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BILL MOYERS JOURNAL: May 4, 2007

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL. Once again we're on air and on line and pleased you are with us.

I'd like you first to meet a man who endured 25 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit-and came out with his soul intact.

Then, I'll talk with a creative genius whose opinions about god would once upon a time have cost him his head. And we'll peek inside the new book COLLUSION."



BILL MOYERS: You probably know America's the World leader in putting people behind bars. We send them up the river at least five times the rate of other industrialized nations. At the end of 2005, there was a record 2.2 million people in our prisons and jails. Now, there is one less. And that's especially good news because Jerry Miller shouldn't have been in prison in the first place. He was 22 when the police arrested him. It was a case of mistaken identity. But Jerry Miller spent 25 years locked up before DNA proved his innocence. He became the 200th person exonerated through DNA evidence thanks to the organization known as the Innocence Project. Some of those narrowly escaped the death penalty, but that's another story. Right now, it's time to celebrate one man's liberation.

Local news teams in Chicago showed up to witness a quarter-century of travesty come to a jubilant end. It was cheers of joy last week for Jerry Miller's family.

After 25 years in prison for a horrible crime he didn't commit, Jerry Miller was now a free man. A recent DNA test proved he had nothing to do with the brutal rape and kidnapping he'd been convicted of back in 1982. Two eyewitnesses had been wrong - the DNA test pointed to a different man - one who's currently in prison for another crime.

Confronted with Miller's innocence, local officials apologized for a life stolen.

BOB MILAN: (1st Assistant Cook County Attorney) On behalf of Dick Devine, and the men and women of the Cook County States Attorney's Office, I would like to express my deepest regrets to Mr. Miller, and wish him nothing but the best in his future life.

BILL MOYERS: Jerry Miller is walking free today thanks in part to his own tenacity. While behind bars, he wrote scores of letter to the Innocence Project - an advocacy group in New York that uses DNA evidence to help exonerate innocent prisoners. Miller's letters got their attention, and they got the DNA test that changed his life.

BILL MOYERS: Do you - when you were arrested in 1981, you clearly established with your father that you had been watching television with him that night, when the crime was actually perpetrated?

JERRY MILLER: Basically, my family, my mother was present. Two brothers and an uncle. We was all in the house.

BILL MOYERS: Well, what did your father and mother think and do when you were arrested? They knew you'd been home with them.

JERRY MILLER: Well, they, you know, like anyone else, they was totally shocked. I was shocked. But what ended up happening was I was basically just taken from my home to almost seventeen miles away.

BILL MOYERS: The police came to your house.

JERRY MILLER: Yeah. They came from out of their district to my home and took me about seventeen miles away. So when they saw me leaving in the police car, they assuming that it was in, you know, in this area. So, they were calling police stations in this area. I was around the area, but they couldn't find me. It took about two days before they found me.

BILL MOYERS: What was going through your head?

JERRY MILLER: Man, I knew something was happening. I didn't really understand what it was and they never told me, you know.

BILL MOYERS: The police didn't and they were aware of that?

JERRY MILLER: They never told me. It was almost a secret. As soon as I was taken to the police station, I was photographed. And I had, you know, to get in the line up. And I had refused you know, from the first, from the start. But eventually, I said, "Well what do I have to fear?" you know. And I was worn down. And I got in a line up and it cost me.

BILL MOYERS: Did you have a lawyer?

JERRY MILLER: No.

BILL MOYERS: You were how old?

JERRY MILLER: I was 23.

BILL MOYERS: And you'd been in the military.

JERRY MILLER: Right.

BILL MOYERS: No criminal record.

JERRY MILLER: No.

BILL MOYERS: And you were in a line up. And you were innocent. And you knew you were innocent.

JERRY MILLER: Yeah. So therefore, I had no fear. And like I said, I was worn down. I was ready to go. You know, I was ready to go home. And you see what happened.

BILL MOYERS: Can you recall what was in your head in court when they said 'guilty'?

JERRY MILLER: Man, I was defeated. I was literally defeated. You know, every turn, you know, went against me. Every move we made went against me. Every move my lawyer made they went against me. I remember the judge. I still see him. I can see his face. His name was Thomas Maloney. And you know, — matter of fact, I beat him out of the penitentiary.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

JERRY MILLER: Well, he's in the penitentiary.

BILL MOYERS: For what?

JERRY MILLER: Taking bribes.

BILL MOYERS: The judge who presided for your case?

JERRY MILLER: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: And he's still there?

JERRY MILLER: My understanding is he's there. I know he's been there, you know.

BILL MOYERS: It's like a bad movie

JERRY MILLER: It's a bad movie.

BILL MOYERS: When did it settle in on you, I've lost my freedom? I'm innocent and I'm going up for 45 years. When did that happen?

JERRY MILLER: Well, when I went before him, he said that I was convicted overwhelmingly. The evidence was overwhelming. And I knew that was a lie, you know, because I was innocent. So, how could everything be overwhelming, you know, to convict me? So that was his statement.

BILL MOYERS: And there wasn't anything you could do.

JERRY MILLER: No, nothing I could do except accept the time that they gave me. You know, I mean, it was defeat. You know, I had lost.

