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Commentary: Bumbling Gumbel

By PETER ROFF, UPI National Political Analyst   |   April 6, 2002 at 1:44 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, April 5 (UPI) -- In a move that shook the news industry, Bryant Gumbel announced he is leaving his job as co-host of the CBS Early Show. The 53-year old broadcaster, a 17-year veteran of morning television, says he wants to "do something else with my life" and is not seeking to renew his contract.

For the rest of America, however, life continues on pretty much as usual.

Gumbel's departure should not be a surprise. In spite of his multi-million dollar contract, he has been unable to replicate his success on NBC'S Today. The CBS program consistently lags in the ratings, often finishing third behind NBC and ABC.

The reason for this, in my opinion, is Gumbel himself.

He has the reputation of being hopelessly left wing and rarely, if ever, tries to hide his political leanings.

The Media Research Center, a conservative organization that monitors television programs for political bias, has assembled quite a collection of Gumbel's outrageous statements.

Interviewing comedienne Whoopi Goldberg on August 17, 2000, Gumbel asked if she was disturbed by the Democrats "trying to strike a moral tone" about entertainment. He also asked, "What about this turn towards what's called family values? The right turn doesn't seem to concern you?"

Goldberg replied with a question of her own, "What's wrong with family values?" to which Gumbel replied, "It's generally been a code word for less inclusion."

On April 18, 2001, Gumbel answered an assertion by CBS's Bernard Goldberg that, in sports, "race isn't really important if you're good" by saying "If that's the case, it may be the only place in America" where that is the case.

His political leanings were also evident while he was with NBC.

On June 1, 1995, Gumbel questioned an official of the Natural Resources Defense Council saying, "This comes at a time when Republicans are looking to gut the Clean Water Act and the Safe Water Drinking Act. ... Are we now forced to boil water because bottled water is not an economically feasible option for a lot of people?"

Again from the Today show on July 17, 1989: "Largely as a result of the policies and priorities of the Reagan administration, more people are becoming poor and staying poor in this country than at any time since World War II."

After the Los Angeles riots following the Rodney King verdict, Gumbel asked U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., "If I am young black man in South Central L.A., where poverty is rampant and unemployment is skyrocketing, I see that Washington's promises of a year ago have gone unfulfilled, I see that perhaps for a second time, the court's inability to mete out justice in a blind fashion, why shouldn't I vent my anger?"

Shortly after Republican Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., was sworn in as the first Speaker of the House from his party in 40 years, Gumbel asked House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.: "You called Gingrich and his ilk, your words, 'trickle-down terrorists who base their agenda on division, exclusion and fear.' Do you think middle class Americans are in need of protection from that group?"

Gumbel blamed American conservatives for the terrorist bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.

"Right-wing talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Bob Grant, Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, Michael Reagan and others take to the air every day with basically the same format: detail a problem, blame the government or a group, and invite invective from like-minded people. Never do most of the radio hosts encourage outright violence, but the extent to which their attitudes may embolden and encourage some extremists has clearly become an issue."

The most egregious example of Gumbel's bias came on June 30, 2000, after an interview with a conservative analyst on the issue of gays being excluded from leadership positions in the Boy Scouts.

An errant network camera caught Gumbel blurting out his disgust at the analyst's comments. CBS and Gumbel denied a fairly common oath had been employed but he nonetheless did call the analyst an "idiot."

Taken one at a time, these incidents seem to be of little importance. When taken together, and there are many more that must be excluded because of space, a clear pattern emerges. Gumbel rarely fails to toss a politically loaded softball to a liberal while climbing right into the face of anyone who even utters a conservative thought.

It does him little good to pretend that he is objective when the evidence so clearly points in the other direction.

In and of itself, this is probably of no importance other than the annoyance it causes among many people who feel that the bias in television news is real rather then some type of right wing fantasy as so many others like to allege. But it does help explain why the CBS Early Show has never done well during Gumbel's tenure.

On the Today show, Gumbel was matched with a likable crew -- Jane Pauley, Al Roker, Deborah Norville, Willard Scott and the ever-perky Katie Couric. There were reasons to watch besides Gumbel.

The CBS Early Show is Gumbel, Gumbel and more Gumbel. How many people really want to have hard left political views jammed down their throats while they are getting ready for work in the morning, generally before the first cup of coffee? As the ratings indicate, not many. Good riddance.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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