From insider to outcast

National | With a sharp-edged new book, Bernard Goldberg challenges his old bosses at CBS on their liberal biases

Issue: "Finding the Best in the Worst," Dec. 15, 2001

After 28 years as a reporter for CBS News, Bernard Goldberg found that sometimes the most significant news comes in the smallest moments. One of those moments came at 12:36 in the afternoon of April 14, 1999, as he sat by his speakerphone in Miami for a conference call discussing the 2000 presidential hopefuls. Sitting at a desk inside the Washington bureau, producer Roxanne Russell called candidate Gary Bauer "the little nut from the Christian group" and then kept reading nonchalantly from her list of events to cover.

The remark itself didn't shock Mr. Goldberg as much as the yawning silence of every other participant in the conference call: Nobody objected or even gasped. He wondered how they would have treated this producer if she had been this insulting toward a black, Jewish, or homosexual candidate. "Instant dismissal," he thought.

These moments and many others from CBS and rival television networks are chronicled in Mr. Goldberg's new book, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News. He told WORLD that the producer's remark might not have reflected hostility as much as it reflected a desire to please her colleagues. "They see themselves as hip and modern and sophisticated. Too many of them see religious people as the opposite. 'You believe in an invisible man in the sky who has these rules?' It just doesn't feel sophisticated."

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(For his part, Gary Bauer says he's thankful that Mr. Goldberg found the remark objectionable. As for the producer, he joked, "I'll give her two out of three. I'm short in stature and clearly a Christian, if we can dispense with the nut part.")

Now a correspondent for the show Real Sports on HBO, Mr. Goldberg left CBS last year after the network canceled several of the TV magazine shows he served. Once he was free from CBS, he decided to write a book about bias, an idea he'd thought about for years. "I think this is an important subject to lot of people," he said. "It certainly is to me, and to millions of others. I thought this might be the only way that perhaps they would listen to an argument about the subject."

The book immediately sent shock waves across the Internet when its first excerpts surfaced, comparing CBS to a "news mafia" and using vulgar metaphors to describe how slavishly devoted corporate vice presidents were to Dan Rather. Mr. Goldberg says he thought the comparisons were funny, but he's beginning to regret the way these passages crackling with attitude are taking attention away from the substance of his critique.

While CBS has offered no official comment, some former colleagues also crackled with attitude. Reporter Eric Engberg said Mr. Goldberg committed an "act of treason" and that he had decided the best way to sell a book "is to trash your friends and former colleagues.... He didn't have many friends in this organization because he was a selfish, self-involved guy who was not a team player."

Mr. Goldberg insists he loves the Dan Rather who is a "wonderful, funny, charming guy," but his complaints about liberal bias exposed another side of the anchor, a man who sees any dissent as a personal attack. He quotes Jon Klein, who in 1996 when he was the No. 2 executive in the news division compared Mr. Rather to Richard Nixon: "If he sees you as an enemy for even a second, you're an enemy for life. And like Nixon, Rather must destroy his enemies.... Now Rather has become what he detested."

Mr. Goldberg contrasts Mr. Rather's lavish limousine-driven lifestyle and extravagant British-tailored suits with his on-air cornpone commentary, which he says the whole network knows isn't improvised, but created well in advance.

Perhaps the most devastating anecdote comes from the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, when CBS sent Mr. Rather's co-anchor at the time, Connie Chung, to Oklahoma before him while he was on vacation. Mr. Goldberg reproduced the claims of "several CBS news people" who heard Mr. Rather spending hours in the CBS station in Oklahoma City on the telephone with TV writers as an anonymous source blasting his female co-anchor as a "second-rate journalist." Mr. Goldberg expressed amazement that while 168 people had just died, Mr. Rather was carping about getting less airtime than his co-anchor.

Regnery, a conservative publisher that became a villain to many national reporters when it published books exposing the flaws of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, is publishing Mr. Goldberg's book. But the author says he isn't concerned about critics connecting ideological dots: "I had other offers, but I never got the impression they believed in this. I didn't want to spend time convincing an editor, 'Hey, I'm on to something here.'" He doesn't see himself as a conservative, just as a journalist who's an advocate for balance: "If the predominant bias were conservative, I'd be out there yelling about that."


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