RWN’s Bernard Goldberg Interview #3
Yesterday, I talked with Bernard Goldberg about his new book, “A Slobbering Love Affair: The True (And Pathetic) Story of the Torrid Romance Between Barack Obama and the Mainstream Media.” What follows is an edited transcript of our discussion.
…To begin with, I’ve interviewed you a couple of times before and you have always been very insistent that you thought that members of the mainstream media were not deliberately trying to slant the news, that they were just unintentionally biased because of the nature of their world view. So what convinces you that the situation has changed this time around?
That’s still largely my position — that when you put too many like-minded people in the same place, in this case, the American newsroom, you’re going to get a kind of slanted journalism. And the like-minded people are mostly to the left so you’re going to get a liberal bias in the news.
This time it was different in the sense that normally (they’d put a) thumb on the scale for the Democratic candidate. This time it went from media bias to media activism because unlike with Dukakis or with Mondale or with John Kerry or any of those guys, this time reporters thought that this was a noble cause. This time they didn’t want to simply be eyewitnesses to history or even partisan witnesses to history. This time they wanted to help shape history because there was a historical component to this election unlike any other election. And even though I still think that the bias is largely the result of like-minded people getting together and doing the same job, I do think that they felt that they were on a special mission and crossed a very bright line from media bias to media activism.
Now even the liberals in the media, despite what they might be saying publicly, have to be very much aware of how biased they were especially since Obama was up against John McCain who has always been a favored son of the media, up until he ran against Obama.
So do you think that’s going to affect their attitude? Do you think that’s going to have any sort of impact?
No, not really. But let me address the John McCain favorite son observation. The media did like John McCain, but they liked him when he was running against George Bush. They liked him when he was not reliably conservative. They liked him when he stuck a thumb in some Republican eye and they liked him when he cared more about what Teddy Kennedy or Russ Feingold thought than what his fellow Republicans thought. That’s why they liked him.
Once he ran up against one of theirs, a liberal Democrat, they stopped liking him. So people who say that the media had a love affair with John McCain, no, not really. It was only in comparison to George Bush whom they really didn’t like.
Bernie, you always hear the media in public, most of them anyway, claim they’re right down the middle and they’re fair. But in private do they sort of say “Yeah, we’re liberal and we know we’re liberal.”
I had an executive at CBS News once say to me, “Well of course there is a liberal bias. Everybody knows that.” And let’s even go outside of the realm of private right after the election, three days after the election, two heavyweight political reporters in Washington, Charlie Cook and Stuart Rothenberg — these are not names that everybody knows because they don’t do television mainly….
My readers will know who they are.
Right, they’re very knowledgeable guys. And they had a seminar in Washington three days after the election at which time they said, “Did the media tilt for Obama? Of course it did.” And then each of them individually said but, “It is what it is.” And I couldn’t figure out why that little phrase troubled me as much as it did.
But, I thought about it for several days and then it hit me there is no other form of bias where decent people would write it off with “It is what it is.” We would never say, “She’s a woman we’re not going to hire her” – but hey, “It is what it is.” Or that black man, “I know he’s thirsty, but we can’t let him drink out of that water fountain because you know, ‘It is what it is.'” Now I know those analogies go just so far. For instance, nothing is the same as race in America. But you get the point that we have two heavyweight, serious journalists cavalierly writing off what they acknowledge as bias with the phrase, “”It is what it is”.” Well, “It is what it is” isn’t good enough anymore. And we’re going to need a few courageous journalists to step up and say that “it is what it is” doesn’t cut it anymore. I don’t know who those journalists will be. Frankly, I’m not holding my breath, but that’s what we’re going to need to change this situation.
Back to Obama, now the media is still very much treating him with kid gloves. Do you think that will last throughout his presidency or at some point, do they try to get tougher, perhaps to make up for being so soft on him earlier?
The honest answer is nobody knows. That’s the honest answer. I’ll give you the two possibilities. One is that things don’t go as well as everybody hopes they go and the folks in Middle America turn on Obama, even the people who voted for him say, “Well, he’s not the Messiah that we thought he was. The economy is still bad and unemployment is still high and the stock market is still low.” I want to make clear I hope none of those things happen. I hope he does very well. But, if (it happens) regular folks may abandon Barack Obama.
