Features

From insider to outcast

"From insider to outcast" Continued...

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

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.'"

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