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Bill Moyers Responds...

Greetings to all:

I've been faithfully reading your posts during the weekends after each broadcast and wish that I could respond to each one individually. But not even Wm. F. Buckley could pull that off in today's vast cosmos of correspondents — and he was the best at answering letters of any editor around. I'll just make a few comments in response to some posts that represent more than one communicator:

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Benjamin asked: "Why do commentators and analysts use the term "we" when discussing the actions of the central government of the United States, as in: " 'We' bombed Iraq," or " 'We' tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib," etc?"

Benjamin, you're right about commentators and analysts using the term "we" when discussing the actions of the U.S. government. It's a sloppy habit, an expression sometimes of the "royal we" — ruling elites; sometimes of the "imperial we" — the superpower complex; or just a hasty short cut. But it's imprecise and misleading. The White House is not the government and the government is not the country. So keep rapping our knuckles when "we" do it.

Ralph asked: "Somewhere I heard you were raised in a strong Biblical setting as I was. What do you believe today?"

Ralph, I did grow up in a strong Protestant East Texas culture and was at home in it; I even went on to get a master's in divinity because I thought I would pursue a religious vocation. But seminary, as someone said, is where your questions are answered and life after seminary is when your answers are questioned. Furthermore, one day, if you're lucky, you discover the world's your home and you need a different vocabulary to describe your travels through it. Seems to me that wrestling with the questions is the heart of the matter. "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" those words are inscribed above the main building at my very secular alma mater, the University of Texas.

Royce asked: Is there any reason to be hopeful that the press failings in the run up to the Iraq war will be turned around in the future, given the reductions in news gathering (as opposed to bloggers and commentators) staff in light of business pressures (declining readership, and profit motives) on newspapers?

Royce, there's a lot of good journalism going on in this country, especially in magazines where writers are given time to produce serious reporting and are backed up by diligent fact-checkers. The New Yorker, Mother Jones, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's — just four of the many I read regularly. I read a lot of others for their opinions — left, right, and otherwise — to inform my own rather than to sway them. Also, there are good bloggers who take evidence-driven journalism seriously, most famously Josh Marshall at talkingpointmemo.com . For years, though, I have relied primarily on non-fiction books of reportage and analysis. One of the days I'll post my most recent favorites.

Many people asked about the state of the media after viewing BUYING THE WAR.

Richard asked: "By the way did the Knight Ridder (now McClatchy) stories have any influence on the demise of Knight Ridder?"

No, Richard, I don't think Knight Ridder's reporting about Iraq had anything to do with its demise as a group, or its sale to McClatchy. A handful of predatory investors for whom enough is never enough went after it like lions after a wounded gazelle.

Steve asked: "Would we have had a chance to avoid this tragic mistake if not for FOX news? I mean, was corporate ownership of the MSM (as mentioned by Rather) already enough to seal our doom?"

Steve, it's hard to say that corporate ownership of the MSM would have produced the misguided invasion without FOX (not that FOX isn't corporate, too) FOX wasn't around for the Vietnam war, or the Gulf War. Rightwing partisan talk radio was a powerful force in amplifying the Administration's propaganda — plus the "groupthink" in official circles, including media elites. For sure, FOX acted as the official White House cheerleader in the cable world (the only channel watched in most government offices), reinforcing the groupthink, and , as you heard Walter Isaacson, then CNN's top honcho, say in BUYING THE WAR, it sent the patriot police after anyone who dared challenge the party line. It had lots of help — from Murdoch's WEEKLY STANDARD, a pipeline from Douglas Feith's covert propaganda mill at the Pentagon, and others.

And Bob asked, "I was wondering why there was no mention of the STRONG silence from the academic community both in the run up and conduct of the Iraq War?"

Bob, there was some sustained challenge of the official view of reality from academics, but it didn't get serious press attention. More important, I would argue, a lot of conservative religious pastors, preachers, and televangelists were beating the drums for war, most conspicuously among my old denomination, the Southern Baptists, who are now pretty much an arm of the GOP ("God's Own Party.")

Ann asks if there is anything an ordinary citizen can do.

Organize locally to demand that editors (and executive producers) provide alternative views. Sign up with FreePress.net to fight media conglomeration, and read and support those independent magazines and websites that offer an antidote to the partisan noise machine. Create and join linked communities that spread the journalism you trust.

Alas, Jerry, I did ask Jerry Miller (the 200th inmate to be exonerated by DNA of a wrongful crime) about his plans for the future, but his answer didn't survive the squeeze of editing. He's working two jobs now and hopes to go into business. We'll ask him for an update and post it here.

A good suggestion, Merrily, to take a journalistic look at the Federalist Society. Stay tuned.

