MediaWatch: March 1996

Vol. Ten No. 3

CBS Spikes Goldberg for His Honesty

Blew the Wrong Whistle

What a difference the message makes. After 60 Minutes last fall spiked part of an interview with Jeffrey Wigand, the ex-Brown & Williamson cigarette company executive, CBS reporters were angry and embarrassed that Wigand's confidentiality pledge prevented him from blowing the whistle on his former employer. On February 4, CBS overcame the legal hurdle and aired the spiked charges about manipulated nicotine levels. On PBS's Charlie Rose February 6 Dan Rather said that story "was gutsy, great reporting."

Fast forward a week and CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg blew the whistle on CBS, detailing in a February 13 Wall Street Journal op-ed how colleague Eric Engberg's story on the flat tax "set new standards for bias." Goldberg explained 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."

So did journalists trumpet this whistle-blower? Hardly. "It's such a wacky charge....I don't know what Bernie was driving at. It just sounds bizarre," Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer told The Washington Post. "To accuse Eric of liberal bias is absurd," sniffed CBS News President Andrew Heyward. "The test is not the names people call you or accusations by political activists inside or outside your own organization," Rather told the New York Post in an insult to Goldberg's professionalism, insisting "I am not going to be cowed by anybody's special political agenda."

USA Today's Peter Johnson reported March 11: "Some colleagues supported him privately. But many others stopped talking to him, dismissing him as dead wrong, an ingrate, a nut or all of the above. Mostly, the big chill set in. Not-so-coincidentally, none of his commentary segments on the News, `Bernard Goldberg's America,' has aired since the day his piece came out."

Johnson concluded that CBS has decided to bully the messenger: "Goldberg has spent the past month lying low, hoping animus toward him would die down. It hasn't, and all signs around CBS News are that it will continue until Goldberg shows interest in eating a healthy serving of humble pie."

The March 13 New York Post reported that Goldberg apologized to Engberg and is sorry if he "hurt anyone's feelings." But Goldberg felt he had to go public since, as he explained to the Post's Josef Adalian, he "tried for years and years to discuss this issue," but was "met with varying degrees of `Who cares?'"