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12 January 2002

Our current howler (part II): Bugging Bernie

Synopsis: According to Bernie, a piece in the Times was bashing "males." We looked it up. It was all about insects!

Bernard Goldberg, Regnery Publishing, 2002

The Male of the Species: Why Is He Needed?
Natalie Angier, The New York Times, 5/17/94

Amazing, isn’t it? The networks run two minor stories, in the course of eight months, noting that homelessness has been on the rise. Neither report says a word about Bush; each report explicitly says that the rise in the problem began under Clinton. But on the talk-show right, the cattle were lowing, and Bernie Goldberg knew what to do (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/10/02). He pretended the networks were trashing Bush—he even slandered one reporter by name—and excitable crackpots like Andy Sullivan began braying about Bernie’s Good Works. (Just so you can look it up, Sullivan’s recent dispatch about Goldberg’s book was filed at 26 seconds after 8:17 P.M. this past Thursday. And oh yes—Cornel West is self-dramatizing.). This is the face of the talk-show right—the spinning, self-pitying, say-anything right. By the way, we’ll speak throughout of the "talk-show right" to distinguish it from the legions of hard-working, respectable cons. Sadly, the loudmouth dissemblers now rule on the right, which suggests that a Crack-Up is coming.

Just how silly can it get when you check out Goldberg’s scholarship? For sheer entertainment, one cite takes the cake. In Chapter 9, Bernie goes on—and on; and on—about the way the mainstream press mistreats men. At one point, he shakes his fist at the New York Times, "the paper that worries about ‘the wounding power of slurs.’" As a guy, Bernie’s very ticked off at the Times. He supplies a wounding example:

GOLDBERG (page 134): Take a story by Times reporter Natalie Angier that begins this way: "Women may not find this surprising, but one of the most persistent and frustrating problems in evolutionary biology is the male. Specifically…why doesn’t he just go away?" [Goldberg’s ellipsis]

To Bernie, those are notes from Big Slur. So we checked Angier’s piece, and what did we find? We found an 1800-word article in the "Science Desk" section, written back in 1994, which explored the biological reasons for sexual reproduction among the lesser orders. "Scientists say they still cannot explain to their satisfaction why the great majority of species on earth reproduce sexually," Angier wrote—and she explored the reasons for such reproduction among snails, and snakes, and insects. The article had absolutely nothing to do with males and females of our tribe ("men" and "women"). Indeed, here’s a part of the wicked horse-whipping we "males" were receiving this day:

ANGIER: But evolutionary biologists point out that most mutations are potential trouble, and the entire system of copying chromosomes from one generation to the next has evolved to prevent accidental alterations to the genetic text, not to court them. Thus, Dr. Redfield’s new calculations underscoring the mutational guilt of the male put a heavier burden than ever on theorists seeking to explain the purpose of sex.

Wow! And Bernie had to go back eight years to gimmick up this bogus complaint! This is how the talk-show right laughs in the face of its cattle-fed readers.

Yep. When you’re feeding the herd for the wranglers at Regnery, pretty much anything goes. There are absolutely no standards of proof; as author, you just say what is pleasing. The average reader doesn’t have LEXIS, and will have no way to examine your work—although certain things surely stand out in this book, even for non-LEXIS readers.

Surely, non-LEXIS readers can note how much of Goldberg’s book simply doesn’t make sense. Theoretically, the book was written to show the way that "liberal bias" is driving the media. But Goldberg pens entire chapters which argue against this theme. For example, his second substantive chapter—Chapter 6—discusses the way the nets covered AIDS. According to Bernie, the nets kept pushing the notion that AIDS was threatening straights as much as gays; he says the nets kept pushing this idea long after they knew it was false. Why did they do that? At three different points, in substantial detail, Bernie says that they did it for ratings. That may (or may not) explain what they did, but it has nothing to do with "liberal bias," of course. Despite this, Bernie cites the theory in loving detail, all throughout the chapter. In Chapter 10, meanwhile, Goldberg argues that network magazine shows avoid airing stories about minority subjects, also because it hurts ratings. If true, that’s an unlovely practice, but we are now being told—in a book that’s supposedly about liberal bias—that the nets work hard to keep blacks off the air! Indeed, our analysts enjoyed their most mordant chuckle when Bernie hit the end of this chapter:

GOLDBERG (page 161): Edward R. Murrow’s "Harvest of Shame," the great CBS News documentary about poor migrant families traveling America, trying to survive by picking fruits and vegetables, would never be done today. Too many poor people. Not our audience. We want the people who buy cars and computers.

