In the age of Trump, media bias comes into the spotlight
Almost 20 years ago, after my first book, “Bias,” came out, I made a lot of speeches, some of them to conservative organizations. The book was about liberal bias in the mainstream media. I had been a journalist at CBS News for 28 years and, so, it was a behind-the-scenes exposé about how the sausage was made, about how bias made its way into the news.
I said that despite what many conservatives think, there was no conspiracy to slant the news in a liberal direction. I said that there were no secret meetings, no secret handshakes and salutes, that anchors such as CBS’s Dan Rather never went into a room with top lieutenants, locked the door, lowered the blinds, dimmed the lights and said, “OK, how are we going to screw those Republicans today?”
It didn’t work that way, I said. Instead, bias was the result of groupthink. Put too many like-minded liberals in a newsroom and you’re going to get a liberal slant on the news.
Liberal journalists, I said, live in a comfortable liberal bubble and don’t even necessarily believe their views are liberal. Instead, they believe they are moderate, mainstream and mainly reasonable views — unlike, of course, conservative views which, to them, are none of those things.
But what I wrote and spoke about then — mainly about how there was no conspiracy to inject bias into news stories — seems no longer to be true today.
Yes, liberal groupthink is still a problem in America’s newsrooms. But now, in the age of Donald Trump, I believe there actually is a conspiracy.
Smoking gun or no smoking gun, memo to the staff or no memo, everyone understands what the rules are, especially on cable TV (which has much more influence today than in 2001, when “Bias” was published): Tell viewers what they want to hear. Tell them what they already believe. Validate their biases. Toss them red meat. Entice them to come back for more.
Pandering, it seems, is good for business.
And it’s not only opinion shows. All day long, CNN and MSNBC play up negative stories about the president while Fox plays them down. And, all day long, Fox plays up good news about the president while CNN and MSNBC play it down — or ignore such stories altogether.
There’s supposed to be a line between news and opinion, but too often that line is blurred — or simply blown up.
Exhibit A: Jim Acosta, CNN’s chief White House correspondent. In that role, he’s supposed to deliver the facts and leave it up to his audience to draw its own conclusions. Yet he says things like, “I don’t think a reasonable person could watch what we just saw over the last hour and conclude that the president is in control. … He was ranting and raving for the better part of the last hour.”
Ranting and raving? This is objective reporting? Maybe that’s how his “reasonable” liberal audience sees it but, to “reasonable” conservatives, the president may have been simply defending his position against unfair news coverage.
Or, he reports that “The president seems to harbor racist feelings about people of color from other parts of the world.” According to whom — besides Acosta and his fellow liberals?
Acosta is hardly alone in his disdain for the president. Consider a front page story that appeared in the New York Times on May 19, 2019. On that day, two of the paper’s top political reporters, Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, wrote that, in 2016, Donald Trump ran an “unabashedly racist campaign.”
They easily could have written that “some claim” he ran an “unabashedly racist campaign” but, among the many liberals at the Times, it’s not an opinion that Donald Trump is a racist — it’s a fact.
As the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel puts it in “Resistance at All Costs: How Trump Haters Are Breaking America,” her 2019 book: “Sure, when it comes to the Trump administration, the press rides herd on every issue. But when it has come to former Obama officials (Jim Comey, Andrew McCabe, John Brennan), the media has swallowed everything it is told. It’s hard to explain just how big a dereliction of duty this is.”
Bias shows itself not only in what’s reported, but also in what’s ignored.
When Tara Reade went public with an accusation that then-Sen. Joe Biden sexually assaulted her while she worked in his Washington office in 1993, “ABC, NBC, CNN and MSNBC all invited Biden on their airwaves for interviews, but they refused to confront him even once about these allegations,” the conservative Media Research Center reports. “Out of 77 questions, not a single one asked the former Senator and Vice President about Reade’s charges.”
As for Tara Reade, the mainstream television media pretty much ignored her initially.
As The New York Times media writer Ben Smith reported last week, “Ms. Reade told me Wednesday that the only offers she’s had to appear on television have come from Fox News.” For over a month, Reade said, she hadn’t been invited to tell her story on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN or MSNBC. Now that Biden has told his story publicly, it’s a safe bet that some TV news organizations will finally discover her. At least one, CBS News, says it has asked for an interview.
And while we may never know the truth about her allegation, we do know this: Too many journalists have an unholy alliance with the Democratic Party and its liberal values.
No, that isn’t breaking news. But bias is worse today than it’s been in quite some time — certainly more blatant than when “Bias” was published. And the downward spiral started in earnest on Election Day 2016.
In the age of Trump, the media no longer try to hide biases; they embrace them. The so-called mainstream media have joined “The Resistance.” And the worst part is that they’re not troubled by it.
Do journalists actually go into dark rooms and conspire to bring down the president? I have no idea if the room is dark or not.
Bernard Goldberg, an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist, is a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” He previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Patreon page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.