Everyone Loves a List

Everyone loves lists. They certainly sell magazines. (Think "The 10 Hottest Stocks" or "5 Easy Ways to Please Your Man.") They apparently sell books, too. Bernard Goldberg's "100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (And Al Franken Is #37)" is No. 6 on The New York Times Best-Sellers list.

A former CBS News reporter, Goldberg became a lightning rod in the debate over the news media's alliances when he published "Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News" in 2001 and "Arrogance: Rescuing America From the Media Elite" in 2003. His new book, published this month by HarperCollins, takes aim not only at the media, but also Hollywood, TV executives and liberal academics. NEWSWEEK's Carl Sullivan recently spoke with Goldberg about his book and his politics. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Why do you think your book is selling so well?

Bernard Goldberg: The central message of the book is that this culture has gotten angrier, meaner and more vulgar. I think liberals as well as conservatives, Democrats as well as Republicans noticed it long before I wrote the book.

Has the press been hostile?

There was one review that said Bernie Goldberg used to work at CBS and comb his hair back like a country and Western singer. I'm still shaking my head over this. If you go back to 1972 when I joined CBS to 2000 when I left, you can't find a second's worth of film with my hair combed back. He went on to not like the book, interestingly. What does my hair and how it's combed--even when he's dead wrong--have to do with anything? But that's the nature of debate in this country these days. And I think liberals have contributed more than their fair share to this problem.

Are liberals really more responsible than conservatives? Isn't there plenty of blame to go around?

Even when I agree with my liberal friends on this issue or that issue, I no longer like being associated with them. It isn't because of their politics. It's because of their elitism. They look down their snobby noses at ordinary Americans who eat at Red Lobster or because they like to bowl or they go to church on a regular basis or because they fly the flag on the Fourth of July.

What are your politics?

I used to be a full fledged card-carrying liberal. And then "liberals" happened. The people who used to look up to JFK now look up to Michael Moore [No. 1 on Goldberg's list]. Moore 20 years ago would have been a fringe character on the left. Now he represents mainstream liberalism ... I guess I'm conservative on some issues, but on certain social issues, I'm quite liberal. I don't care if Adam marries Steve. I have publicly said that I would make racial discrimination not just a civil offense but a criminal offense. But I'm against affirmative action because I don't see why the children of Diana Ross should get some extra points but the sons of an Anglo-Saxon coal miner from West Virginia don't get any points. I do have more friends on the right than I do on the left. They're not social friends, but I admire Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly a lot because I think they're standup guys.

Are there any conservatives on your list?

Maybe about 40 people on the list are neither conservatives nor liberals. So that leaves about 60, and of those, the overwhelming number are liberals. No question about it. If I was writing this book when I was in college, the book would be heavily filled with conservatives, but I'm a lot smarter.

The list includes Michael Jackson, Eminem, Anna Nicole Smith, Howard Dean, Ted Kennedy and Arthur Sulzberger Jr. Do the entertainment figures have as much impact on society as the political and media ones?

There's a slow poison running through this great country because of lots of different facets of the culture. So it is the Jerry Springers and even more so the Maury Povichs. But it's also the lawyers who file lawsuits on behalf of clients because they got fat eating fast food. It's about celebrities who throw the word Nazi around. It's about the universities, it's about music, TV.

But in your book you say you oppose restrictions on speech, so how do you get rid of things you consider indecent about our culture?

The solution is a lot easier than anybody thinks. The last lines of my book mention "civility, mutual respect, a semblance of decency and yes ... a little old-fashioned love of country, too." My point is those things don't cost any money. They don't require any legislation. They're easy to do.

So just by pointing these things out, you think that will spur people into becoming more civil?

In a way yes, but I don't want to come off sounding like the pied piper. We tend to believe that even though the culture has gotten meaner and angrier, that it's nobody's fault. That things just happen, that societies just evolve. I'm saying that's not true. There are people involved, and I'm naming some of those people. And by naming them, maybe they'll back off the nastiness a little bit.

Speaking of nastiness, in the book you call Barbara Walters the "queen of crap" and Courtney Love a "ho." Isn't this lowering the level of discourse?

Fair enough, and I've thought about that.

Did you make a mistake in calling these people names?

Anybody who's disturbed that I called Courtney Love "ho" needs a sense of humor. But here's the serious answer to your question. I don't call anybody a fascist, a Nazi, a liar, and I don't drop the f-bomb on anybody. And the people out there who are concerned that I called Barbara Walters the "queen of crap," I wish they would show a little more concern when somebody in Hollywood calls the president of the United States a Nazi or when gangsta rappers call women bitches and hos.

Who are some people who aren't screwing up America?

Bill Cosby. He's a very important guy in our culture. [When he said some blacks were wasting the opportunities presented to them] he didn't get a great reception from the civil-rights establishment.

Any others?

I'm sure there are. I just haven't been thinking about that so I don't have any names handy. I do have a couple in a very important area--academics. Harvey Silverglate and Alan Charles Kors are civil libertarians, and they've spoken out against liberal oppression on college campuses.

Any liberals or Demoracts who aren't screwing things up?

I like Zell Miller [the former Georgia governor and senator who delivered a pro-Bush keynote address at last year's Republican convention]. [ Laughs .]

Anybody who's currently in office?

[ Pause .] Nobody popping to mind. I always admired Congressman John Lewis from Atlanta who was beaten [during civil-rights protests] in the '60s. Even though I don't agree with his politics, I find him an immensely decent man. He's as liberal as just about anybody in Congress.

Why aren't Bill and Hillary Clinton on the list?

Aw, that's a good one. Hillary was going to be on the list, but a funny thing happened on the way to the printer: Hillary became way, way "reasonable" and "moderate." But I have every expectation at some point if there was an update she would probably make the list. Bill? Personally I don't think he ever should have been impeached.

But a lot of conservatives say the whole thing with Monica Lewinsky really coarsened our discourse. The scandal was sordid and tawdry, and he was responsible for that.

Yeah, it would have been fine with me if all of that stayed private. I don't know, it's funny to say, but I didn't agree with Bill Clinton's politics, but you know I like Bill Clinton a lot more than I like Al Gore and Howard Dean.

Why is that?

I come from a tenement in the South Bronx. He comes from rural poor Arkansas. In one sense, we couldn't be any more different. I don't want my conservative friends to call in the firing squad, but in a social way, he seems like the kind of guy I'd like to go to a ballgame with.