BILL MOYERS: It was a long time ago, but let's go back to the first week, the first day, the first hour you arrive in prison. What was happening to you?

JERRY MILLER: I knew I was going to a place I had never been before. You know, so I had to, you know, deal with it, you know. I was going into the unknown, you know.

BILL MOYERS: Tell me about the system. You were innocent and it just the wheels just kept rolling on and on.

JERRY MILLER: Well, the system — if you just start with my case from day one from me being taken from my home that night, and you can trace it all the way to the conviction, you would be - you would be upset. Very upset with the system. You know, I was angry, you know. Depressed. You know, I felt like giving up in the beginning. But as time went on, I realized that that was a waste of time. You know, who am I gonna be angry with? A system that is really abstract. You know, I'm living in it, but you know, it has no faces. And then, you have the victim and the witnesses. If they walked in here right now, I wouldn't even know it's them.

BILL MOYERS: Were you saying to people, "I'm innocent. I didn't do it."

JERRY MILLER: For a whole year, that's all I did. I'd be like — everyone I saw, I was ready to tell, tell them my story. "Man, look, this is what happened. It wasn't me. I didn't do it." And it was just a constant conversation that I had. But you know, it really doesn't matter, you know, whether you say you're innocent or not, you know. If they get you, they got you.

BILL MOYERS: So once you - you must look back and think the moment I was picked up -

JERRY MILLER: It was over. Yeah. And that's what people tell me. When I tell them the story I'm telling you, they say, the moment you was put in that police car, it was — the die was set.

BILL MOYERS: What was your thought as to why your luck was so bad? Why, despite the fact that you had a clean record, you were home with your parents, that at every turn, the trap kept closing. Why was that happening?

JERRY MILLER: Man, look, let me tell you something. I sat in my room. And I'd just try to just look at my life in retrospect. What did I do to deserve this? But I couldn't come up with anything, you know. There was nothing in life that I had done to deserve what had happened.

BILL MOYERS: There must have been a moment early on where you thought, this can't go on forever. Someone somewhere has got to hear me.

JERRY MILLER: Right. Right. But when I realized that, you know, it's gonna be a tough time, I just, you know, got myself together and tried to figure out what I had to do. I had to maintain myself. I had to grow. I had to mature, you know, so I'd read.

BILL MOYERS: You read?

JERRY MILLER: And I kept reading. Well, I talked to my mother. And she had told me that I sounded depressed on the phone. This was early when I had been arrested. And she said, look, read. You know, read. Anything you can hand on, just read. A newspaper, whatever. Just read. And when I got off the phone, that's what I did. I went and got a newspaper and I started reading. Cause she had told me and kept telling me, and everything she said is true. Everything she had told me in life and how it was gonna happen was true. And so I decided I better just listen.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean, everything she told you

JERRY MILLER: Well, you know how mothers are. If she says don't do that and you do it anyway, and then you suffer the consequences, and she says to you what did I tell you? Didn't I tell you to listen to me? And then after a while, I realized that I better listen to her this time.And that's what I did. And I read.I read things that I liked.

BILL MOYERS: What did you like?

JERRY MILLER: I liked to read about sports in the newspapers it started like that. Then, you know, just novels. You know, action. But after a while, I started reading books that mattered, you know.

BILL MOYERS: Such as?

JERRY MILLER: Such as spiritual books. You know, I never could really understand the Bible. I had to grow as a person really to understand the Bible. You know, because when you're in a cell and you're reading it, you know, you have to be - if you have a Bible in your hand, you have to know what you're doing.

BILL MOYERS: You know, I think I would have been insane with anger.

JERRY MILLER: Well, I wasn't insane with anger, but I was angry. You know, I'm human. I went through the same emotions you would have went through or anybody else in this situation. But after a while, you got to realize, you know, this is a tough situation. You don't have time to waste time. You have to prepare yourself for, you know, you have to do the right things at the right time.

BILL MOYERS: But you were living in a nightmare.

JERRY MILLER: Yeah. But you know, a lot of people is living in nightmares. I'm not the only one that made it or that will make it, you know. I'm fortunate because I made it intact, mind, body and soul. You know, you can't even tell I been locked up. Not for 25 years.

BILL MOYERS: Did some of the people you were with not make it?

JERRY MILLER: Of course.

BILL MOYERS: What happened to them?

JERRY MILLER: You know, the penitentiary is a violent place. You know, you have to be blessed. You have to be lucky. There's a lot of things you have to do to make it out of the penitentiary.

BILL MOYERS: How did you protect yourself from that undirected violence?

JERRY MILLER: Just being myself. You know, you just - you have to live. You're put in that situation, you have to - you have to adjust, you know. It's like anyone else. It's like animals in nature. You know, when society encroaches in their area, they adjust or they perish. You know, you put a man in a situation like this, you are either gonna sink or swim, you know.

BILL MOYERS: And what was your strategy every day?

JERRY MILLER: Well, you have to learn the rules. You know, the rules are the first thing. And just learn how to, you know, stay positive. That's the most important thing because if you-- give up, started giving up is depressing, you know, negativity.

