The Bernard Goldberg Interview
John Hawkins:: Just because I know people will claim that you’re conservative because you’re criticizing the media, could you tell us what your ideology is?
Bernard Goldberg:: The reason they do that John is so I’ll be automatically marginalized. I wrote in “Bias” that I would make racial discrimination a criminal offense, not just a civil offense. On gay rights, I don’t know anyone more Libertarian than me. I don’t want the government getting involved in it. I’m pro-abortion with reservations. I’ve never set foot in a country club in my life.
I consider myself to be an old-fashioned liberal. I’m a liberal the way liberals used to be when they were like John F. Kennedy and when they were like Hubert Humphrey. When they were upbeat and enthusiastic and mainstream. I am not a liberal the way liberals are today at least as exemplified by: Al Franken: andMichael Moore, where they’re angry, nasty, closed minded, & not mainstream, but fringe.
I think this is what really irks the media. That this is coming from one of them. I was one of them for 28 years. The name of your website is Right Wing News, right?
John Hawkins:: Yes.
Bernard Goldberg:: Well, I’m not like some right wing guy who’s way out there and I’m saying the conservatives who are complaining about this are right. By the way, a sizable portion of liberals out there believe there is bias in the news.
John Hawkins:: Now I read “Bias,” which was an excellent, excellent, book and noticed that after that came out you were just savaged in the press. Do you think some people were particularly sensitive to your criticism because it came from a fellow liberal?
Bernard Goldberg:: I think I did get savaged and if you analyze it, I got savaged for no other reason than bringing up the subject. Now if: Rush Limbaugh: or: Bill Buckley: brought up the subject, they wouldn’t have gone crazy. They’d say, “what do you expect from them?” But, I was one of them. That’s why they got as crazy as they did, because I have credibility. If I didn’t have credibility, how was I a CBS news correspondent with 7 Emmys. How did that happen? How was I one of the top guys on the “CBS Evening News With Dan Rather”?
If “Bias” had sold 2 copies, they wouldn’t have savaged me. So the reason I hope “Arrogance” does well is because the better it does, the better the chances that the media elites are finally going to have to listen.
John Hawkins:: One of the things you talk about in: Arrogance: is the ludicrous idea that the mainstream press is actually conservative…
Bernard Goldberg:: Ludicrous is being too kind. This is silliest thing I’ve ever heard…
John Hawkins:: If someone on the left told you the mainstream media was actually conservative, how would you convince them that wasn’t true?
Bernard Goldberg:: I’d say, “why do you think so” and he would tell me the following because it’s the party line; “Well, there’s talk radio, there’s: Fox News, and there’s the: Washington Times.” I’d say, “OK, you’re right, they all tilt to the right and in the world of opinion, conservatives have a lot of clout. I’ll give you that.” Then I’d say, “How come you didn’t mention to me that almost every big city newspaper in America has a liberal editorial page and the columnists on the op-ed page who are almost all liberals? Why did you conveniently leave that out?” Conservatives have a lot of clout in certain places and liberals have a lot of clout in some very, very, important places like the: New York Times, the: Boston Globe, & the: LA Times.
That’s number one. Number two I’d say that there is a difference between opinion and news. The problem is that there is a bubble that these media elites live in. They live in it in Manhattan & Washington. It’s a very comfortable bubble and they almost never run into people inside it who have differing points of view. They can go through a whole day, a whole week, a whole month, without running into someone who has a differing view on the big social issues of our time…
John Hawkins:: I hate to get off the subject, but that’s so odd to me. Of course, I’m conservative, but I run into people with different views every day of the week…
Bernard Goldberg:: That’s a great question and let me give you the answer. If you lived on the upper West side on Manhattan where many media people live or if you lived in Beverly Hills, if you just do a couple of things, if you stay away from Fox News and talk radio, then you might not even run into a conservative. If you live in these places where just about everyone thinks the same way on all these big issues, then you could literally not run into real people, who you walk up to on the street and shake hands with, who have these other points of view.
I’ve never said these media elites are bad guys or evil guys. I’ve specifically said there is no conspiracy. They’re living in their lives in this comfortable bubble with like minded people in it. It includes the people in their newsroom with like-minded liberal people in it and after a while they think everything to the right-of-center is conservative and everything to left-of-center is middle of the road. I know that sounds crazy, but that’s how they see it. That’s why they’ll have a conservative person on and will identify him as a conservative, but they’ll have a liberal person on and won’t identify them as a liberal. “Is he liberal? Why is he liberal? He has the same view that I have and all of my friends have.”
