It's not every day that someone likens Dan Rather and CBS News to the Mafia.

Or declares that the don in this case is The Dan, "who wanted me whacked."

Or calls the CBS brass "a bunch of hypocrites" so consumed by liberal bias that they reflexively slant the news.

The source of this vitriolic attack is none other than Bernard Goldberg, a CBS correspondent for 28 years who left the network last year. In his forthcoming book, "Bias," published by the conservative house Regnery Publishing, Goldberg unloads on his ex-employer.

What's striking is the intensely personal nature of Goldberg's assault. He describes Rather as a generous man who is also "ruthless and unforgiving," with a touch of Richard Nixon's "paranoia." He accuses one correspondent of "junk journalism." And he says CBS News President Andrew Heyward once told him: "Look, Bernie, of course there's a liberal bias in the news. All the networks tilt left. . . . If you repeat any of this, I'll deny it."

Heyward declined to be drawn into a debate with Goldberg, saying: "Bernie asked to see me before the book was published and said he didn't want to be portrayed as a liar or a disgruntled employee. Therefore, I have no comment."

Goldberg became something of a pariah at CBS after accusing the network of liberal bias in a 1996 op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal.

Some CBS insiders describe Goldberg as a talented journalist who became increasingly bitter and isolated at the network. They are stunned that he would betray Heyward, a longtime friend who refused to fire him during the Journal controversy, pushed to get him a spot at "60 Minutes II" and kept him on the payroll until Goldberg could qualify for a larger pension at 55.

"In the end, he seemed to think his job was to report on CBS News instead of reporting for CBS News," said Bob Schieffer, chief Washington correspondent. "Bernie just seemed to be upset about everything. He was upset with the world."

Correspondent Eric Engberg said Goldberg committed an "act of treason" and decided the best way to sell a book "is to trash your friends and former colleagues. . . . He didn't have many friends in this organization because he was a selfish, self-involved guy who was not a team player."

Engberg accused Goldberg of a "sleazy, snake-in-the-grass style" for not complaining to him before blasting him in the Journal over his report ridiculing Steve Forbes's flat-tax plan.

Goldberg, who now works for HBO's "Real Sports," said yesterday he wrote the book because he cares about journalism and that he "left out a bunch of things that might really embarrass people. . . .

"Whenever you raise an issue like this, they close ranks and close their minds. They're just going to call me these terrible vicious names instead of looking at the problem. . . . They don't like the people they're broadcasting to. I can't tell you how many times I heard the term 'white trash' thrown around. I come from a lower-middle-class background and I resent that."

Rather declined to comment, but told the Dallas Morning News in 1996 that he wouldn't let anyone "intimidate" him "into reporting the news their way."

To which Goldberg writes: "Why is it that when journalists write something tough about other people it's called 'news,' but when someone writes something tough about news people like Dan Rather it's called 'intimidation'?"

In Goldberg's view, CBS staffers are too "arrogant" to examine the leftward tilt of their reporting, which he says is shared by the other major networks. (Only Andy Rooney sent a supportive note after the Journal article.)

Goldberg describes a CBS conference call in which a Washington staffer "nonchalantly referred to a presidential candidate as 'Gary Bauer, the little nut from the Christian group.' " No one, says Goldberg, raised an objection.

"Bias" devotes considerable attention to the subject of race. During the May 2000 sweeps, Goldberg says, CBS's "48 Hours" and NBC's "Dateline" ran no stories involving blacks, and ABC's "20/20" ran two. (The lone exception was "60 Minutes," on which seven of 12 stories featured blacks as main characters.)

During a 1999 story for "48 Hours" on a teenager in jail, Goldberg says, a New York producer asked his field producer, "What is she?"

" 'She's black,' the producer told his boss in New York, 'but she's light-skinned.' He felt he had to say that to get the okay to proceed with the story." Another producer is quoted as saying the bosses "were not subtle at all. They made it pretty damn clear to me that 'we want stories with white folks.' "

Susan Zirinsky, executive producer of "48 Hours," says Goldberg is merely making assumptions.

"There's not one fact in there," she says. "These are charges without validation. If you can't give me a specific, I say case closed. We are about doing good stories, end of sentence. Race is not a factor." Ticking off stories involving blacks, Zirinsky says the program is focusing next month on black families in Texas who adopted more than 80 problem kids.

Goldberg quotes from a " '48 Hours' Survival Guide": "Looks count, too. This is television after all. You can find the most articulate character in the world, but if she has no teeth or has a beard, no one will hear what she is saying." Zirinsky says the memo is "not from my era" and no longer in use.

The book also derides coverage of family issues: "Feminists are the pressure group that the media elites (and their wives and friends) are most aligned with."

Goldberg tips his hat to ABC's Peter Jennings for acknowledging the media should include more conservative voices. "Does anyone think a 'diverse' group of conservative journalists would give us the news straight?" Goldberg asks. "I sure as hell don't. They'd be just like the Left."

Media Morsels

* Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol used to work for George H.W. Bush, but the former president denounced him in the New York Times Magazine last week for a "vicious slander." Bush called Kristol's assertion that Colin Powell opposed the use of force against Iraq in 1991 "a grossly unfair, insupportable lie." So much for a former employee . . .

* "60 Minutes" is making trouble again. CBS News agreed to a cash payment last year to settle a lawsuit by the estate of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. over the network's use of King's "I Have a Dream" speech in a $99.95 video called "The 20th Century with Mike Wallace."

Now "60 Minutes" is diving back into the controversy, with a piece last night that quotes black leaders criticizing the King family for selling the slain leader's words and image for profit . . .

* After the collapse of his media magazine, Brill's Content, Steve Brill has signed on as a Newsweek columnist to cover the legal and business fallout from Sept. 11 . . .

* Nothing is bigger in Beantown than the Red Sox. So the Boston Globe faces a major-league dilemma now that the parent New York Times Co. has bid for a piece of the team -- creating the same sort of conflict that plagues the Cubs-owning Chicago Tribune. Globe Editor Martin Baron says the paper "will cover this independently, objectively and fairly," noting that his columnists have endorsed the rival bids for the Red Sox.

Bernard Goldberg left CBS four years after he criticized his employer in print.