Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler title Graphic
Caveat lector

2 February 2002

Our current howler (part III): Long tall sally

Synopsis: Marvin swore there’s no "liberal bias." Like Bernie, he’s faking it too.

Commentary by Marvin Kalb, Bernard Goldberg
The NewsHour, PBS, 1/24/02

Amazing, isn’t it? Peter Jennings labeled three Republican senators "conservative"—out of the twenty such solons he named. And the context for his comments was clear—Jennings’ pundits, including Bill Kristol, had just described a possible split between GOP "moderates" and "conservatives" in the Senate. But, to the endlessly boohooing Bernie Goldberg, this gross misconduct on Jennings’ part is "Exhibit A" of "liberal bias"—the shocking example he mentions first when railing against the press corps’ vile practice. And of course, Bernie isn’t above a bit of dissembling as he tries to puff his silly complaint; he routinely implies—or openly states—that Jennings IDed every conservative. Reviewers turn the claim into fact (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/1/02).

But so it goes in your Washington press corps, where the real bias favors sloth and deception. It would be hard to find a lazier book than the laughable mess Bernie Goldberg assembled, but reviewers are simply too lazy themselves to waste time examining his charges. And with conservative power in the press growing steadily, craven pundits can easily see that his bullroar should be taken quite seriously. All hail, then, the National Review, which has just published a Lou Cannon piece noting that this is a weak, lazy book. But mainstream pundits are now quite scared of being accused of liberal bias themselves. And so they have placed pusillanimous palaver into print, failing to note the intellectual sloth that lies at the heart of this book.

But then, along came Marvin Kalb, dueling with Bernie on the NewsHour. Goldberg blubbered about Peter’s Patter. Then, Kalb made some sensible points:

KALB: On ideological labeling, I have a better point, I think, than Bernie’s. I spent, in my own book, One Scandalous Story, focusing on the Washington press corps—according to Bernie’s thesis, that Washington press corps is a very elitist liberal press corps. Why in God’s name, if he’s right, would they have gone out and lacerated and destroyed a liberal President? That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. And that is because—hang on, Bernie—that is because it’s so much more complicated to explain the decision-making process. It has to do with economics, it has to do with ego, it has to do with ratings. An executive producer will not put a story on sometimes because the issue is a black person. That’s true. That to me is lousy journalism, but it’s not a political bias. They would put a story on about green people if green people attracted an audience—if it raised the ratings.

GOLDBERG: But Marvin, I say that—

KALB: The key thing, Bernie, that I’m getting at is that it isn’t political bias, which is what your headline and your book seem to be saying, and you and I have gone through too much to know that that is too simplistic an explanation.

Is there liberal bias and error in the media? Of course there is; bias and error of every description virtually defines the work of this press corps. But Kalb took note of an obvious problem; he noted how hard it is to reconcile the Clinton coverage (even more so, by the way, the coverage of Gore) with the theory of dominant, controlling "liberal bias." To Kalb, the media’s conduct is "more complicated" than that. Bernie was being "simplistic."

And yet, lurking in his passionate plaint was the seed of Marvin’s downfall. "It isn’t political bias," Kalb said—seeming to imply that there is no "liberal bias" in the media at all. That, of course, is simply absurd—but by the time the titans were done, Kalb seemed to be making this claim straight out. This statement came a bit later:

KALB: The whole idea that there is something about [press coverage of] social issues that ought to be addressed, absolutely, and we ought to be doing more of that. But you’re dealing with fire here. You’re dealing with a headline, "Bias;" you’re talking about why the media distorts the news. In my own book, I talk about tarnishing the news. We share the idea that they’re not doing a good job, but why? It’s the underlying precept here, is that there is political bias, and that’s what you’re saying. That is wrong, and I think you know that deep down. [emphasis added]

But is there no "political bias" in the press which is liberal? That would be a foolish claim. Alas! In Kalb’s third try at the ring, he issued a total denial:

KALB: Bernie, did you always vote Republican?

GOLDBERG: Marvin, please understand—

KALB: No, seriously. Did you—

GOLDBERG: Please understand when I say this—

KALB: No, because what you’re saying is if somebody voted Democratic, that are they would end up doing a story from a so-called liberal point of view.


KALB: I don’t know, in 30 years as a reporter, that anyone has ever—ever—asked me to do a piece from a political point of view. It’s just wrong.

It’s also a total straw man. Goldberg has never claimed that editors direct reporters to "do a piece from a liberal point of view." In this segment, Kalb was avoiding the topic which Goldberg had just raised—the iconic 1996 Freedom Forum poll which found that 89 percent of responding Washington journalists voted for Clinton in 1992. (Typically, Bernie didn’t know when the survey was done.) But instead of speaking to Goldberg’s point, Kalb defeated a claim which hadn’t been made—and he seemed to say there is no such thing as liberal bias and error in the press corps.

Yes, there’s liberal bias and error. But there’s conservative bias and error too, and if scribes want to engage in good-faith discussions, they need to make a good-faith effort to identify where it all lies. It was hard to find the "liberal bias" in much of the coverage of President Clinton. And "liberal bias" was notably AWOL in the two-year trashing of Gore. And was "liberal bias" lurking about when the Bush tax cuts were passed last year? We’d like to see that claim defended. Clearly, liberal bias and error do not rule the world. But when Bernie met Marvin, Marvin faked it, denying such bias at all.

Bernie Goldberg is faking hard in his utterly stupid book. But when Bernie met Marvin, Kalb faked too. Alas! Such faking made a great scene in a pleasing film, but it makes for a worthless discussion.

Next: HOWLER HISTORY! Incomparable insights! Getting rid of internal combustion!


The Daily update (2/2/02)

Another Malkin Moment: Now even C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb is being dragged down in the Michelle Malkin maelstrom. On Friday morning’s Washington Journal, the saintly founder was forced to read some mysterious mots disclaiming the latest Malkin misstatement. It was "Brawling Brit" day on the popular show; Lamb broke in on a lively discussion between Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens:

LAMB: Let me get a statement in here. Just a break—this has nothing to do with either one of you. I need to say this. [READING] During our call-in segment with guest Michelle Malkin on Friday, January 18, she stated that MicroStrategy Inc went bankrupt. That statement is erroneous. In fact, MicroStrategy is not and has never been in bankruptcy. Now, Mr. Hitchens.

Hitch was visibly puzzled. "I wonder what the back story of that announcement was?" the Brainy Brit finally said. "Oh, wouldn’t that be fun," Lamb replied. "Well, the facts are she stated it, and it wasn’t true."

Maybe Malkin should stick to her strengths. As we’ve noted in past reports, the tough-talking typist is at her best when accusing Colin Powell of neo-Stalinism or when taking on individual high school sophomores. But when she plays fast and loose with major moguls, such players are bound to shove back. What are the actual facts about Micro? On November 30, USA Today laid them out:

USA TODAY: Last year, high-flying MicroStrategy suffered an Enron-like collapse after admitting it had been claiming gains instead of losses for years. Auditing firms have been fined several times for missing glaring problems in company books.

Our "Malkin Moral" to the story? It’s too bad this firm doesn’t audit its books as carefully as it does Brian’s program.

Commentary by Brian Lamb
Washington Journal, C-SPAN, 2/1/02

Enron’s great fall
Unsigned, USA Today, 11/30/01