Then the question becomes, does the media follow suit? Do they start to behave like real reporters for a change? Do they stop slobbering and cover him or — and here’s the other possibility: do they say to themselves, “He’s too historically important to fail. He’s too big to fail. We’ve invested too much in his success for him to fail.” The jury is out on that.
Now, I interviewed Rush Limbaugh for the book and Rush Limbaugh says, “He is too big to fail.” And that may very well be the case. But you asked me a direct question and my honest answer is I don’t know and nobody knows for sure. We hope the media finally gets around to doing their job, but I’m not holding my breath on that either.
Well this is a little bit of a different question. You’re more of a broadcast journalist than a print journalist. But, a lot of newspapers around the country are reaching the breaking point. What do you think about the financially troubled papers, like the New York Times, Seattle Times, etc., are having?
Right, I think there are two basic reasons. One of them is technology. The Internet is killing them. The younger readers aren’t buying newspapers. To the extent that they’re reading at all, they’re reading online. And news outlets, news companies haven’t figured out a way to monetize the Web the way they know how to make money off of a newspaper. You can sell a full page in the New York Times and make a lot of money, but there is not an equivalent amount of money on the Web.
But the other reason has nothing to do with technology and has everything to do with ideology. I know real people, who stopped subscribing to the New York Times because they say that they’re tired of reading the editorials on page one. You know they’re tired of the opinions from the editorial page making their way on to the front page.
I stopped buying news magazines, for instance, a long time ago because there was a sermonette in the last paragraph of these stories — a liberal sermonette where they would tell me how I am supposed to think about the subject. So technology is one reason, no question about that, but ideology is the other.
There are people who will not pay money for this stuff anymore as long as they’re perceived as being biased, as long as the newspapers are seen as being biased.
Now a related question about that. I’ve heard other people make that point that obviously they’re throwing away a lot of conservatives. But just to give you an example, I interviewed Ann Coulter not too long ago. Ann, whether you like or don’t like her, it’s fair to say she is probably the single most popular conservative columnist in America. She told me there is not one newspaper that carries her column….
Let me just jump in right at that point. I’ve tried to think of another business in America that cares less about its customers than the news business and I can’t think of any.
…The only thing that trumps money and ratings and circulation for these people is ideology. I’m not saying that 2,000 newspapers in America should publish Ann Coulter because she’s popular, but some should. You would think. But, they don’t because their ideology trumps even their business sense and their desperate need to survive.
Now, a related question — other than on Fox, I can’t help but notice the other networks shy away from popular, well-liked conservative voices that might give people…
Well let’s take MSNBC, for instance, has made a conscious business decision to be the magnet for the angry Left in America that hated George Bush with a passion.
…But the further point I wanted to make though is even when they do bring conservatives on they tend to get people like Pat Buchanan, Joe Scarborough who tend to be critical of the Right, not particularly popular with conservatives.
That is exactly right, exactly true. Let’s take this in two parts.
First, Fox for all of its criticism from the Left has liberal voices on all the time. And if you don’t trust me, if you don’t believe me pick a day in the future, tune in Bill O’Reilly on that day and you will hear liberal voices, as well as, conservative voices.
However, if you go to the Big Show on MSNBC, the Keith Olbermann show, you’ll never hear a conservative voice. So that’s one major difference. Another major difference is for all its criticism Fox has never had Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity anchor a major news event like primary elections all through the campaign season. MSNBC has two rabid partisans anchoring their news events, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews.
The third difference is the one that you mentioned that when they do have a conservative on. It’s interesting they have Pat Buchanan on who’s a conservative who doesn’t like Republicans. They have Joe Scarborough on who’s fair minded. In other words Joe does ask very good questions and is willing to criticize Republicans, as well as, Democrats.
But they’re not going to have on a genuine conservative as a regular because that person will poke holes in their business model. Their viewers don’t want to hear Ann Coulter, not a regular basis anyway. So that’s why she’s never on with Keith Olbermann.
I can name others. I mean Mark Steyn is a great commentator. He’s not on there. What I’m saying is MSNBC has made a conscious business decision and conservatives who like Republicans don’t fit that model; Pat Buchanan does though.
Bernard, outstanding as usual. This is very good. I really appreciate your time.
Well thank you. Good, I hope I gave you something you can use.