BILL MOYERS: Was there a time when you -

JERRY MILLER: Oh, yes. You know, one thing I say about hope, you know, you lose it. You lose it every day. At least I did. But I'd get it back. I gained it back every day. That's the blessing.

BILL MOYERS: That's are problem, isn't it, to regain hope after you have lost it. Particularly when you're still in the same situation you were yesterday and the day before and the day before. And you're likely to be there for the days to come. I mean, how do you regain hope?

JERRY MILLER: You try things that - like a sense of accomplishment. You know if you, let's say I pick up a book and I don't really understand, you know, what its saying. So I'd pick it up again the next day and the next day. I had to read a book, well, a chapter in a book, I think it was eleven times just before I understood what he really was saying. So that's just gives you a sense of accomplishment. Anything that you can do and have a sense of accomplishment helped me.

BILL MOYERS: Did you have any outside contacts?

JERRY MILLER: Yeah. I had people that would write. Talk to on the phone my family stayed in contact.

BILL MOYERS: Your father? Mother?

JERRY MILLER: Yeah. My father died. And he was the main one, you know. He was my - he was the one that pushed it. He kept, you know, trying to free me himself. But he couldn't do it, because he died.

BILL MOYERS: He died in what year?

JERRY MILLER: '93.

BILL MOYERS: That must have been a crushing moment when you heard. Had he been to see you, visit you?

JERRY MILLER: Yeah. He would always come. Bring my sisters and brothers. You know, nieces, nephews.

BILL MOYERS: Did you give up hope when he died?

JERRY MILLER: For a little while, I lost hope, you know. But like I say, I'd get it back. You know, it took a little while to get it back, but I got it back.

BILL MOYERS: You said in that first letter you wrote to the Innocence Project that your dad had been your chief activist. What did he do?

JERRY MILLER: Well, you know, he's my father. I'm his son. You know, you know, a father longs to have a son. And I was his first son. So, he tried to do everything possible. Like the lawyer. You know, like you asked me did I have a public defender. Well, naw. He made sure I had a paid lawyer. You know, but I didn't want them to put up the house and spend all their savings, you know, on a lawyer.

BILL MOYERS: Was he prepared to do that?

JERRY MILLER: He was prepared to do that. But it would have - it would have hurt my whole entire family.

BILL MOYERS: When you got out on parole last year, what were the conditions of parole because you had not been exonerated.

JERRY MILLER: I was, you know, I had done all the time and was let out and was classified as a sex offender. I had to go to the police station. Identify myself and be put on the Internet. Man, do you know how much my pride took a big blow. It took a very big blow. I don't care how strong you are. That is a hell of a situation. And I was able to like one day, kind of down, kind of up. That really tested me.

BILL MOYERS What about you was most tested?

JERRY MILLER: Well, the most battles in a situation like that takes place right here. Right there. The majority of the battles take place in your mind. You just have to, you know, be strong and be disciplined.

BILL MOYERS: What was the greatest assault on your mind?

JERRY MILLER: Well, to be told - to be lied on is a tough thing. To be lied on like I was lied on. To be basically put before the world as someone who I wasn't. And carrying that weight for 25, 26 years. You know, it was hard. It was really hard. But you know, I made it. You know, I'm intact, you know. So, that's why I thank God for the day of my exoneration. I thank God for the results of the test. Because I feared that somehow, that would be tampered with. You know, because I had lost trust in the system. So, you know, I was like, man, if they are able to, you know, tamper with this or if they - if it don't go my way, how do I tell my family when I been telling them I was innocent all these years?

BILL MOYERS: So you've spent virtually your entire adult life in prison. For a crime you did not commit. Have you ever — I don't sense any vengefulness. I don't sense any bitterness. I don't sense any anger.

JERRY MILLER: But that doesn't mean it didn't happen. I didn't have that. I had that in the beginning. Because I didn't know better, you know. To hold those kind of feelings, you know, it can tear you apart. You know, to be angry for 26 years, can you imagine that? To be bitter for 26 years. What can you accomplish bitter and angry for 26 years? Nothing. You know, and being a negative individual draws no one to them, you know. You have to be who you are. And I'm not a negative individual. If I had been, then I probably would, you know, would have not had the blessings that I received. I was not meant to be in this situation.

BILL MOYERS: I know. But you talk about blessings, but you look back and you spent 25 years.

JERRY MILLER: Yeah. But a blessing to deal with it. I can't help that it happened. You know things happen in life that's uncontrollable. But to make it out of it, that's the blessing, you know. To survive it.

BILL MOYERS: Did you take faith into prison with you? Faith in God?

JERRY MILLER: Look, yes, faith in God. And this is the way. You've got to know there's a God. How can you deny? Because when it happened, you know, like I told you in the beginning how everything was against me. But when that DNA test came back proving my innocence, from that point, everything went for me. Everything. And that's why I'm sitting here with you right now.

BILL MOYERS: You knew all these years in your head that you were innocent.

JERRY MILLER: Of course.

BILL MOYERS: So what's the difference it makes to be officially exonerated?

