Moyers Trashes Hillary, Defends His Softball Wright Interview

PBS omnipresence Bill Moyers was interviewed on the radical taxpayer-subsidized Pacifica Radio network's Democracy Now program on Wednesday, and declared that Hillary Clinton wishes the worst on Barack Obama -- "she keeps hoping for every day, is that lightning will strike him" and insisted "She can only win in a way that would leave the Democratic Party in shambles." Even so, Moyers complained that all three candidates are failing to correct a "dysfunctional" capitalist system.

Moyers also made excuses for Jeremiah Wright's wild sermons about 9/11 and AIDS, and brushed off suggestions that his interview could have been tougher. "I’m not a very adversarial fellow. I’m not a gotcha kind of journalist," he claimed. "I knew that they were going to be asking all of these questions. I leave that to those people whose job it is for the commercial media." He decried the ABC debate questions to Obama as "a great exercise in irrelevance."

Moyers told Democracy Now host Amy Goodman that Hillary should really step aside:

And it seems impossible now, to me, for Hillary Clinton to even stay in the race without doing such damage to Obama that he’s hurt in the fall and she is hurt in her reputation...[T]hat’s what she keeps hoping for every day, is that lightning will strike him, and she’ll have a – some October surprise in May will happen. That’s not going to happen. She can only win in a way that would leave the Democratic Party in shambles.

Then Moyers explained that none of the contenders is socialist enough for him, although he couched it in vague metaphors of changing social structures:

These fundamental structural issues of American democracy are not being addressed by this campaign, even in the best of times, when it’s not just a horse race, when they’re on the Sunday morning talk shows, when they’re making speeches. They are so appealing to the particular interest of people, of groups, that they cannot take on—they’re not taking on the large issue. Obama talks about change. Hillary Clinton talks about, you know, a populist message. But neither one of them seem to me—and nor does John McCain—none of these three seem to me to be grasping what’s fundamentally at stake in this country, which is a system that is now dysfunctional. And so many powerful interests have a stake in maintaining the dysfunction that it’s almost impossible to change it.

That is the moment—this is the moment in which if we don’t solve that structural issue of our politics, we are in real trouble. And I don’t like to say that, because I have five grandchildren, and the future is theirs, not mine. But this is what we’re not hearing. This is what the system is not going to deal with in November. And it’s a very troubling reality.

He defended himself on the Jeremiah Wright interview, and Goodman raised the issue that PBS ombudsman Michael Getler didn't completely approve:

GOODMAN: On the interview, the PBS ombudsman commented about it. He wrote a column critical of your questioning. Michael Getler wrote, "There were not enough questions asked and some that were asked came across as too reserved and too soft, considering the volatility of the charges. […] Statements that Moyers himself laid out at the top of the program went largely unchallenged and those that did come up didn’t really get addressed until well into the hour-long program." Your response to that?

MOYERS: Well, that’s true. I didn’t get to ask all the questions I wanted to ask. It was a forty-minute interview. And I was much more interested—I knew what was going to happen when he went to the National Press Club on Monday morning. I knew that they were going to be asking all of these questions. I leave that to those people whose job it is for the commercial media.

Moyers also said:

[I]t was a reasonable, interesting, revealing conversation. I’m not a very adversarial fellow. I’m not a gotcha kind of journalist. Mike Wallace can do that much better than I can. And it was a very reasonable interview. But I think that the pent-up frustration of how he was being treated in the mainstream media and the fact that he was being taken out of context—the remark about chickens come home to roost, he wasn’t saying that 9/11 was done because—as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson said, because God wanted it to happen, but that there are consequences to actions.

The remark about HIV, I didn’t get to ask him that on the show. We ran out of time. But, you know, in the black community, where I’ve reported, done documentaries on black churches, black community organizers, in the black community, they’re still haunted by the fact, what is a historical fact, that the United States government used black men at Tuskegee Institute who think they were being treated for syphilis, when they were being allowed to die for a scientific test. That anger has been building up. I understand that. It’s unfortunate it gets in the mainstream media and Obama has to do what he did.

Notice that Moyers implies that Falwell and Robertson were wrong to blame 9/11 on God (and why not start the blame with al-Qaeda?), but it was perfectly reasonable for Wright to suggest America deserved 9/11, because "there are consequences to actions." Notice also that Moyers think it's "unfortunate" that any Wright controversy "gets in the mainstream media" and Obama has to deal with it. How censorious does that sound?

Then he denounced the commercial media for dealing in anti-Obama trivia:

GOODMAN: What did you think of the ABC debate in Pennsylvania with the news anchors going for the first forty-five minutes—really going at Obama around issues, everything from pastors to pins, lapel pins?

MOYERS: I thought it was a great exercise in irrelevance. Going back to one of your earlier questions, we never really—we rarely probe these candidates on what they would do about the fundamental systemic issues facing America. It has become a horse race in the media and on the campaign. That’s inevitable in some respects. But I was really sad to see our craft reduced to that kind of petty and parochial concerns.

Moyers also complained that PBS isn't radical enough. The same man who just proclaimed that it was sad that anti-Wright material emerged in the mainstream media turned around and said conservatives oppose PBS because they can't stand an alternative point of view:

There’s been a consistent fight, because the conservatives don’t want an alternative view of reality. We’re not going to propagate their propaganda. They don’t like it when there’s any kind of opposition or any—someone who doesn’t cooperate with them, they don’t like. So they have been consistently, from 1970 forward, trying to undo public broadcasting. And that’s one of the reasons public broadcasting hasn’t soared as the independent source of journalism, analysis and debate that it should be.

Moyers' idea of "independent" journalism is radical journalism like Goodman's at Pacifica Radio, which he has repeatedly praised. But he calls radical-left muckraking an exercise in diversity and pluralism:

And I have to say that public broadcasting today is not the adventuresome, the risk-taking exercise in diversity and pluralism and democracy that we had hoped it would be. It lacks the financial independence to take the risks that you can only take when you have nothing to lose, because 70 percent of public broadcasting’s funding comes from Congress. That makes it political in the eyes of many people, even though that influence is marginal. You know, I’ve advocated for years publicly that Democracy Now! should be on public broadcasting.

AMY GOODMAN: And it is on a number of PBS stations.

BILL MOYERS: A number of stations, but it’s not fed through the system. It’s not a system-wide—it should be. And there should be other reasonable voices with different philosophies than yours and mine on the air. But it is hamstrung by financial penury, and it’s embedded in a system that is altogether too political, and so it doesn’t take the risks that we ought to be taking. We ought to be the forum for the country.

Since Moyers was on to discuss a new book called Moyers on Democracy, Goodman asked about his years as an aide and press secretary for President Lyndon Johnson, including the infamous "Daisy" ad implying Barry Goldwater would instigate nuclear wars that would obliterate little girls holding flowers in the meadow. Moyers confessed ads are like "heroin," and he's been to rehab:

But what was wrong with that ad—what I learned from that ad is how quickly you can inject emotions into the mainstream of voters, because ads are impressionistic. Ads are about feelings, not about rational thought, about reason. And they are like heroin. They just give you that high very quickly. And that’s wrong, because people could—we could have the best of intentions with that ad, and voters could take away from it exactly the opposite of what we intended. And so, not long after that, I did this series on politics and one of the broadcasts was about these ads, and I said, somehow we’ve got to find a way to relieve our politics of these highly stimulated, highly distorted messages that we send through these thirty-second commercials.

Moyers didn't consider that he took an hour of taxpayer-funded air time to send a highly distorted message that Rev. Wright was a thoughtful and reasonable theologian who's been badly portrayed by the media.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis