Human Events Editor Jed Babbin’s interview with Bernard Goldberg, author of A Slobbering Love Affair: The True (and Pathetic) Story of the Torrid Romance Between Barack Obama and the Mainstream Media.
Jed Babbin: Bernie, I’m a long-term admirer. I’ve been writing about the media a little bit myself and I’m very taken by the new theories that you come up in your book. Let’s talk first and foremost about the thing that will strike our readers most: “media activism.” What do you mean by that?
Bernie Goldberg: This is not a book about the same old media bias. They crossed a very bright line this time, the main-stream media, a very bright line. And they moved from media bias to media activism. We know about judicial activism where judges know what’s best for everybody, and to hell with the legislature, we know what’s best. And in a similar way a lot of reporters thought that they knew what was best, and what was best was not only to be partisan witnesses to history, but to help shape history. That’s not their role of course, but that was the role that they assigned to themselves this time around, because this time it was totally different that it had ever been before.
This time they had the ability to help elect a candidate who was young, cool, black and liberal. And they slobbered over him and embarrassed themselves and didn’t care what you or anybody else thought about it. They didn’t help Barack Obama either, I might add, because when you turn somebody into a messiah what happens if he fails? But, while conservatives understand, as well as liberals do, the historical significance of this election and the inauguration which was a beautiful day in all, Barack Obama didn’t run as a black candidate, and he’s not going to govern as a black president. We don’t have a position in this country called “Black President of the United States. So the media needs to start holding him accountable as The President of the United States.
JB: Let’s go back a little bit and let’s parse out this activism thing. One of the things that I’ve been noticing, and I see it in your book, is that these guys weren’t reporting the news: they were passing off Obama campaign commercials as news.
BG: Well, they were enamored with him in a way that I have never seen in the past. They didn’t simply like his politics the way you would expect liberal reporters to like a liberal politicians politics. The NBC news correspondent who covered Obama publicly acknowledged that is was hard to remain objective when covering Obama because of the excitement he drew in crowds. David Gergen, after Obama made his acceptance speech, said it wasn’t so much his speech as it was a symphony. My point is this is not how grownup people talk. Chris Matthews, who is entitled to comment, because he’s a commentator said that he had a thrill running up his leg when Barack Obama, this is not, this is not political commentary, this is a man crush.
JB: Well, it’s almost comedy isn’t it? But effectively, these guys were acting as broadcast “527 groups.” You can have a campaign spend weeks or months developing an ad and having it produced with high production value and cost a lot of money. The network news does that every day. I mean these guys are effectively “527 groups” for Obama.
BG: Well you said “was almost a comedy” and that’s a very important point. This book, if I do say so myself, would be hilarious if it wasn’t so serious. Because you just can’t, you can’t imagine some of the stuff they said. One thing that happened after he was elected. Page one of The Washington Post — The Washington Post isn’t, you know, the hillbilly gazette — page one of the nation’s capital’s most important newspaper. There was a story on Christmas morning about Barack Obama’s exercise regimen. By the way, when they wrote about, when reporters wrote about George Bush’s exercise regimen some of them called it “obsessive” and “creepy,” but listen to this one sentence, “The sun glinted off chiseled pectorals sculpted during four weightlifting sessions each week, and a body toned by regular treadmill runs and basketball games.”
The cover of my book A Slobbering Love Affair looks like a Harlequin Romance novel because this kind of stuff that I just read sounds like it belongs in a romance novel, except the romance novel with Fabio on the cover. That’s the kind of thing where you say look that’s funny, but how are you now gonna cover this man? He’s the president, how are you going to cover him after you’ve slobbered over him? That’s why slobbering is important because if you slobber somebody and you have so much invested in him, as Rush Limbaugh says in an interview in this book, he may be “too big to fail.”
So what happens if he comes up with a stimulus package. Let’s say, let’s hope it works, but let’s say it doesn’t. Is he to big to fail? The media’s gonna figure out that this was really George Bush’s fault?
JB: Well at some point Americans are going to figure this out. Look at the credibility of the nation’s media and you know we’ll get to the point of whether Keith Olbermann really is insane in a minute or two, but MSNBC I think, as Frank Luntz once said, is the only network that has more letters in its name than viewers at this point. People are rejecting this kind of crap aren’t they?
