Bernard Goldberg (2003). Arrogance: Rescuing America from the Media Elite. (New York: Warner Books) 299 pp. + index. ISBN 0-446-53191-X. $26.95 (hardbound).In the pages of this very magazine (Fall 2002) I reviewed Goldberg's Bias, the precursor to Arrogance. I ended that review by recommending the book, with the proviso that readers "keep the mute button at the ready" in order to silence Goldberg's consistent slide into sour grapes. To extend the metaphor, with Arrogance readers can safely turn the thing off.
Arrogance is a tired rehash of Goldberg's observations and mostly anecdotally driven arguments found in Bias. As such, it isn't worth the time it takes to visit the library to read it for free, let alone drive to the bookstore and shell out cash for it.
He says he cares deeply about fairness (p. 20), and maybe he does, but Goldberg spends a good portion of the book continuing the axe-grinding that began in Bias, and rarely offers evidence to support his broad claims. In the introduction he states that his goals for Arrogance are to explore how and why the media are biased toward liberal views, and to offer prescriptions to counter rampant liberal bias. Unfortunately, regarding the former he focuses for 236 well-traveled pages on the "how" of liberal bias in media and hardly at all on the "why." His only explanation of the "why"-after he offers a perfectly awful and confused pseudo-evolutionary account-is that media outlets have focused on The New York Times as their sole source of information for reporting.
His presciption is a 12-Step program for journalists recovering from liberal bias. Even if such a phenomenon does exist at some level, characteristic of this book Goldberg offers little that is substantive by way of methods for righting the wrongs of liberal bias. His prescriptions range from disingenuous, such as "admitting the problem" (Step 1), in which he insults the media stars and says they can thank him for his candor later; to impractical, such as his admonishment to all reporters to move away from New York City (Step 2); to strangely thoughtless, such as meting out punishments (Step 10).
This last bit of advice is alarming. Goldberg admits that most reporters who slant reports do so unconsciously or unintentionally, but then what would justify punishing them? Further, who would be the objective judges of bias? And couldn't such a formal approach to detecting bias push it underground, leading to greater numbers of secret, closed-door reporting "deals" instead of fewer? Or, what's worse, doesn't forcing reporters to do the right thing come breathtakingly close to stifling the very value of diversity of discourse he says he wants to instill in media?
Of course, the entirety of Goldberg's book is premised on the assertion that his descriptions of liberal bias are accurate. One mark of the accuracy of his summations might be found in whether Goldberg's views themselves are consistent, which they are not. For example, he stresses throughout the book that one value a reporter must have is openness, or the value of considering a variety of viewpoints. But he ridicules an e-mailer for entertaining the possibility that American foreign policy might have been a catalyst for the September 11, 2001, attacks (p. 203). It doesn't matter that the question itself might not be worth asking; if Goldberg is to be consistent, indeed if we are to be compelled to follow his prescriptive measures, he must entertain the legitimacy of the question. But he does not, dismissing it as beyond the pale. It would appear, then, that there are some questions the answers to which are simply too obvious to merit asking.
But Goldberg gives us no principled way to decide which questions are worthy of asking, and which are not. And because he offers no principled way of making such a distinction, readers have less reason to think his assessments of liberal bias in media are accurate. This is merely one example of Goldberg's inconsistencies, but one that indicates Goldberg's own bias, not to mention his arrogance in offering advice to reporters on how to do their jobs.
Jeffrey E. Stephenson
The above article was published in Media Ethics , Spring 2004 (15:2), pp.27-28.