John Hawkins:: The Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times certainly tarnished their image. But given that Blair was able to blatantly lie so often, for so long, and get away with it, I have to wonder how many other Jayson Blairs are out there?
Bernard Goldberg:: I’m going to surprise you and you may not like this answer, but almost none. Jayson Blair is a fluke. I’ve been doing this for one company for 28 years, but I’ve been in the news business since 1967 and I’ve never run into a Jayson Blair. I talked to a CBS News executive producer who has been with the company for over 50 years and asked him, “how many times have you run into something like this?” He said, “Never”. Jason Blair is an aberration.
But, I think that Jayson Blair took a lot of time and attention away from a much more important subject. What the media and the New York Times should have been paying more attention to is that they let their ideology slip off of the editorial pages and into their news pages way too often. You could read the sports pages of the New York Times and you get ideology shoved down your throat all the time. This Augusta story, right?
John Hawkins:: Oh, that was so annoying…
Bernard Goldberg:: They raised that to the level of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Then you read a movie review as I did week or so ago, the movie has nothing to do with politics, and the movie reviewer is taking cheap shots at the Fox News channel. So they’re giving us ideology there. Then you will think I’m making this up, they run a piece about food in the magazine section. Now let me read this to you, it’s a short thing. Johnathan Reynolds is the writer. He talked about his trip to Norway to learn how to prepare scallops and other fish. But in the midst of this piece, he’s talking about monkfish, and: he says, “it sits on the bottom of the ocean, opens its Godzilla jaws and waits for poor unsuspecting fishies to swim right into it, not unlike the latest recipients of W’s capital-gains cuts.”
John Hawkins:: (Groan)
Bernard Goldberg:: Now this is the problem at the New York Times, not Jayson Blair. You get ideology on page 1, you get ideology on the sports page, you get ideology in the movie reviews, and you get ideology in a story about monkfish! It’s ridiculous!
John Hawkins:: Let me change directions a bit here. The coverage of the war in Iraq and to a lesser extent, the coverage of the war in Afghanistan by most of the press was hysterically, almost comically negative and not reflective of what was really going on. Why was their gloomy coverage so far off the mark?
Bernard Goldberg:: During the whole fighting portion of the war, they were oppressively pessimistic. Not the reporters in the field, the embedded reporters did a pretty good job. But the experts who were embedded in air conditioned studios in Manhattan and Washington — it was like, “what war are you talking about?” The one I’m watching is going to set a world’s record for successful wars — in terms of the fighting, I want to make that clear. Because securing the peace is lot harder than the war was.
But they covered the war the way they cover every story in America. If they do a story about race, you get the impression that American is this racist country. If they do a story about feminism, you get the feeling that half the country is made up of women haters. They’re always doing that, that’s why so many people don’t like them. That’s why I wrote an entire chapter in “Arrogance” called “Quagmire”. The quagmire is a quagmire of their mentality, it’s a quagmire of their brains. They were talking about quagmires almost from the start of the war…
John Hawkins:: No doubt about that. I’ve even got a whole section of: quotes: on my page that make it sound like we were in the middle of Vietnam a week and a half after the war started. It was ridiculous.
Bernard Goldberg:: But, here’s the biggest problem; this is ridiculous, people with just common sense know it’s ridiculous. But the reason I call this book “Arrogance” is because the people in charge are so arrogant that they refuse to examine themselves. Every time somebody says there’s a problem, they say, “You think that we have a problem? That proves that you’re the problem”.
John Hawkins:: Speaking of the war coverage, one of things that I think really stood out after things had gone so well in Iraqi war was the media’s obsessive focus on the looting of the Baghdad museum. It was almost as if they were desperate to find some sort of fly in the ointment that they could complain about. Is that how you saw it?
Bernard Goldberg:: Let’s put it this way John, journalists in general prefer bad news to good news. That may be a bias, but it’s not a liberal bias. It’s one thing if you’re going to not report that the First National Bank of Kansas City was not robbed today or not report that a plane landed safely today. I get that, because most of us in America, unless you’re a total moron, understands that most banks aren’t robbed each day or most planes land safely. But how in the world are we supposed to know what’s going on in Iraq except through the news media? So I say keep giving us the bad news, give us all the bad news you’ve got, give us more bad news than you’re giving us. But give us the rest of the story. Also tell us what good things are happening. That’s called good journalism for one thing. It’s also the only way we in America can understand what’s going on there. I mean I am not one of those people saying, “you are giving us too much bad news”. I’m not saying that. I’m saying continue to give us the bad news, but give us the rest of the story so we can get a complete picture of what’s going on there.