JERRY MILLER: It makes a lot of difference because you know, that means that I'm no different than you. I'm an American. I deserve all the rights of being an American, you know. And I deserve the chances that everyone else has. You know, I have a lot of time to make up for. So I have to get it done real quick.

BILL MOYERS: All these years later when you look back, was there one image that kept coming to mind?

JERRY MILLER: You know what? The day I received the news about the DNA test proving that it wasn't me — it was March 28th. And I was — I called my brother and told him, "Man, I just got the news. I won." And he said, "Man, do you know what today is?" He said "This is the day Daddy died." We called him 'My daddy.' He said "This is the day my daddy died." So on that day my father died, I received the news. So I guess he received the news, too.

BILL MOYERS: Jerry Miller, thank you very much. And good luck to you.

JERRY MILLER: All right. Thanks.

All week we have seen Democrats and the president wrangling from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other, over how and when to get out of the war in Iraq without taking the blame if the worse comes to worst.

But there's still controversy over how we got into the war in the first place. Remember those sixteen words in the President's State of the Union Address in 2003, just weeks before he ordered the invasion of Iraq:

Well, it wasn't true. Saddam Hussein had not gotten his hands on any quantities of uranium from the African nation of Niger or any other country. The information was based on a forgery. How this forgery made its way into the state of the union address has remained a mystery.

But a new book tells the story of the forgery and how that fiction helped start a war.

COLLUSION by Italian journalists Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe D'Avanzo takes you to the streets of Rome where the fake documents were cooked up by a motley band of conspirators whose scheme revolved around SISMI, the Italian equivalent of the CIA.

SISMI had a mole inside the tiny apartment in Rome that is the Niger embassy-- it was the first stop on a trail that would lead reporters to what Carlo Bonini calls "junk intelligence."

BILL MOYERS: Junk has to be made by somebody. When you set out to find out who made the junk, where did the trail lead?

CARLO BONINI: For sure, the documents were cooked up and put together in Rome. There is no doubt about it. We had a chance to get these documents. We know where these documents came from. And we had a chance to knock at the door of the Niger Embassy in Rome, which is a tiny apartment in the center of the city. And the lady who opened the door was the lady you find in the story we reported. La Señora we call her.

BILL MOYERS: She was working for the Niger Embassy. But she was working...

CARLO BONINI: As a secretary, yeah. But she was a, she was a mole of SISMI inside the Embassy.

BILL MOYERS: The Italian intelligence agency.

CARLO BONINI: These documents has the fingerprints of La Señora, and has the fingerprints of a former police officer, a former SISMI agent named Rocco Martino.

BILL MOYERS: A rather shadowy, underworld character, right?

CARLO BONINI: Absolutely, in 2001, basically, a freelance agent in the shadow world of spies selling information, no matter if true or false.

BILL MOYERS: You mean he would make up information and sell it because he -

CARLO BONINI: If necessary. You know, it's - one of those guy that probably, you know - I mean, he's trying to make his life at the end of the month. And so he simply - I mean, at the time, he aspired to be could, we could report at the time, he was just going from Rome to Brussels to Paris to London to, just, you know, trying to figure out how to get some thousand Euros from pieces of information.

BILL MOYERS: But you say in the book he worked with Italian agents, legitimate agents to create this.

CARLO BONINI: That's the case. I mean, he told -

BILL MOYERS: What was their motive?

CARLO BONINI: Well, you know -

BILL MOYERS: Why would they want to deceive the American government?

CARLO BONINI: You know, this kind of, when you - back - you have to be, you have to think of October 2001.

BILL MOYERS: A month after 9/11.

CARLO BONINI: A month after September 9/11 - September 11. SISMI had a new director at the time. He took the post on October 15, 2001. So a new director is just nominated by Silvio Berlusconi.

BILL MOYERS: The Prime Minister.

CARLO BONINI: Prime Minister at the time. Berlusconi had won the general election five months before. He was eager, and he was pushing for strict, direct relationships with President Bush. The intelligence about Niger was a wonderful opportunity in terms of - I mean, politically speaking, it was a wonderful opportunity for SISMI to please the government, the Italian government. It was a wonderful opportunity for the Italian government to please the White House. And probably what happened was that no one at SISMI would ever thought that the story could go so far.

BILL MOYERS: So your speculation is that this guy was trying to make some money. Some Italian agency, SISMI agents, realized that they could make Berlusconi happy if they could give him information that he could bring to Washington and convince President Bush that he was on the President's side.

CARLO BONINI: Absolutely correct. That's basically - I mean, that's not what I believe. That's what facts that we've been reporting.

BILL MOYERS: When Prime Minister Berlusconi came to the White House with the story, do you think he knew the documents had been forged? Do you have any evidence that he knew?

CARLO BONINI: I don't have any evidence. But what I know, what I do know is that, as soon as the story took off, there is no chance, no chance that the government didn't ask the Secret Service for a full account of what was going on.

BILL MOYERS: I remember those pictures of Berlusconi coming to the White House, the coverage of it. He seemed a very happy man, when he was leaving.

CARLO BONINI: Absolutely. I would have died to be up there in a corner listening at that meeting.

BILL MOYERS: He gave the President something the President needed to make a case?