BG: Well, well a couple of things. Jay Leno had the best line I think that after Barack Obama won his staff threw a victory party for him their headquarters, MSNBC. Somebody else said that on election night most of the networks called the election for Obama at about 11 o’clock at night. MSNBC called it in July.
But, anyway regarding MSNBC they made a conscious business decision to go left, to become the magnet for the angry left in this country. Whether it’s a good business decision or not, that’s up to them to decide. But its one thing to have partisans like Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann spout off on their opinion shows. Fine. In Matthews’ case not so fine because it is so unintelligent that it, and in Olbermanns’ case it is so angry as to make you wonder. But they’re entitled.
BG: But when when MSNBC makes the decision to let them anchor news events then they have sold their journalistic soul, such as it is in their case, and you cannot take them seriously. When they have them anchoring primary night election coverage week after week after week. When they have them almost covering election night coverage, the most important night of the year, election night coverage, if it wasn’t for a last minute decision to yank those two yahoos, they would have they would have anchored election night coverage.
But they did manage, MSNBC did, to find four ultra liberals, including Matthews and Olbermann to anchor inauguration coverage, and then Matthews goes on the air, on the air and says, “We’re the network of change, we represent change.” Well so does Barack Obama right? So that means that we’re the Barack Obama network. It its despicable.
I’ll tell you what else is despicable. They have serious, fairly honest journalists who during the day fulfill their job as journalists and then they moonlight at night on MSNBC as people who give their opinions, I’ve never been comfortable with that. But if you’re gonna sit around with Matthews and Olbermann and give your opinion their nuttiness rubs off on you I’m afraid.
JB: I still like Chris despite all the nonsense.
BG: Well, you’ll have to explain that one to me.
JB: Well, alright I mean you know I’ve been on his show a lot and you know he’s always been a decent human being. But the issue with Keith Olbermann is another whole deal. I mean you’ve got Jeff Immelt, the chairman of GE, and Steve Capus, the president of NBC news, they tell him he’s doing good when he goes off on one of his quite frankly insane rants. Two questions: go back to the business decision and tell me how they can sustain this while they’re losing so much money? And number two, is Keith Olbermann really nuts?
BG: The second one, is he really nuts? I refer to that in the book, I say to analyze what Olbermann does on the air you don’t need a media analyst you need a psychoanalyst and it would be a dark journey that I have no interest in in taking apart in, you know? You know, I’m not a psychiatrist, but if I were I’d ask him to come in and, you know, lie down on the couch. I mean he comes real close, you know, he comes real close to being crazy sometimes.
JB: Well, in terms…
BG: I mean one night, you know, when he told, he yelled at the top of his lungs “President Bush shut the hell up.” You know, he fancies himself Edward R. Murrow, he signs off, the arrogance of signing off your nightly show with “Goodnight and good luck” that would be for many people evidence in and of itself that he belongs in an insane asylum. Yet he does that because in some way he thinks he’s channeling Murrow, and I know his thinking on this, at least I think I do.
And that is that Murrow did news and commentary. You know the sainted Edward R. Murrow. I worked in the “house that Murrow built,” CBS News, but Murrow started this. Murrow would do serious documentaries, then they’d go to a commercial and they’d come back and he’d let everybody know what he thought about it. So Murrow, Murrow as sainted as he was, started this and now, now you have Keith Olbermann thinking that he’s Edward R. Murrow, except Edward R. Murrow never told a president of The United States to “shut the hell up,” and he never told a viewer who wrote to him with a negative comment to “go f*** your mother,” which Keith Olbermann did to somebody who emailed him.
JB: Well it’s not just a question in of of sanity, I don’t think the man is very smart, and it just goes against journalism to have someone…
BG: He went to Cornell and he got in when he was 16 years old. So there’s something going on there. Something, the thing that troubles me about him is that he’s an interesting broadcaster, he’s an interesting writer but he’s so damn nasty, and you say what is out of bounds?
JB: Well I guess you know there’s not much difference between him and Don Imus anymore, except Imus actually has an audience. Let’s go to some of the other things that happened in the campaign. It’s most fun to talk about MSNBC and the idiocy there, but some of the other, at least some semi- respectable news media have done some things that I found shocking.