And yes, you read that correctly. In the laughable world of the talk-show right, "Harvest of Shame" being kept off the air is another example of liberal bias! The networks ignore the plight of the poor? To Bernie Goldberg, that’s "lib bias" too.

Indeed, how hopeless a job does Goldberg do in this incomparably inept undertaking? Surely, the mainstream media are filled with work that displays a "liberal bias;" after all, there are many kinds of bias and error going on in the press every day. But how much "liberal bias" is there? Where can we find it, and how does it work? These are the questions which Goldberg should answer, but no such info can be drawn from this book. Incoherent; loaded with filler; larded with cites that make no sense on earth—this book is a perfect example of the intellectual corruption which now defines the self-pitying world of the pandering, dissembling talk right. It was Goldberg’s job to do the work that would let us see how this alleged bias works. But Goldberg’s too lazy to do that job—and he may even be a tad too dishonest. There’s a key word here: it’s "anecdotal." We’ll explore it next week in Part III.

Next: Bernie examined one broadcast by Engberg. True to form, he ignored all the rest.

Bernie bungles again: There are few dull moments when you check Bernie’s cites. In Chapter 4, "Identity Politics," he claims that the nets identify conservatives as such, but don’t so the same with liberals. Here’s one specific allegation:

GOLDBERG (page 57): Robert Bork is the "conservative" judge. But Laurence Tribe, who must have been on CBS Evening News ten million times in the 1980s (and who during the contested presidential election in 2000 was a leading member of Team Gore, arguing the vice president’s case before the U.S. Supreme Court), is identified simply as a "Harvard law professor." But Tribe is not simply a Harvard law professor. He’s easily as liberal as Bork is conservative.

This passage is vintage Bernie. First, note the consummate laziness. According to Bernie, Tribe "must have been on CBS ten million times in the 1980s." Must have been? It would never occur to a Regnery author to do the actual research involved and say what the number really is. And note how Goldberg lives in the past, telling us about the 1980s. That may be because it’s so easy to track Laurence Tribe’s appearances on CBS in the 1990s—and because those recent appearances don’t much support Bernie’s thesis. According to LEXIS, Tribe has appeared on the CBS Evening News just nine times since 1993 (as far back as LEXIS can go in this case)—and nothing in the way he has been ID’ed jibes with Goldberg’s claims. Indeed, how perfect can the squelching get? On one occasion, CBS used Tribe and Bork together; on May 14, 1994, they were asked to comment on Stephen Breyer’s appointment to the Supreme Court. Note how the professorial pair were ID’ed by reporter Jacqueline Adams:

ADAMS: A year ago, Judge Breyer discussed the last Supreme Court opening with President Clinton, but then hid his disappointment over coming in second to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Today, legal scholars from both ends of the political spectrum applauded Breyer as the intellectual counterpoint to conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and as a proven consensus-builder.
Professor LAURENCE TRIBE (Harvard Law School): Steve Breyer, with his inquiring mind and his ability to cross lines and make alliances, is going to really move the court in a progressive direction.
Judge ROBERT BORK (Former Supreme Court Justice): I don’t think he’ll be making policy in the way that Justice Blackmun did. Justice Blackmun seemed to think that his personal views were really constitutional law.

That is the transcript as it appears on LEXIS. You could possibly argue with Adams’ account of what "legal scholars" had said about Breyer. (Although you’d have to do more research. We haven’t.) But "conservative" and "liberal" were not used in the ID’s of Bork and Tribe; Adams simply limned the pair as "legal scholars from both ends of the political spectrum." For those who wonder how she pegged Breyer, here’s the way her report ended up:

ADAMS: Colleagues describe Judge Breyer as pro-abortion rights, pro-business, a supporter of free speech and tough on criminals. Neither strictly conservative nor liberal, associates say he’s just the kind of new Democrat likely to breeze through the confirmation process.

For the record, Breyer did "breeze through the confirmation process." And Adams’ account of Breyer’s moderation largely jibed with the view expressed by Bork.

Is it true? Is it true that the networks ID Bork as "conservative," but avoid ID’ing Tribe as "liberal?" It may be true, but here at THE HOWLER, we really don’t know. Reason? Bernie Goldberg was simply too lazy to do any actual research. Indeed, today’s talk-show right doesn’t work that way; it prefers to spend its time whining, playing victim. In Bias, Bernie yells out "liberal bias," then begins telling the stories he likes. It makes good feed for hungry cattle—and points to eventual Crack-Up.