CARLO BONINI: Absolutely. And it was more than a smoking gun. It was a mushroom cloud. I mean, back in October, 2001, and early winter, 2002 - the White House had what he had been looking for for months. The final evidence that Saddam was restarting the nuclear program.

BILL MOYERS: By looking for this yellow cake?

CARLO BONINI: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: The President said the source was British intelligence. But you discovered it was Italian intelligence. Do you know why the President said it was British intelligence?

CARLO BONINI: Well, what happened here is what we call competitive intelligence.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean competitive? Why is it competitive?

CARLO BONINI: It means that you put a piece of raw intelligence in the circuit of the intelligence - allied intelligence agencies. And what happens is in the morning what is false turns into true facts at night. This information is given to the US intelligence. In the meantime, the same information is given to the British intelligence. The US intelligence checks the information with the British intelligence. And the British intelligence says, "Yeah, we have the same information." The point is that the two intelligence agencies, they don't have to share their sources. So nor the Americans or the Brits are going to say from whom they got the information. But they got a confirmation.

BILL MOYERS: So -

CARLO BONINI: Then they talk to the Italians. And the Italians say, "Oh, you had a confirmation from the British?" Rome talks to London, "Hey, you got a confirmation from Washington?" So the same piece of junk obtained in 48 hours, two different confirmations. It's a mirror game. I can say briefly when US intelligence received the information from the Italians, they - I mean, the CIA urged the DGSE - the French intelligence, the French CIA - to check the information because Niger is a former French colony. There's no better intelligence agency than the French one to double check a story like this. They worked hard on the information, and they came back saying there is nothing. This intelligence you received is simply junk intelligence. There is no evidence of such a deal between the Niger government and the Iraqi government.

BILL MOYERS: They told this to Washington.

CARLO BONINI: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: The junkyard dealer who started this...

CARLO BONINI: Rocko Martino.

BILL MOYERS: Did you ever find out what he got paid for this junk?

CARLO BONINI: No. No.

BILL MOYERS: So, we don't know whether he took this forgery to SISMI?

CARLO BONINI: Exactly.

BILL MOYERS: The intelligence agent, or whether they came to him?

CARLO BONINI: Exactly. Martino acted in a frame that had, you know, SISMI fingerprints everywhere.

BILL MOYERS: And SISMI, your intelligence agency, had this agent, this mole in the Niger Embassy in Rome.

CARLO BONINI: Who could provide, you know, the stamps, the letters. I mean, all the stationery needed to cook up this mess. So, I mean, SISMI, you know, a full involvement, it's absolutely clear also in making up the story. The problem is that Martino will never, I mean, it's actually he's a - his insurance - his personal insurance. I mean, he will never say, well, what had been promised to him, or before and afterwards, because what I know, and I remember when he we had a chance to talk to Martino. I mean, he was very frightened. I mean -

BILL MOYERS: Right.

CARLO BONINI: Yeah. I mean -

BILL MOYERS: That all there was coming out?

CARLO BONINI: Yeah. I mean, when the story finally went out of control of Rocco himself, or SISMI, of CIA, of White House, of Downing Street, everybody was scared. And you can imagine. Rocco Martino was badly scared.

BILL MOYERS: I can imagine him sitting at home with his glass of red wine watching CNN when the President.

CARLO BONINI:Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: Utters those 16 words.

CARLO BONINI:Yeah.

BILL MOYERS:What does this do to you in terms of your faith in the political process?

CARLO BONINI: Well, yeah, this story made me think about my job and reporting, the press - which I think is a key point in the political process. The press behaved as an equal chamber of political communication. You have false pieces of intelligence. You have competitive intelligence. Then you have policy makers. And then you have the press corps. And in this perfect - in this triangle that we call the perfect star, nothing is real, no check and balances. I mean, the victim is the truth. And the victim, obviously, is the public opinion.

BILL MOYERS: And the lesson is?

CARLO BONINI: And the lesson is journalism matters. That if you want to defend - I mean, your enemy, you know - in a war time - in wartime your enemy is the lies, is the propaganda. No matter if it's the propaganda of your enemies, or if it's the propaganda of your government. I mean, propaganda never gets good to the public opinion, to the people, to the army, to anybody. And, if you want, and the lesson is this one: we have to protect the public opinion, and in last instance, the democracy from propaganda.

Those of us in public television are always advising viewers like you to check your local listings. So, here we go again. Check your local listings or you will miss a fascinating series called "A Brief History if Disbelief" starting on some of our stations in the days ahead. Its creator is that British man for all seasons, Jonathan Miller. I'll talk to him in a moment but first-take a look at this excerpt of his series.

JONATHAN MILLER: It's interesting that the Christian faith is such a significant theme in American Public life today because when this country declared its independence in 1776, it also enshrined in law that the Church and State should be completely separate.

JONATHAN MILLER: The very first President of the United States, George Washington, for example was a very unenthusiastic church-goer who always walked out of the service before the congregation took the Sacraments and when the Rector of the church admonished him for this, Washington accepted that his sudden departure might after all seem to be a bad example, and so he subsequently never bothered to attend the church at all, and the Presidents who closely followed him in that office, were often, on record, as being considerably less than devout Christians.

