and are based on the tiniest of specifics rather than well-researched evidence. In his poorly written (and poorly edited) WSJ piece, Goldberg lambasted network news divisions for flagrant leftiness on the basis of one single piece that Eric Engberg had done for “CBS Evening News.”
Master of self-defeat
First off, Engberg’s piece had carried the “Reality Check” label, which means, though Goldberg may not understand the concept, that it is by definition a signed personal piece, one designed to re-examine some item in the news. The item in this case, and we all remember it so well (as it has proven terribly significant in the intervening years), was a “flat tax” proposed by would-be presidential candidate Steve Forbes as a way of reforming America’s terribly flawed income-tax system.
Alas for him, Goldberg picked a poor example. Forbes’ flat tax was hardly the kind of issue that sharply divided proponents along liberal and conservative lines; some conservatives hated it. There weren’t any marches on Washington over it, either. The flat tax wasn’t even a bold new idea; it had been kicking around for decades.
Goldberg clumsily weakened his own argument about a liberal conspiracy leading to such pieces as Engberg’s when he conceded in his article that since TV and print reporters tend to be “dunces” about economic issues (Goldberg himself no doubt being a glorious exception), ignorance “as much as bias” can lead to erroneous reporting. Goldberg was not only a flop as a network correspondent, he’s a lousy writer besides.
Quoting Engberg as having referred to one aspect of the Forbes plan as being its “wackiest,” Goldberg then asked in rhetorical high dudgeon, “Can you imagine, in your wildest dreams, a network news reporter calling Hillary Clinton’s health care plan `wacky?’ Can you imagine any editor allowing it?” Well, frankly, yes. But Hillary Clinton and Steve Forbes were not on an equal plane. She was first lady of the land and he was a national non-entity trying desperately to draw attention to his failing bid for a presidential nomination.
Bernard and me
Does Goldberg think that the press was particularly loving and deferential to Hillary Clinton? Has there been in modern times a first lady who suffered worse press and worse relations with the press than poor Hill? His arguments were drivel.
I had my own unpleasant experience with Goldberg. He also fired off op-ed pieces for The New York Times, and occasionally one got printed. The one I read was some mish-moshy thing in which he quoted from TV reviews by me and by John J. O’Connor, then the Times TV critic, and because we apparently agreed about one program, Goldberg from this drew the conclusion that all TV critics write as a monolith and agree with each other all the time. A patently preposterous contention.
Goldberg was, let’s face it, not a bright shining star in the firmament of CBS News. He usually looked disheveled and bleary-eyed on the air, and appearance does count in a visual medium. I remember a piece he did in the aftermath of a hurricane that could have ended eloquently on a shot of some household item sitting amid the horrible wasteland of debris. Instead the piece ended with Goldberg’s sallow face and his own lame attempts at poignancy.
Rebel without a clue
If things didn’t go his way at CBS News, it may have been less a communist conspiracy against him than the fact that the place is to some degree a meritocracy.
The Journal editorial, so loaded and intentionally myopic as to be rather funny, notes that viewership of network evening newscasts dropped from a 51 percent tune-in in 1994 to 43 percent in “the summer of 2001” and imagines that disgust with liberal bias is a key factor, when everyone knows the networks face more and more competition each year from the increased number of cable channels-news and non-news-that lure viewers away. Dan Rather and the “CBS Evening News” have lost viewers partly because of the horrendous mismanagement of former CBS Chairman Laurence Tisch (a draconian cost-cutter whom the Journal doubt reveres as a living saint) and the loss of affiliates in urban markets due to a raid by Fox.
Finally, notes the Journal, Goldberg is being assailed by former CBS News colleagues for failing so conspicuously (and for who knows how large a book advance) to be a “team player.” Concludes the Journal, “Like it or not, the TV networks could use a few more non-team players like Mr. Goldberg.”
Oh really? Oh could they? And pray tell how many “non-team players” such as Mr. Goldberg would the editors and publisher of The Wall Street Journal like to have on the staff? How many would be richly praised and rewarded for, say, writing an op-ed piece in the Times complaining that the Journal’s editorial about Bernard Goldberg was an embarrassingly transparent piece of corporate-dictated hogwash?
I do hope one tries. It could be such an inspiration to us all.