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."
(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."
But even if the substance of Mr. Goldberg's stories in the 1990s were "cold-bloodedly objective," as he maintained, his choice of topics became contrarian and pleasing to conservatives. He first caught conservative attention with a 1990 editorial in The New York Times attacking reporters on the "Victims America" beat, who always blamed social problems like homelessness on insufficient government intervention. On CBS, he took on the "epidemic" of excuses for criminal behavior and feminist "male bashing," and found a different breed of victims, like an apple juice maker imprisoned for seven incorrect environmental reports out of thousands, when even local environmentalists said the stream he "polluted" was clean.
He had agitated within the network for years about biased stories he saw from other CBS reporters. He asked producer (now CBS News President) Andrew Heyward in1993 about doing a story about whether the media had a bias. Mr. Heyward replied, "Look, Bernie, of course there's a liberal bias in the news. All the networks tilt left." Then he added, "If you repeat any of this, I'll deny it."
But his real career trouble began on Feb. 8, 1996. Just four months after he had achieved his highest profile at CBS, with a regular feature called "Bernard Goldberg's America" on the CBS Evening News, he would lose his patience with making internal complaints about liberal bias and shoot his own CBS career in the foot.
The man who rebuilt Mr. Goldberg's hurricane-damaged home in Miami, Jerry Kelley, asked him if he'd seen Eric Engberg's "Reality Check" report on presidential candidate Steve Forbes's flat-tax proposal. When he took Mr. Kelley's advice and viewed the story, he found the famously gruff Mr. Engberg dismissing the Forbes plan as a "scheme" and ridiculing its "wackiest" claim that tax cuts would allow families more time together. He wondered: Would a CBS reporter ever dare describe Hillary Clinton's health plan as a "wacky scheme"?
Mr. Goldberg responded with an unprecedented editorial in The Wall Street Journal attacking the Engberg report. In 21 words, he changed his career forever: "The old argument that the networks and other 'media elites' have a liberal bias is so blatantly true that it's hardly worth discussing anymore."
To his colleagues at CBS, the topic had never been worth discussing. Dan Rather quickly removed the Goldberg feature from his show, and he was effectively banned from the airwaves for two months. A CBS statement said Dan Rather "disagrees with Mr. Goldberg's opinion ... and its expression." When Mr. Goldberg noted to his friend and boss Andrew Heyward that he hadn't revealed Mr. Heyward's casual 1993 admission of liberal bias, Mr. Heyward exclaimed, "That would have been like raping my wife and kidnapping my kids!"
That attitude resurfaced when he wrote another Wall Street Journal editorial last May attacking liberal bias. In a C-SPAN interview on the morning the article came out, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw complained that he knew Mr. Goldberg "had an ongoing feud with Dan. I wish he would confine it to that."
That's how network insiders want to portray Mr. Goldberg's story-as merely a personal spat, so that the argument about bias is buried underneath. "It's more acceptable today to argue that the Taliban are really good guys than to argue the media have a liberal bias," Mr. Goldberg said.
The root of the problem, he argues, is that network journalists have no interest in learning about the arguments of those they oppose. He recalls one conversation with Susan Zirinsky, now executive producer of CBS's 48 Hours, in which he asked her how often she had interviewed on camera a conservative women's group about a Supreme Court decision or vote in Congress. "She thought about it for a few seconds, then told me she couldn't think of a single time," he writes in his book.
Network reporters "aren't any more sophisticated than any of the hillbillies they can picture in the hills of Tennessee," he said. "Manhattan is one of the most provincial areas in the United States."
Mr. Goldberg concludes his book with his own personal solution: "All I can do is what millions of Americans have been doing for years. I take one last look at my good friend Dan, blow him a goodbye kiss, aim my remote right at his eyeball ... and click the button marked 'off.'"