If PBS omnipresence Bill Moyers wanted to cultivate an appearance of fairness and balance, he's not doing a very good job of it. On the PBS talk show Tavis Smiley on Monday night, Moyers compared Team Bush to a "burglar in the basement" that the watchdog media didn't bark at, or if you prefer, the media was the fire department, and Team Bush was the "arsonist." In fact, he charged "the press was in cahoots with the arsonist."
When Smiley pressed Moyers on whether his show is fair and balanced, he slammed Fox News Channel: "Fox News has so poisoned the meaning of fair and balanced that I can't even understand those terms anymore, but anybody who watches this documentary will see that we lay out the evidence." Smiley also catered to Moyers by asking him if the Bush adminstration was the most secretive in American history.
Moyers explained that his show would explain the "Mission Accomplished" picture and "the way the press bought into that photo opportunity and pronounced the war over before all these tens of thousands of casualties, is symbolic of how the press bought the war four years ago and is complicitous in what has happened since then."
Smiley asked: "You think the majority of Americans gets that, or needs to see a piece like this to understand how that happened?"
Moyers replied: "Well, I hope a lot of people watch this, Tavis, because if the watchdog doesn't bark, how do you know there's a burglar in the basement? And the press is supposed to be a watchdog. I'll put it another way: if you think that the fire department in your neighborhood is in collusion with the arsonist, you want to know about it. And the fact of the matter is, in the build-up to the war the watchdog didn't bark and the fire department - in this case the press - was in cahoots with the arsonist."
Unlike NPR interviewer Terry Gross, Smiley at least addressed the issue of the Moyers tilt, but Moyers used the usual dodge that since he blasts nearly everyone (for being to the right of his left-wing pole), he's the fair one:
SMILEY: I paused there deliberately for just a second at the end of your remark to see if you were going to go further, and I paused because I suspect there's some watching right now who are saying, "There goes Bill Moyers again." You start with the conservative press, you come to the middle, and you stop as if there is no liberal media bias.
MOYERS: Well, in this case when you watch the documentary Wednesday night, you will see that we're as tough on the liberal "New Republic" as we are on the conservative "Weekly Standard." I believe very strongly in laying out a case before reaching any conclusion. And I'll tell you that they're not gonna be happy in liberal America in the liberal press when they see this documentary, because the truth hurts.
And it hurts the Republicans and conservatives in this case because they went along, and it hurts some liberals and the Democrats, because they were wrong. In fact, one of my most interesting scenes in the documentary is of ambitious Democrats like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry going along, essentially, with the intelligence that was given them by the administration.
Smiley pressed further on the fairness front:
SMILEY: In advance of people seeing this on Wednesday night, what assurance do you give the people that the piece - pardon the pun - is fair and balanced? And I ask that against the backdrop of what you've just shared now. You were very forthright and very honest, which I appreciate, about your being skeptical of the war to begin with, skeptical of how the media covered or didn't cover the war. How, then, does one who has your point of view put together a fair and balanced piece about this provocative question?
MOYERS: You gather the evidence. Fox News has so poisoned the meaning of fair and balanced that I can't even understand those terms anymore, but anybody who watches this documentary will see that we lay out the evidence. And I ask everybody who watches - I ask everybody who's watching tonight to watch the documentary and ask yourself as you go along if the evidence isn't being laid out, and then reach your own conclusion.
That's really why I did the documentary. I wanted to go back, review - and I've interviewed Dan Rather for this documentary, Tim Russert for this documentary, Walter Isaacson, who was the president of CNN at the time of the invasion of Iraq, Bob Simon of "60 Minutes," and I want the audience to listen to those interviews, look at the evidence, and then reach your own conclusion about what you think, not what Bill Moyers thinks. That's not that important.
This is a fairly funny answer. I've interviewed all the liberal media stars, and I think you can conclude from that slanted slate that I'm fair? At the end, Smiley sounded more like a typical liberal:
SMILEY: Finally, is it just me or is this administration the most secretive of all time? You've worked in the White House. I wonder to what extent, again, their modus operandi - which is secrecy at all costs - has anything to do with the story that you're going to unveil for us on Wednesday night?
MOYERS: Well, Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information act back in 1964. He signed it reluctantly, because having been in Congress for so many years he was a man with a passion for secrecy, too. But there's no question but that this administration - and I'm not the only one saying this - there are a lot of people who say this - historians and other journalists say this is the most secretive administration that anyone can remember.
And you know what? That's come home to haunt it, because if you are so secret and you keep things to yourself, when it starts coming out, as this is now coming out about what's happened in Iraq and other things - the Justice hearings - the House tumbles pretty quickly. And when people realize they've been lied to, they don't trust you anymore and your credibility goes sinking like the Titanic.
SMILEY: So again, Wednesday night on most PBS stations across the country, "Buying the War," the premiere episode of "Bill Moyers' Journal" and its return to PBS. That's Wednesday night on most stations. A 90-minute special, and then of course on Friday nights it will resume its regular time slot. Bill Moyers, as always, an honor to have you on the program. Thanks for your insight and for your time, sir.
MOYERS: Thank you, Tavis. And my guest on Friday night, by the way, will be Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" because I think he's one of the most significant analysts of the news and information of our time.
That would pretty much seal Stewart with a kiss as a big liberal.