MediaWatch: October 1996

Vol. Ten No. 10

Media Actually Admit Bias

Sam Donaldson, USA Today's Richard Benedetto and the Chairman of CBS all agree: the media are biased.

With Brit Hume out ill for a few days, Donaldson returned to the campaign trail for the first time since Reagan's years. And he found things have changed, USA Today's Peter Johnson reported September 23: "Have the boys on the bus lost the fire in their bellies, the one that fueled their cries of `Mr. President! Mr. President!' during President Reagan's years in office? ABC's Sam Donaldson isn't saying, exactly, but suspects something's going on. Except for CBS' Rita Braver, `I have heard no reporter trying to ask the President any question,' Donaldson said....

"What's this, Sam? Reporters going easy on Clinton? `You're not going to get me in a fight with these guys. They're my friends,' said Donaldson, who covered the White House from 1977 to 1989. `But there seems to a change in attitude or a different attitude toward covering the President.'"

A USA Today reporter concurs. In his "Politics" column the same day, Richard Benedetto wrote: "As President Clinton's re-election campaign rolled through six states in four days last week, it did so virtually unimpeded by a White House press corps known for setting up roadblocks now and then....He was left free to make a string of feel-good speeches that won great play in the media and gave the desired impression that the Clinton campaign is on a roll....

"In 1992, a tough White House press corps rightly kept President Bush's feet to the fire on domestic issues he would rather have downplayed. But the 1996 crew appears less aggressive with Clinton."

The realization of media bias extends to the top of CBS. Michael Jordan, the Chairman of Westinghouse, parent of CBS, revealed in a magazine profile that he agrees with CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg's charge that network reporting tilts left.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed back in February Goldberg cited a specific CBS story to support his contention that "the old argument that the networks and other 'media elites' have a liberal bias is so blatantly true that it's hardly worth discussing anymore." CBS reaction at the time: "It's such a wacky charge," commented a baffled Bob Schieffer. CBS News President Andrew Heyward called the charge "absurd," took Goldberg off the air for two months and then canceled his bylined CBS Evening News feature, "Bernard Goldberg's America."

In the Summer Forbes MediaCritic, Terry Eastland found that in a May USAir Magazine profile, Jordan sided with Goldberg: "I think his criticism is fair. I think all the networks can do a better job at providing a more objective and balanced perspective." Now, if only Jordan would put his concerns into action.