1 March 2002
Our current howler (part II): Out there
Synopsis: Bernie Goldbergall wet againswore that he doesnt need data.
Commentary by Tim Russert, Bernard Goldberg
Russert, CNBC, 2/25/02
Commentary by Bernard Goldberg
Book tour event, C-SPAN, 2/24/02
When you lock horns with Bernie Goldberg, you do have to go with your best. So when Goldberg began his riff about Peter Jennings, Tim Russert deftly turned to the HOWLER:
RUSSERT: The Daily Howler, by Bob Somerby, whos a strong supporter of Al Gore, looked at that and said, "Well, Jennings called three senators conservatives, didnt call anyone liberal, but he had nice things to say about Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond. Mr. Goldbergs making too much of this."
GOLDBERG: Well, itit was more than three. II only mentioned three now. There was also Senator McCain and all that. I dont think Im making too much of this, and Ill tell you why
And Bernie went off on his standard sob story about how conservatives are singled out in the media just like black criminals once were.
Russert did a little typecasting about the HOWLER, but we certainly dont blame him for coming right here when the going with Bernie got tough. As readers may recall, Bernie loves to go anecdotal about the way the media beat up on consand he loves recalling the time when Jennings identified three conservative senators but IDed no liberals at all. But alas! As we pointed out in these very pages (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/1/02), Jennings named twenty Republican senators on the day in question, but only identified three as cons; Bernie got cute with Tim last weekend, pretending there were more, many more. And there was a back-story to the Jennings incident which we also incomparably recounted. If this is "Exhibit A" of liberal bias, we averred, its a wonder we discuss it at all.
But Bernie was all over the TV last weekend discussing this very same topic. In a book event in Washington, D.C. which C-SPAN was clever enough to tape, several spoilsports kept asking Bernie why his book seems to have so few data. First, a political science professor asked why he hadnt done a systematic analysis of Jennings statements. "I didnt want this to be written from a social scientist point of view," Goldberg said, adding, "I have total confidence that the point here is accurate." But twenty minutes later, he was challenged again, this time by a man named Sandy Grossman, a retired employee of one of the nets:
GROSSMAN: I think the professor brought up a big problem. I mean, you say when they name a liberal they dont say, "Hes a liberal"
Now Im thirteen years older than you and Ive been watching the news longer than you have. And I have heard Teddy Kennedy always, virtually, identified as "the liberal Democratic senator from Massachusetts." So unless youve got some kind of numbers, I think its very hard for you to make your major thesis
Goldberg batted it out of the park. Grossman had handed him "an easy one," he said. We include Goldbergs own emphases:
GOLDBERG: Let me say this. And I want to say this as clearly as I can. You are dead wrong. Dead wrong. Not even close about Teddy Kennedy. You have not, almost every time they mention his name, heard "liberal." I will say thisyou have heard the word "liberal" almost never mentioned when they say his name, on the evening newscasts. They just dont. That partI mean you gave me an easy one, and I appreciate that. It doesnt happen.
Except, of course, it does happen. Kennedy isnt on the evening newscasts that muchthey mostly deal with back pain and neuralgiabut we looked at the first six months of 2001, as President Bush entered the White House. During this period, Kennedy was in the news several times. And so, it turned out, was the L-word.
January 23, 2001. Bush has been president all of three days. Senator Kennedy hails the chief. Ands Lisa Myers reports to the nation:
MYERS, NBC Nightly News,1/23/01: Tom [Brokaw], it was an unusual day at the Capitol. Instead of the usual partisan sniping, many Democrats say they are encouraged, even excited by seven70 to 80 percent of the presidents plan, but are prepared to do battle over the rest. Listen to the Senates leading liberal after meeting with Bush.
KENNEDY (on tape): There are some areas of difference, but the overwhelming areas of agreement and the support are very, very powerful.
Myers had called Ted a liberal. But so did her colleague, David Gregory, reporting on February 2:
GREGORY, NBC Nightly News, 2/2/01: Privately, some Democrats wonder who is the real George Bush. The Republican, more conservative than he seems, who nominates the very conservative John Ashcroft, today showing up for work at the Justice Department? Or a true centrist who courts the Congressional Black Caucus this week and leading liberal Ted Kennedy, inviting him and other family members to the White House to watch Thirteen Days, a film based on the Cuban missile crisis?
Gregory hit it right down the fairwayKennedy was a liberal and Ashcroft was a con. On May 23, Ted was in the news again as James Jeffords left the GOP. And this time, look who was naming the "liberals:"
BROKAW NBC Nightly News, 5/23/01: Tim [Russert], a lot of people may not realize if this all goes as we expect that it will, Monday morning Tom Daschle will be the new Senate majority leader as the leader of the Democratic Party. Not even power sharing with the Republicans.
RUSSERT: Tom, if this happens it is a big deal. Look at the issues. Take judicial appointments, including Supreme Court, no longer overseen by conservative Orrin Hatch. Liberal Democrat Pat Leahy. Education? Ted Kennedy is the new chairman. Environment, oil drilling, nuclear power? Jim Jeffords becomes the new chairman of that particular committee. Missile defense, Carl Levin, liberal from Michigan. All of the Bush agenda will have to be modified significantly in order to pass the Senate.
Russert didnt explicitly call Teddy a liberal, but Leahy and Levin explicitly were. On June 14, Myers was back, discussing the education bill:
BROKAW, NBC Nightly News, 6/14/01: It wasnt all bad news for the president today. He was part of a big victory on Capitol Hill, as members of both parties in the Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve a major new education bill. As NBCs Lisa Myers reports tonight, this was a spectacular case of the old saying about strange bedfellows and politics.
MYERS: Todays victory for the president came thanks to a most unlikely ally, the liberal lion of the Senate: Ted Kennedy. Why did he do it? Kennedy says he became convinced this Republican president cares about educating poor children.
According to Goldberg, "they just dont" call Teddy a liberal on the evening newscasts"it doesnt happen," he said. At NBC, that is plainly false. But then, ABC had its moments as well:
TERRY MORAN, World News Tonight, 2/1/01: Well, Peter [Jennings], you might call it the courtship of Teddy Kennedy. A little while ago, Senator Kennedy arrived at the White House with his wife Victoria. And he seemed to be carrying some kind of gift for the president, some kind of photoframed photograph. This marks the fifth time since President Bushs inauguration that he has met the nations leading liberal. Its a personal and political dance that has official Washington buzzing.
LINDA DOUGLASS, World News Tonight, 6/23/01: If Jeffords switches, Democrat Tom Daschle would be the Senates leader. Democrats would control which legislation comes up for a vote. They would chair the committees. Liberal Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee, with power over the selection of Mr. Bushs judges; liberal Ted Kennedy, the Health and Education Committee, in charge of prescription drug legislation; conservation-minded Jeff Bingaman, the energyoverseeing Mr. Bush's energy plan.
LINDA DOUGLASS, World News Tonight, 6/24/01: But many Democrats were already flexing their new muscle. On the Judiciary Committee, liberals say they will now block judges they deem too conservative.
KENNEDY (on tape): We will not be stampeded. We will not be a rubber stamp for the administration for ideological justices.
Douglas called Teddy a liberal two nights in a row! Why, it even happened at corrupt CBS:
JOHN ROBERTS, CBS Evening News, 1/23/01: Liberal Democrats, eager to show bipartisan support for education reform, gave high marks to most of the plan, but when pressed, said they will fight Mr. Bushs voucher proposal to help students leave failing schools and take federal money with them.
KENNEDY (on tape): Im opposed to it. Well have chances along the way to oppose it. He understands that.
But that was it for CBS; they only called Teddy a "liberal" one time. Were they hiding Teddys liberal ways beneath a burqa of their own making? Actually, they were hiding Teddy altogether. We checked CBS for the month of June, when the other two nets were calling him "liberal." Teddy was mentioned on the Evening News only once, on a night when Bob Schieffer subbed for Dan:
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS Evening News, 6/15/01: And thats the news. Sunday on Face the Nation, were gonna talk with Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy and the Senate Republican leader, Trent Lott
And Dan Rather will be back on Monday. This is Bob Schieffer in New York.
That was the only time Teddy was mentioned all month. And youll notice that Schieffer identified Teddy and Trent in a parallel manner.
Clearly, Goldberg was totally wrong in his statement to Grossman. He implied that network newscasts never call Ted a lib, and that is plainly false. Do they identify Kennedy more or less often than they do with conservative solons? That question we simply cant answer. We dont plan to do all Bernies research for himbut that is a question he should have studied before he published his laughable book, and before he went all over the country making pleasing but flagrant misstatements.
Indeed, Goldbergs attitude on this matter is an insult to the American public interest. Here is the question put to him by that nattering professor:
PROFESSOR: When you were thinking about writing this book, did you consider not using anecdotes, but rather having a research assistant to do a systematic analysis of the number of times Rather, Jenning, Brokaw said "conservative" and not "liberal," because I think that one of the criticisms one can lodge at you is that, "Hey, you heard Jennings say it once. How many times has he said it over the course of a year?"
As a social scientist, I think you could have and should have.
We chuckled at the perfessers assumptionhis assumption that a CBS newsman would have to hire an assistant to gather some actual facts. But Goldbergs reply simply says it all about Bernie and others just like him:
GOLDBERG: I did think about it. And I didnt want this book written from a social scientist point of view. I understand the question and its a perfectly legitimate question. But I am sure enough, based on things that Ive seen that social scientists did dopeople in this town have done studies that they named conservatives like ten times more than liberals. And I also knewand please understand how I mean this; this is not some smart-ass thing Im about to sayI also knew that this would be important to social scientists, but not to regular folks who just want to read about what somebody experienced at CBS News.
Incredible, isnt it? "Social scientists" might care if Goldberg is right, but "normal people" just want a good story. That is a process weve often described. Weve called it "throwing feed to the cattle."
