Monday, August 27, 2018

Interview from the Archive: Bernie Goldberg says he likes "news to be fair and as unbiased as possible"

Editor's note: This interview was published on March 5, 2017.

Story by Joseph Ford Cotto

Like actors on tour, issues enter and exit America’s political stage. Debate rages, then quells, and is often forgotten -- if not rewritten -- in the pages of history.
One topic that manages to remain en vogue, though, is media bias. Both sides of the aisle claim that powerful press agencies have stacked the cards against them. They say it is all but impossible for the whole story to be told because certain individuals have no interest in truth.
Where there’s smoke there must also be fire, correct?
An interesting, not to mention important, question for our day and age. The dawn of Donald Trump's presidency ignited a firestorm of scrutiny toward media figures. There has likely never been a time during which so much distrust and hostility flows at our supposed 'guardians of democracy'.

When the public no longer, on a general basis, places stock in the watchmen-and-women-on-the-wall, it does not take a clairvoyant fellow to see that dark storm clouds are on the horizon.
Over the last several years, veteran journalist Bernie Goldberg -- whose resume includes, among many other things, the CBS Evening News and Fox News's The O'Reilly Factor, has devoted much of his career to analyzing media coverage. While this has not come without controversy, it has resulted in a string of bestselling books and a revived conversation about the role that bias plays.   
He recently spoke with me about key issues relating to the American media. Some of our conversation is included below.
Joseph Ford Cotto: For many Americans, television news serves as a major source of information. Today, cable and network stations are competing to dominate the future of televised news. Given the rise of the Internet, though, does it even matter who ultimately wins out?

Bernie Goldberg: No question:  News has been Balkanized – or democratized, if that’s the term we’re using.  So unlike the old days, network news is not the only place we go to get national news on television.  Now, we can get news from a million different places:  from cable, from all news radio, from the Internet, on computers, on Smartphones; we can practically get news on our shoes or underpants.

So whoever wins out won’t be much of a winner.  Not like the networks once were.  What troubles me is that too many Americans these days are getting their news from sources they agree with.  We’ve lost patience with hearing the other side. Maybe something will come along next year or in 5 or 10 years that we’re not evening contemplating now – and maybe that source of information will be the winner.  Or maybe not.

Cotto: Cable news stations gained much traction over the last few decades. However, they are rapidly losing ground to various Internet outlets. Beyond any other reason, why is this?

Goldberg: The audience for news on television – cable or network – is composed largely of, let’s say, older folks.  Kids don’t watch the CBS Evening News or cable news.  They get their news from non-traditional sources. But Fox is doing more than okay.  It’s making lots of money.  Give the people what they want and they will come.
Cotto: Whether the station in question is a network affiliate or a cable channel, most people would probably expect some sort of bias to be present. Given how polarized our society has become, an ever-larger share of the population might find this to be a good thing. Do you have a perspective on this?

Goldberg: I’m old school.  I want news to be fair and as unbiased as possible.  But given how polarized we’ve become, we have channels and websites for just about every political taste.  My preference is that we do what we can to rid our journalists of their on-air biases and deliver the news “straight.”  But on cable anyway, the business model is to deliver information with a liberal slant for liberals and a conservative slant for conservatives.  Viewers seem to like it.  Like I say, I’m old school.  

(I don’t know enough about local network affiliates.)

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