It was a campaign year, and I think it was after McCain secured the nomination and before the convention, somewhere around — I don’t know April or May — that he Vicki Iseman story came out in the New York Times which implied that Mr. McCain had a sexual relationship with this rather gorgeous lobbyist. It was thinly sourced, really a slime job. You talk about it a little bit in the book. This, to me, is way beyond bias: it goes to the activism charge that you make. Was anybody in this town, Washington, D.C., surprised at that other than John McCain?
BG: People who, who have looked at the New York Times and saw it go from a truly great newspaper to what it is today were disgusted by it, but not shocked by it. Here was a story that hinted, and I want to be clear about this, that hinted that maybe, I’m not sure, but it could be, I think, but I can’t prove it John McCain was having an affair with a younger beautiful female lobbyist.
And what did it base this on? Two unnamed sources, and it’s not just their names we don’t know. We don’t know their motivation for saying something like this. So, I always like turning stuff around, and I think that’s a good way to test if somebody is really biased or not. Would they have run that story if it were about a liberal Democrat? No, no because that’s beneath the standards of a once great newspaper. But they do that, that’s not all they did.
Barack Obama submitted an op-ed about the war in Iraq and the New York Times published it. But when John McCain submitted one, they told him to rework it. Now look, they have the right to say whatever they want, let’s get that straight. But this is a man running for president of The United States. He he’s not just some guy with his hat in his hand saying would you please publish my op-ed, you know? I think it’s demeaning to say to a senator who’s now running for president “could you rework it and then we’ll publish it?” It’s just not right. But they did that.
JB: Last question. When Pinch Sulzberger took over the New York Times in, and I guess it was a year or two after that, its stock was trading for something like $52, last time I checked, which was a couple of days ago, its down to about $6.
BG: I’m glad you asked that.
JB: Yea, MSNBC is similarly losing money. You said Immelt and Capus made the business decision to become the angry liberals.
BG: That’s what I wanted to talk about.
JB: But the same thing pertains to the Times too, right?
BG: In “Bias,” the first book I wrote, which came out in December 2001, I made a point that if these people were selling shoes instead of news they’d be out of business by now. Because I can’t think, and I mean this literally, I can’t think of any business, other than the news business where they don’t care what their customers think. No really, consider that. If you’re making women’s dresses, you care what women think about your dresses. Now, I don’t want news people going to the marketplace and saying “what kind of news do you want us to publish?” I don’t want that. I think in that sense it is different from selling dresses or selling shoes, but I do think that they should listen to the criticism of people in America and say “well is this legitimate or not?” I have met guys who work the overnight shift at 7-11, selling Slurpees and Camels to insomniacs who have more introspection than a lot of people in the mainstream media. Because if they had any introspection they’d say are these critics, do they have a point? Instead, they brag about how they don’t pay attention to their critics. They brag, I know people who have bragged that they never read “Bias,” they bragged about it.
There are two reasons a lot of print media is on the verge of death. Literally, on the verge of going under. One is technology. The internet is killing newspapers It is very difficult to make as much money putting out the New York Times online as it is putting out the paper version. Because if Tiffany’s buys a full page ad in the paper version they get a lot more money than some ad they would buy online. So part of it has, is strictly technology, has nothing to do with ideology.
But the other part has a lot to do with ideology. I know real people, whose names I could tell you, people I know who have said “I’ve stopped buying the New York Times.” Why? Because their editorial position has filtered, has leached into the news pages. In other words, they were willing to read the New York Times when it was simply a great, respectable and liberal newspaper. But not when the liberalism, you know, contaminates the news pages. So if I know some people, and you probably know some people, and Joe Blow knows some people and Mary Klontz knows some people, there are enough people who aren’t buying the Times because of its ideology and as a result that’s bad for business. Now they’ve taken out a loan from this Mexican, Carlos Slim, at 14 percent. As my friend Bill O’Reilly said, “Was Tony Soprano out that day?”
JB: Bernie, I think you’ve made your case and and we wish you all the best with the book.
BG: Thank you very much, from one Bronx guy to another.
Sign up to the Human Events newsletter