John Hawkins:: Let me ask you a related question to that one. I’m sure you’re familiar with the now: infamous editorial: that Eason Jordan wrote about how CNN refused to report numerous newsworthy events in Iraq out of fear for their, “Baghdad staff”. Can the American public trust the news they’re getting about totalitarian regimes from the big networks?
Bernard Goldberg:: First of all, television except for CNN doesn’t have bureaus in very many places anymore. So this isn’t a practical problem. But, when I first heard about the Eason Jordan thing, I said, “Geeze, you don’t want to say something that is going to get one of your guys killed or anything” and you gotta have sympathy for that perspective.
On the other hand, if you know Saddam is doing terrible things and you could document it, but if you do they’ll close down your bureau, that’s disgraceful. I’ll tell you, I think the networks to some degree have done that in Cuba. They want access to Cuba, so to some degree they go easy. I guarantee you this John, if you want to write a documentary on Cuba, you don’t spend the month leading up to the interview with Castro, blasting Castro, or he’ll just call off the interview. So journalists should I think forsake doing interviews and even have their bureaus shut down rather than not tell the American people news that they desperately need to know.
John Hawkins:: Let me ask you about a story, it’s probably not something you’ve heard of because it has to do with pro-wrestling. In his book “Foley Is Good” (P. 53), Pro-Wrestler Mick Foley claimed that ABC’s 20/20: did an interview: with him about backyard wrestling. First Foley said they showed him a few kids horsing around and got his reaction & then they showed him some kids doing dangerous backyard wrestling maneuvers featuring a cheese grater and barbed wire and had him give an opinion. But when the show ran, Foley said they mixed and matched his answers to make it look as if he were condoning the more violent scenes. Does that sound like a plausible story to you and is that sort of thing common in the business?
Bernard Goldberg:: First of all, I obviously don’t know if that is an accurate telling of what happened. If it is, it violates their rules. Forget about what you think about it, forget about what I think about it, that violates every standard in the business. If it really happened, that violates their rules so even they know that’s bad. If that is accurate, it’s a despicable violation of rules.
I would advise that people not to take an exception — and I know you’re not doing this — and say, “oh, it happens all the time”. It really doesn’t, but when it does people should be called on it. If that Wrestling story is true, that’s bad, really bad, because it makes him look like a jerk.
John Hawkins:: You know, given that the big 3 networks like making money and being successful as much as anyone else, I’ve never understood why one of them hasn’t taken a Brit Hume or a Tony Snow or John Stossel, put them in the anchor chair, and let them do a right-of-center newscast instead of a left-of-center newscast. If they did that, they’d dwarf either of the other two networks. That’s an easy way to takeover as the #1 newscast — so why hasn’t one of the big 3 networks done that?
Bernard Goldberg:: I can’t tell you that this is true, but I heard from a reliable source that CBS News — when they did the Clinton/Dole debate on 60 Minutes — that some very important people at CBS wanted Bill O’Reilly instead of Bob Dole. It didn’t happen because you know the former President is not going to debate a Bill O’Reilly as opposed to the former leader of the Senate. But I think that they understand that there are some people, like Bill O’Reilly, who are valuable commodities. They can’t put them on to anchor the evening news, but they ought to be able to find a place for them.
Let me use myself as an example. After I wrote “Bias,” after I’ve now written “Arrogance,” wouldn’t it be a brilliant move if one of the three networks said — and I want to make it clear that I’m not looking for a job — but if one of the networks said, “let’s have him on as our media analyst,” wouldn’t that be just fantastic television?
John Hawkins:: Yeah, people would love it.
Bernard Goldberg:: It’ll never happen.
John Hawkins:: How is Fox News perceived by most of the media insiders you talk to? Are they looked at as a hot commodity they need to take lessons from or as conservative Philistines…
Bernard Goldberg:: They’re looked at several ways. In a commercial sense, they’re looked at as doing something right because people like to watch them and their ratings are going up each month basically, while the networks ratings are going down. There are people at the networks who think that: Bill O’Reillydoes a good job.
But the standard liberal reaction when you say “Fox News,” is to roll their eyes. It’s like a reflexive action. You know, it’s like you hit someone in the knee and their leg goes up? You say “Fox News” and a liberal’s eyes start rolling. They don’t think they’re balanced, they think they’re a conservative network.
Well, a couple of things. Do they have a conservative sensibility? Yes. But, they have a lot of liberal guests on Fox. If you watch Fox for a week solid, count up all the guests and then break it down to basically liberals and conservatives, it’ll come pretty close to 50/50. Now does O’Reilly seem to the right-of-center, is Hannity definitely to the right of center? Yes. But Alan Colmes is to the left-of-center and I don’t know what Greta Van Susteren is…
John Hawkins:: She leans to the left…
Bernard Goldberg:: But that’s the thing. If Greta leans left, you don’t hear any liberals complaining about that. If Alan Colmes is there, you don’t have any liberals saying, “Well it’s Hannity and Colmes, that’s fair”.