When he was challenged later by Grossman, Goldberg also referred to the "numerous studies" that nailed own his points so well. He also admitted that he couldnt quite name them. (Goldberg rarely shows any sign of knowing anything about his own subject.) But why was he sure about his claims? Bernie sketched that out too. "I mean there are certain things that we just know are true because, because its just out there," he said. Of course, Bernie also knew-it-was-true that the evening newscasts never call Ted a "liberal." That claim is also "out there," thanks to Bernie. The claim is "out there"and its totally false.
We pointed out, in our earlier HOWLERS, that Goldbergs book is a laughable mess. To the extent that it discusses real issues at all, it is cut-and-pasted from other sources, some of them highly unreliable; Goldberg clearly did no original research at all in putting this opus together. It presents a list of shaky claims which Goldberg puts forward because theyre "out there." Of Bernie Goldbergs inexcusable work, therefore, we ask this one question: Where are standards?
Next: How easy is it to yell "liberal bias?" A blast from the past helps you see.
And now for something else totally false: Once Tim had mentioned THE DAILY HOWLER, Bernie knew that he had all the facts. But the schmoes he met at the bookstore event were handed rank disinformation:
GOLDBERG (bookstore event): So why does Peter Jenningsa bright guy, a decent guy, Im sure hes a fair guy, you know this wasnt intentionalwhy does he think that he has to identify every conservative who walks up as "conservative" and doesnt have to identify any of the liberals?
As we pointed out in the past, Jennings most definitely did not "identify every conservative" on the day which Goldberg constantly cites. Bernie didnt peddle that bullroar to Tim. The folks at the bookstore werent so lucky.
The Daily update (3/1/02)
This just in from the flight of birds: Truly, the guy gets stupider every day. Today, Andrew Sullivan spots the "liberal bias" in a movie which hasnt been made:
ANDREWSULLIVAN.COM: A NEW LOW IN MEDIA BIAS: A new documentary on the Clinton scandalsbrought to you by Joe Conason, and funded by Harry Thomason. All thats needed is for CBS to broadcast it.
Sullivan is upset about the documentary film version of The Hunting of the President, by Conason and Gene Lyons. The movie hasnt even been shotbut Sullivan has espied its "liberal bias."
But then, Sullivan sets new records today for throwing fresh feed to the cattle. His first item attacks Daschles comments on the war, and is entirely concerned with Daschles motiveswhich Sullivan has somehow somehow mind-read. (RememberSullivan doesnt do substance.) Then he takes on Sandra Bernhard, a wholly insignificant semi-performer, for something she said in a wholly insignificant, local throw-away paper. (Translation: No high school kid said anything stupid this week.) After that, he takes his clairvoyant look at the Conason-Lyons future feature.
But no one seems to notice. Jonathan Chait criticizes Sullivans crusade against Paul Krugman in todays on-line TNR. But Chait is far too kind to Sullivan, and the reason for that may be lodged in this important paragraph:
CHAIT: I bring my own biases to this issue. While I know Sullivan and enjoy his company, Krugman is one of my favorite writers and thinkers. We share similar ideological viewsSullivan has linked the two of us, railing in a 2001 column against "the Krugmans and Chaits," an association I find flatteringand Krugman has been kind enough to cite my work in his column. So I admit that, on balance, Im predisposed to defend Krugman against Sullivan's accusation. The trouble is that I can't figure out exactly what the accusation is.
"I know Sullivan and enjoy his company," Chait writes. That is a major problem. We dont intend in any way to criticize Chait, who is one of Washingtons most valuable scribes. But that sentence expresses a major problem with the modern press corps in general. The press corps is a deeply incestuous, inbred fraternal order. Its members are heavily intermarried, and the clan is made up of many brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, uncles, nieces, social acquaintances and business partners (present and future). And that is why you almost never read the truth about someone like Sullivan. His ongoing work is an ugly jokeand at this point, youd have to be a simpering idiot to think that its being done in good faith. But you arent about to hear such thoughts from inside the incestuous press corps.
How bad does the interweaving get? We often cite Inventing Al Gore, the influential bio by Newsweeks Bill Turque. In the book, Turque presented the Standard Account of Gore-and-Love Story, in which the veep makes a deeply puzzling remark which helps show his semi-psychological problems. Gore claimed he inspired Love Story, the press corps clucked all through the election. Without getting into specific passages, Turque told the Standard Tale too.
And gee, we wonder why? Could it be because Turque is married to the NYTs Melinda Henneberger, whose bungled piece on 12/14/97 virtually created the bogus tale to begin with? We support the institution of marriage, but Turque was literally married to the bungled, utterly ludicrous story that caused Gore so much grief. That is a terrible problem for this press corpsone which ripples through its work in a hundred ways. Many pundits know Andrew Sullivan; some surely like him personally, and some of them surely defer to his (growing) influence and power. This press corps is deeply interconnectedand that helps explain why you read nasty things about politicians, but will almost always see deference extended even to someone like Sullivan.
By the way, the reviews are in on Mondays "anonymous economist." We arent going to use her name, but in our next incomparable DAILY HOWLER, we will point out some comical facts about her own institutional funding. Just when you think youve seen it all, Sullivan moves the nonsense up a notch. Meanwhile, trust usyou wont read about this risible mess in the pages of TNR.