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1 March 2002

Our current howler (part II): Out there

Synopsis: Bernie Goldberg—all wet again—swore that he doesn’t 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, who’s a strong supporter of Al Gore, looked at that and said, "Well, Jennings called three senators conservatives, didn’t call anyone liberal, but he had nice things to say about Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond. Mr. Goldberg’s making too much of this."

GOLDBERG: Well, it—it was more than three. I—I only mentioned three now. There was also Senator McCain and all that. I don’t think I’m making too much of this, and I’ll 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 don’t 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 cons—and 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, it’s 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 hadn’t done a systematic analysis of Jennings’ statements. "I didn’t 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 don’t say, "He’s a liberal"…Now I’m thirteen years older than you and I’ve 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 you’ve got some kind of numbers, I think it’s 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 Goldberg’s 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 this—you have heard the word "liberal" almost never mentioned when they say his name, on the evening newscasts. They just don’t. That part—I mean you gave me an easy one, and I appreciate that. It doesn’t happen.

Except, of course, it does happen. Kennedy isn’t on the evening newscasts that much—they mostly deal with back pain and neuralgia—but 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 seven—70 to 80 percent of the president’s plan, but are prepared to do battle over the rest. Listen to the Senate’s 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 fairway—Kennedy 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 didn’t 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 wasn’t 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 NBC’s Lisa Myers reports tonight, this was a spectacular case of the old saying about strange bedfellows and politics.

MYERS: Today’s 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 don’t" call Teddy a liberal on the evening newscasts—"it doesn’t 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 photo—framed photograph. This marks the fifth time since President Bush’s inauguration that he has met the nation’s leading liberal. It’s 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 Senate’s 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. Bush’s judges; liberal Ted Kennedy, the Health and Education Committee, in charge of prescription drug legislation; conservation-minded Jeff Bingaman, the energy—overseeing 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. Bush’s voucher proposal to help students leave failing schools and take federal money with them.
KENNEDY (on tape): I’m opposed to it. We’ll 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 Teddy’s 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 that’s the news. Sunday on Face the Nation, we’re 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 you’ll 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 can’t answer. We don’t plan to do all Bernie’s research for him—but 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, Goldberg’s 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 perfesser’s assumption—his assumption that a CBS newsman would have to hire an assistant to gather some actual facts. But Goldberg’s reply simply says it all about Bernie and others just like him:

GOLDBERG: I did think about it. And I didn’t want this book written from a social scientist point of view. I understand the question and it’s a perfectly legitimate question. But I am sure enough, based on things that I’ve seen that social scientists did do—people in this town have done studies that they named conservatives like ten times more than liberals. And I also knew—and please understand how I mean this; this is not some smart-ass thing I’m about to say—I 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, isn’t it? "Social scientists" might care if Goldberg is right, but "normal people" just want a good story. That is a process we’ve often described. We’ve 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 couldn’t 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 it’s 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 it’s totally false.

We pointed out, in our earlier HOWLERS, that Goldberg’s 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 they’re "out there." Of Bernie Goldberg’s 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 Jennings—a bright guy, a decent guy, I’m sure he’s a fair guy, you know this wasn’t intentional—why does he think that he has to identify every conservative who walks up as "conservative" and doesn’t 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 didn’t peddle that bullroar to Tim. The folks at the bookstore weren’t 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 hasn’t been made:

ANDREWSULLIVAN.COM: A NEW LOW IN MEDIA BIAS: A new documentary on the Clinton scandals—brought to you by Joe Conason, and funded by Harry Thomason. All that’s 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 hasn’t even been shot—but Sullivan has espied its "liberal bias."

But then, Sullivan sets new records today for throwing fresh feed to the cattle. His first item attacks Daschle’s comments on the war, and is entirely concerned with Daschle’s motives—which Sullivan has somehow somehow mind-read. (Remember—Sullivan doesn’t 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 Sullivan’s crusade against Paul Krugman in today’s 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 views—Sullivan has linked the two of us, railing in a 2001 column against "the Krugmans and Chaits," an association I find flattering—and Krugman has been kind enough to cite my work in his column. So I admit that, on balance, I’m 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 don’t intend in any way to criticize Chait, who is one of Washington’s 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 joke—and at this point, you’d have to be a simpering idiot to think that it’s being done in good faith. But you aren’t 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 Newsweek’s 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 NYT’s 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 corps—one 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 interconnected—and 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 Monday’s "anonymous economist." We aren’t 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 you’ve seen it all, Sullivan moves the nonsense up a notch. Meanwhile, trust us—you won’t read about this risible mess in the pages of TNR.