Actor as JOHN ADAMS: "God is an essence we know nothing of. Until this awful blasphemy's got rid of there will never be any liberal science in the world."

Actor as THOMAS JEFFERSON: "The Clergy believe that any power confided in me will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly."

BILL MOYERS: Jonathan Miller is the guiding spirit behind the series, which follows him as he traces the roots of atheism, both throughout history, and throughout his own life.

Along the way, Miller talks with historians, anthropologists, scientists and others, trying to fathom the beliefs, and disbeliefs, of everyone from the 9-11 hijackers to the philosophers of ancient Greece.

For his part, Jonathan Miller says he never set out to be on television. As a younger man, he was a doctor, when out of the blue, he got a call from a very different vocation.

FROM "BEYOND THE FRINGE":

BILL MOYERS: "Beyond the Fringe" was intended as a one-time comedy show, but it exploded into a four-year sensation. A brilliant satirical revue that Miller starred in along with Peter Cook, Alan Bennett and Dudley Moore.

JONATHAN MILLER: "Welcome to our court!"

BILL MOYERS: The group's success on stage helped lure Miller away from medicine. He became an acclaimed theater director. He produced television programs. He's written books on everything from anatomy to art criticism. He's directed operas in fourteen countries. But for his latest TV project, Jonathan Miller focuses on his lifelong career as an atheist.

BILL MOYERS: How did you decide who you were going to be?

JONATHAN MILLER: I never really decided. I was distracted. I found myself yielding time and time again to unsolicited invitations to come out and play. And my whole life in the theater has been yielding I've said this many times I to people coming to the door with a Frisbee in their hands and saying, "Do you want to come out and play?" And it's happened so many times, that without ever seeking it, I took up directing, because someone asked me to come and direct a play after I'd done "Beyond the Fringe." And I said the to them, "I don't know how to direct a play." And George Devine, who was running the Royal Court, said, "Well, it doesn't matter. You'll pick it up as you go along." And then I found to my pleasure and surprise, that indeed I had picked it up as I went along. So, the my whole life away from medicine has been a series of yieldings, weak-mindedly, to seduction after seduction. So, that by the time five years has passed, my moral fiber had rotted to the point where I probably couldn't have gone back to medicine anyway.

BILL MOYERS:: Why did you decide to do this series? To go public with your doubts?

JONATHAN MILLER: I didn't think of it as going public. I just thought that it might be an interesting thing to talk about as a as a way in the mood of sociology; not in the mood of an evangelical determination to establish the legitimacy of disbelief.

BILL MOYERS: Unlike Richard Dawkins, you're not on a crusade.

JONATHAN MILLER: I'm not. No, I'm not on a crusade. You see, Richard, I think, is what I've always described as a born-again atheist. He was a Christian until he was about 16. And then he underwent a conversion. Whereas religion played no part in my life whatsoever. I came from a Jewish family, which was almost entirely secular. My father had a sort of amphibious relationship to his Jewish origin.

BILL MOYERS: Amphibious?

JONATHAN MILLER: Well, amphibious in the sense that he was a like he was a lungfish; half in and half out of Jewish water, you see.

FROM "A BRIEF HISTORY OF DISBELIEF":

JONATHAN MILLER: I was born in England but my grandparents came from Lithuania as Jewish refugees.

JONATHAN MILLER: I came here to several services when I was about 11 or 12, on what were called "the High Holidays" but I came here without knowing what I was participating in. It was conducted in a foreign language which I didn't understand, written in a text I couldn't even read. There was singing, but the singing was completely different to the singing with which I had grown much more familiar by virtue of the fact that I was a Prep School boy and attended Christian Prayers. This all happened at a time when I simply felt myself to be an English schoolboy, the only thing that I was rebelling against was, well it certainly wasn't the dogma or the doctrine because that was completely inaccessible to me, and I hadn't been introduced to it earlier, it was simply that coming here on those occasions took up time when I might otherwise be enjoying myself playing cricket.

BACK TO STUDIO:

JONATHAN MILLER: For a very long time, atheism was not an affirmation; it was accusation. I mean, that there was, you know, it was talked about, that there were atheists, in those same ways that there were Communists under the bed. You know, there were they were they were around, but no one knew where they were or what they looked like, or and so forth. As I say, for me, I am only a disbeliever by virtue of the fact that I'm surrounded by people who make assertions to which I cannot lend my assent.

BILL MOYERS: So you wouldn't be - you wouldn't have done this series unless people were rising up to confront you with beliefs that you found harmful?

JONATHAN MILLER: Well, there are two reasons. I think that I, perhaps felt inclined to undertake the series because I believe there were harmful outcomes from if from fanatical and overzealous beliefs. But also, I suppose that once the discussion got out in the open as a discussion, I simply was struck by the logical incoherence and inconsistency of what seemed to be a very strong feature of human mental life. And namely, a belief in supernatural agency. It seemed to me to make no sense. And therefore, I wanted to point out its philosophical inconsistency. Long before I became a scientist, long before I had-- knew anything about biology, let alone anything about natural selection, the thought of God never crossed my mind.