The media elites are upset because Fox even exists! They liked it when it was ABC, NBC, & CBS and that was it. Now here comes this upstart, not only grabbing viewers, not only having this conservative attitude, but they’re calling themselves, “Fair and Balanced”. “That implies that we’re not fair and balanced!” So they hate Fox in that respect. They hate them not because they can point to 20 examples of bias, but because they’re even there. …They don’t like the fact that there’s a Rush Limbaugh out there, they don’t like the fact that there’s a Fox News, they don’t like the fact that there’s a: Matt Drudge. They liked it when it was nice, when it was just the three of them. Well, it ain’t that way anymore.
Bernard Goldberg:: I did and I laughed through every page, I thought it was hilarious. I mean she’s a bombthrower, no question about that, but you get the impression that there’s always a twinkle in her eye when she does it, you know? Sometimes I wish she would tone it down because she gives ammunition to the left. Calling people traitors is not a good thing. But I read Slander, I laughed through every page, and I had a good time reading it. She’s funny.
John Hawkins:: You know, you’re on a page called “Right Wing News” saying nice things about Ann Coulter. So even if you took back everything you said in “Bias” and “Arrogance,” you’ll never get a job in network TV again (laughs).
Bernard Goldberg:: (Laughs) You’re right.
John Hawkins:: What sort of effect do you think the internet and blogs are having on the mainstream media?
Bernard Goldberg:: I’m going to put it very succinctly. The networks are always denying that they have a bias problem. But deniability when we have cable & satellite TV, talk radio, when we have the internet with lots of people democratizing the whole process and writing from all different points of view; deniability for the media elites is not a winning strategy.
John Hawkins:: Now we’ve talked about it already, but can you tell us a little bit more about your new book, “Arrogance”?
Bernard Goldberg:: “Bias” identified the problem of liberal bias in the news. “Arrogance” goes much further. It shows why it exists and how entrenched the biases are. It shows that these media elites refuse to get it. That’s why I call it “Arrogance”. Every time you bring the subject up, they blame you for having the problem.
I realize that whether it’s the Columbia School of Journalism,: CBS, the New York Times,: ABC, the LA Times, or the Boston Globe, they basically share one set of values. Not 100%, but they’re basically like-minded people. As a result, I don’t think they can fix the problem themselves. I think it’s almost impossible. So I say, “I want to help”. At the end of the book, I come up with solutions. Not just any solutions, a 12 step plan. If 12 steps are good enough for alcoholics, it ought to be good enough for journalists.
John Hawkins:: Are there any websites or blogs that you can recommend to RWN’s readers?
Bernard Goldberg:: Well I think: Andrew Sullivan: is brilliant.
John Hawkins:: I: interviewed him: earlier this week.
Bernard Goldberg:: I am a huge fan of Andrew Sullivan. I think he is a very reasonable guy and he’s one of the great thinkers in America today. That’s one certainly.
But, I am old fashioned in that I am not a big internet guy. Also, I don’t like the fact that people get things wrong and that people are nasty, I don’t like that all about the net. But I do like the fact that you don’t have to have your own printing press anymore to get the word out. That’s what the media doesn’t like. They liked it when it was a free press as long as you could afford a printing press or if you could afford a TV station. Now, you can create a web site and if people like what you write, they’ll visit. Like how many people go to your website?
John Hawkins:: During the workweek, about 5000 people a day.
Bernard Goldberg:: Well, that’s great! Dan Rather’s not going to let you on to have a few minutes every day, so that’s great. That’s why I get back to the quote about “deniability being a losing strategy”. It’s in the book, it’s a: Wall Street Journalquote. In the age of websites, bloggers, & satellite TV it’s not a winning strategy to say, “We don’t have a problem”. Deniability is a dumb strategy and that’s the one they’re currently employing, deniability. That’s all they do, deny, deny, deny.
John Hawkins:: Last but not least, is there anything else you’d like to say or promote before we finish?
Bernard Goldberg:: Yes, one thing. The ball is in the court of the big guys, the media elites. They can either pay attention this time around, to “Arrogance” or they can keep on thinking that they don’t have a problem but everybody who complains does. If they do that, they will become the journalist’s equivalent of the leisure suit. Harmless enough, but hopelessly out of date.
John Hawkins:: Thanks a lot for your time!