In January of 2003, I was asked to appear on the MSNBC show Donahue with Bernard Goldberg, the former CBS correspondent whose best-seller, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distorts the News, purports to take on the liberal media bias. Slander and Bias are the right’s one-two punch against the effete lefty elite. A couple weeks after I did the show, I was stopped by a TV news producer (not from CBS) who said, “Man, you really bitch-slapped Bernie Goldberg.” Yeah, I did. But I have to admit, I did it a little unfairly. I ambushed Bernie. With his own book.I asked him about something from his chapter, “Liberal Hate Speech.” (Coulteresque, huh?) In the chapter, he cites twelve examples of “liberal hate speech” from the past twelve years. Goldberg admits he got them from the Media Research Center, a right-wing media-watch group which sends out a regular newsletter chock-full of “outrageous” quotes from the liberal media. Now, considering the hundreds of thousands of hours of mainstream media coverage over that period, you’d think Goldberg would have some pretty choice examples to pick from, right? One of the twelve examples was a quote from John Chancellor, the late, revered NBC anchor and commentator. Here’s how it appeared in Bias:
It’s short of soap, so there are lice in hospitals. It’s short of pantyhose, so women’s legs go bare. It’s short of snowsuits, so babies stay home in winter. Sometimes it’s short of cigarettes, so millions of people stop smoking involuntarily. It drives everyone crazy. The problem isn’t communism. No one even talked about communism this week. The problem is shortages.After presenting the quote, Goldberg tears Chancellor a new one for “his absurd observation that the problem in the old Soviet Union wasn’t communism, but shortages.” Hmm. The quote was from August 1991.
—NBC Nightly News commentator John Chancellor on the Soviet Union,
August 21, 1991
So, on Donahue, I read the quote, then asked, “Do you know what happened that day in the Soviet Union, Bernie?”Listen to how Tom Brokaw opened that evening’s news.
He froze. Then came back with a good one: “Why don’t you tell me?”
I had learned how to handle that trick in the schoolyard back in Minnesota. “No,” I said, “why don’t you tell me?”
Clearly, the man had no idea. I persisted, “What happened in the Soviet Union that day?”
Bernie went white. Finally, “Well, I don’t know what happened that day.”
So, I told him. Let’s go to the videotape:
FRANKEN: That was the collapse of the coup, the hard-liner coup at the parliament.
FRANKEN: And that was huge. Do you know that perestroika had been in effect for six years at that point? The point here is, Bernie, you regurgitated a quote that you got from some right-wing media-watch group. And you did not care to look at the context of it.
“Good evening. Wednesday, August 21, 1991. This is a day for bold print in history to be remembered and savored as the day when the power of the people in the Soviet Union proved to be greater than the power of the gray and cold blooded men who thought they could return that country to the darkness of state oppression.”Boy, it sounds like a real pro-communist bias on NBC, doesn’t it? But you know what, Bernie? You didn’t even bother to find out what the context of John Chancellor—who, by the way, is dead, and couldn’t defend himself. You had no interest in finding out the context of what he was saying.
I was talking into a camera in San Francisco, so I couldn’t see Bernie. But when I watched the tape later, I have to admit I got a real kick out of watching Bernie sitting there silently, stewing. He knew he looked like a fool, because I was right. He had thrown something in his book without checking it. Frankly, when I had first read the quote in Goldberg’s book, I hadn’t known the context either. I’m a comedian. But I had a sneaky suspicion that John Chancellor had never been a Stalinist.
So, I, the comedian, bothered to look it up and get the transcript for the August 21, 1991, NBC Nightly News broadcast. Brokaw had asked Chancellor about Gorbachev’s next move. And what Chancellor was saying was that Gorbachev couldn’t use communism as an excuse because, by that point, he had completely dismantled communism in the Soviet Union.
A little later in the show, Donahue took a caller
DONAHUE:Billy from Tennessee. You waited. I thank you for your patience. What did you want to say? CALLER: Phil, thank you. I think the main thing I wanted to say is I’m sad that the conservatives you have on tonight have done a poor job of articulating our conservative argument, which I think is another bias of the press is that you always pick very smart, astute liberals, like Al Franken, who are very articulate, and then you have conservatives who scratch their heads and can’t come back with something.It makes you wonder how these Conservative writers can live with themselves after getting nailed like this on TV. Maybe that's why the Coultergeist refused to show up at a scheduled face to face with Joe Conason.
DONAHUE: Oh , well . .