BILL MOYERS:: When you hear the word "God," what goes off in your head? How do your brain cells fire?

JONATHAN MILLER: Well, I mostly, I haven't the faintest idea what people are talking about. I mean, I hope and suppose that most of them do not, in fact, visualize it as a white-bearded figure in some empyrean, distant throne room. But in which case, I find it very hard to get out of them what they really mean by it. And or when I do bother to question them, I'm struck by a much deeper form of improbability; the idea of a disembodied intelligence. Something which what which wasn't-- which was everywhere, omnipresent, omniscient, universal, and at the same time, endowed with something which seemed to be, as far as I was concerned, peculiar to human beings. In other words, filled with intentions. The idea of intentions, and actions flowing from intentions, in something that doesn't have a body, and therefore, doesn't have interests, seemed to me make no sense at all.

BILL MOYERS:: But since you do wrestle with the search for explanations, how do you explain the phenomenon that so many people attribute to moments of epiphany like birth, and death, and sunrise and sunset, or the vastness of the stars, they -

JONATHAN MILLER: One you see, I'm always struck by the what I've always called, the vulgarity of the locations in which the awe-inspiring is felt. Why is it it's got to be sunset? Sunrise? Birth and death? Whereas, in fact, I am not immune to mystery and awe. But it's usually when I'm confronted by negligible things; the fact that there is anything. Not because I am lead, therefore, to believe that because there is something, rather than nothing, that it must have been intended by someone. But nevertheless I get rather impatient when people say that someone who does not believe in God doesn't, has no spiritual experience. I hate the word, "spiritual," anyway because it's been hijacked by this ghastly sort of new age lot, who talk about "spirituality." And what I would say is, I have moments of - I suppose you might call them transcendent feelings; feelings which rise above what is immediately in front of me. But on the other hand, they're almost entirely the result of what is immediately in front of me. Not birth; not death, though those are extremely important, and do give rise to very strong feelings. But often, just simply seeing that things are arranged in the way that they are. That there are ripples in the sand once the tide has gone out.

BILL MOYERS: William Carlos Williams found something inspirational and almost sacred in a little red wheelbarrow.

JONATHAN MILLER: In the red wheelbarrow. Yes. Well, I think that if you don't get feelings of the transcendent from the negligible and the impermanent, I think it's because you don't respect the universe enough. If you're not moved by that, and you require a sort of huge, transcendental cabaret in the shape of gods of one sort or another, or of one, it seems to me that it's almost vulgar to be greedy in that way.

BILL MOYERS: Do you ever try to push your mind back to the origin? To before the big bang? Do you have just a little, teenie-weenie bit of curiosity about what your fellow countryman, Robert Browning, called "the grand perhaps"?

JONATHAN MILLER: Not really. And I think the reason why I don't - well, there are several reasons why I don't. One is that I think that it may well be that, as a result of the more complicated forms of mathematics and mathematical physics, developed at the beginning of the twentieth century, we no longer think that time and space are simply infinite dimensions along which the calendar intervals simply extend and disappear into the distance. And therefore, that in the same way as Wednesday preceded last Thursday - I mean, last Wednesday preceded last Thursday - that there must, therefore, at the beginning of the universe, at the big bang - there must have been a sort of a Wednesday equivalent to the Thursday of the big bang. And that therefore, it could, in fact be pursued to an origin. It may well be that we've got the maths wrong. That we are no longer thinking correctly when we deal with gigantic orders of magnitude. That it isn't quite like the way in which you can organize a calendar.

BILL MOYERS: What, what is it?

JONATHAN MILLER: I haven't the faintest idea. But well, the one thing I am absolutely certain of that to simply say, by fiat, that because we don't understand the origin, then you suddenly put into the origin something which intended to start it all off at the origin.

BILL MOYERS:: God.

JONATHAN MILLER: God, or whatever. Something that said, "Oh, you know" I mean, and not in the Biblical sense, saying, "Let there be light." But something which, roaming around in a state of sort of divine, transcendental boredom, said, "Oh, oh, I don't know. Let there be a big bang. Ah." And then a little voice saying in the far left-hand corner of this uncreated universe, "No problem."

BILL MOYERS: Your anthropomorphizing science!

JONATHAN MILLER: You see, I think it's no good to suddenly say that before the big bang, was the big thought. And it just seems to me, to be nonsensical.

BILL MOYERS: But this is what has led, you know, millions of people, including some reputable philosophers, to conclude the watchmaker theory, you know. An agency in the universe that has to be explained.

JONATHAN MILLER: But it's because of the overextension of the notion of agency. I think that - well, when a child matures, it learns to restrict the zone in which it is legitimate and reasonable to impute agency as the cause.

BILL MOYERS: I'm not sure I understand that. What do you mean?

JONATHAN MILLER: Well, look. You look at a child who will talk, often in the early stages, about clouds moving across the sky. And will actually say, "The clouds want to go somewhere." The idea that the clouds are, in fact, going somewhere because of something which, in fact, blows them somewhere, doesn't occur to them. They think that clouds move for the same reason that I move my hand. And I think that what happens as we mature, as we grow up, we learn to see there's an area where it's meaningful, legitimate, and profitable to assign agency, and areas in which agency is not a relevant description. And it is a sign of the mature - non-poetic - simply the mature intelligence to be able to see that when the tide comes in, it's not coming in to meet me in the way that when I go out to meet the incoming tide, I'm going there in order to meet it.

BILL MOYERS: -- But the movement of the tides, the orbiting of the planets, the motion of the earth, people take those and conclude, "Intelligent design."

JONATHAN MILLER: Well, I think it's an inappropriate extension of the notion of agency. I think that we live in a universe in which there are diverse and often extremely complicated processes. And I think it's inappropriate to see them as the origin of originating in an intelligence related to our own.

From "A Brief History of Disbelief":

BILL MOYERS: In his series, Jonathan Miller comes to New York City where on September 11th, 2001, the specter of religious fanaticism showed its darkest side.

JONATHAN MILLER: It's some years since I was on the Staten Island Ferry and when I last looked back at it from here the skyline was dominated by the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. It seems quite odd to think of it in the light of religion, but it's absence now reminds me of the religious implications of what one saw on television on that hideous day. And we know that the men who did so did it in the name of a religion which they upheld against a society whose lack of religion, as they saw it, they deplored and whose support of Jewish claims in what is called the Holy Land they were implacably opposed to. Therefore, the conspicuous absence of the Twin Towers involving, as it does, the inherent conflicts between Christianity, Islam and Judaism, is, I think, one of the most powerful expressions of religious fanaticism in the late 20th and 21st centuries.

BACK TO INTERVIEW:

BILL MOYERS: Do you think those terrorists would have struck those buildings if they had not believed that they were acting with divine sanction?

JONATHAN MILLER: I find that very hard to be certain about. I think that there is a very large section of what happens to be the Muslim world which feels itself disadvantaged by the extraordinary power and success of the non-Muslim world. Not because they feel that there is something about what we've done to Muslims. But I think that they feel that there's something we have done to the people of the Middle East, who happen to be Muslims. There's no doubt about it, that the willingness to sacrifice their own lives in order to cause as much damage to other people's lives, was, in fact, determined by their religious beliefs. But the resentment which gave rise to the action in the first place, I don't think was altogether to do with religion. It's to do with some sort of sense of resentment at having been excluded from what seems to have been the political power of the Western world. And - but on the other hand, I am very surprised by the fact that, if that were the case, if that were the sole explanation, why is it that there are not African terrorists attacking us? Why is it that they are in fact by and large, Middle Eastern terrorists?

BILL MOYERS: Let me come back, in conclusion, to your series. You begin your conclusion to that series by saying, "So, where am I..."

FROM "A BRIEF HISTORY OF DISBELIEF"

JONATHAN MILLER: So where am I, at the beginning of a century, the end of which I certainly won't live to see, posthumously or otherwise? As I said at the outset I'm reluctant to use the word 'atheist' to describe my own unshakeable disbelief and that's not because I'm ashamed, afraid or even embarrassed, but simply because it seems so self evidently true to me that there is no God that giving that conviction a special title, somehow dignifies what it denies. After all, we don't have a special word for people who don't believe in ghosts or witches. But on the other hand, that doesn't mean that I think it was scarcely worth bothering with a series of this length; on the contrary there is a long history of atrocity committed in the name of religion and an equally long history of truly heroic opposition. So, in a sense this series is well, a tribute to those who have won for me and many others the right to stand up and be counted. But nowadays there's another and I think more important reason; in various parts of the world religion has undergone a politically dangerous form of revival So, one way or another I think it's increasingly important for those of us who don't believe to establish an eloquent and in all probability completely ineffectual resistance.

Back to Interview:

BILL MOYERS: Why ineffectual?

JONATHAN MILLER: Well, because I think that most of these movements-- which often flow from the irrational part of the human soul, and I'm unembarrassed to use the word "soul" but for the human mind-- that there is very little you can do to control them, unless in fact, you can make social and political arrangements which, minimize the mean and maximize the generous. And I see very little in the way things are at the moment which encourages me to believe that we will do very much to maximize the generous, and a great deal to look as if we're maximizing the mean and the wretched and the horrible.

BILL MOYERS: Jonathan Miller, thank you very much.

JONATHAN MILLER: Thank you very much indeed.

We had yet another reminder this week of just how much journalism matters. Thursday was World Press Freedom Day -- and the BBC, whose New York bureau is right next door to us, held a rally at the UN.

The BBC asked journalists around the world to call for the release of its correspondent, Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped at gunpoint in the Gaza Strip seven weeks ago. Gaza is one of the world's forlorn pockets of squalor and strife, its people impoverished, quarantined, and marginalized, and racked by factional violence. In addition to Johnston, thirteen journalists have been kidnapped there over the past two years. Until Johnston, none were held for more than two weeks. Alan Johnston has been missing almost two months. The silence means one less witness to a suffering people's ordeal. We add our voice to journalists around the world urging his release.

That's it for the JOURNAL. We'll be back next week. I'm Bill Moyers.

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