As for your criticisms of the interview with Bruce Bawer: In my book, not all interviews should be adversarial; some are designed to be conversational and to bring out what the subject believes and thinks,; you can get your wrestling matches in plenty of other places. But I dispute the claims several of you made that Bawer engaged in a "wholesale labeling" of the Christian Right or of Muslims in Europe. Read his books — Stealing Jesus, A Place at the Table, and, more recently, While Europe Slept — and you'll find that he deals in particulars, names names, points to plenty of examples of what he is talking about, and doesn't tar everyone with the same brush (Puleeze: Don't let a television interview substitute for going to the original source — the book! I wouldn't have had Bawer on if I didn't think you would then want to find out more.) What he said about the buckling under by European elites wasn't off base; I've followed that story too closely myself — including a long interview last year with Hirsi Ali — to dismiss the concerns. Bawer's no Muslim baiter, and quite honestly, anyone who says he is without reading his book should be ashamed. As for hearing some Muslim voices: Watch for my upcoming broadcast with the American Imam, Zaid Shakir.

Now, John, before you complain so loud and long about my grey hairs standing in the way of "new sharp talent" as I age, well, as my high school Latin teacher, Leatus Brown, might have said: Habeoque senectuti magnam gratism, quae mihi sermonis aviditatem auxit, potionis et cibi sustulit. Look it up: De Senectute. Ch. xiv. sec.46.

I do agree with some of you who lamented that I let Nick Gillespie get away with broad inconsistencies of libertarian political and economic positions. That's because in a relatively short segment there's a limit to what could be covered, and I was more interested this time around in Nick's response to our Pat Robertson/Regent University report. He strongly disagrees with Robertson but won't put out a contract on him for either his beliefs or ambitions as long as his his own leg isn't broken or his own pocket picked. But I am not that sangiune about Pat Robertson's missionary efforts; Regent's University hopes to be the Loyola of fundamentalism. By the way, I'm not sanguine about Nick Gillespie's gospel of "free markets," which would leave the lambs at the mercy of the lions (See the book Moyers on America.) I read Reason because it is smart and challenges assumptions, but the reason no one governs according to libertarianism is that it doesn't work in the real world; little did Thomas More know that when his Utopia was finally realized, it would exist only in Milton Friedman's head. When Nick told me he doesn't vote, I thought: What a treat — not to make choices. Anyway, I invited Nick to come back and we'll take up that argument in another segment.

P.S. Some of you have asked whether I will run for office, and I've said no, I can't afford the haircuts.
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Keep'em coming.
Bill Moyers



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Comments

Bill:
When you do invite Nick Gillespie back, a good topic for conversation would be Katha Pollit's column in the June 25,2007, issue of The Nation entitled "Tough Luck, Ladies", about the SC decision that normalizes on-the-job pay descrimination. One point she should have made is that employers only need to swear employees who get raises to secrecy, upon pain of firing or other negative discipline. So much for Gillespie's statement that everyone should be allowed to do what they want without "unncessary" laws because "you know how to live your life."

my dad is an old friend of Mr Moyers he is rev B.B. Dawn they graduated from Southwestern Seminary in Ft Worth TX hes is 77 years old and would like to talk to you agin. I realize you are verry busy but if you could talk to him it realy would mean a lot to him. thanks for your time ,Chris Dawn

Bill:
Would you consider doing a show on the Sandra Day O'Connor Project on the State of the Judiciary at Georgetown U. Law Center? Following the conference on an independent judiciary that she and Justice Breyer moderated in 2006, there is an ongoing education effort on the importance of an independent judiciary to democracy. Sometimes I think that the American public was absent en masse when the topic of the characteristics of democracy in general, and the independence of the judiciary in particular, was covered in their high school civics classes.

Bill:
Would you consider doing a show on the Sandra Day O'Connor Project on the State of the Judiciary at Georgetown U. Law Center? Following the conference on an independent judiciary that she and Justice Breyer moderated in 2006, there is an ongoing education effort on the importance of an independent judiciary to democracy. Sometimes I think that the American public was absent en masse when the topic of the characteristics of democracy in general, and the independence of the judiciary in particular, was covered in their high school civics classes.

How about a show on the PNAC and maybe one on the hundreds of signing statements Bush has used. Maybe some explanation of what this is all about.

Regarding the brief "We" question and response by Bill Moyers... Not to be confused with "Wei," the hot, new, video game controller!

I'm a bit surprised that I actually disagree with Mr. Moyers on this one, as he referred to the use of, "we bombed Iraq... we tortured, etc." as a "sloppy habit," possibly referring to a "royal we," or, "ruling elite."

Personally, I've always read that use of "we" literally, as an expression of our collective responsibility, as in; "We The People." The basic expression of Democracy that "we," all to often, tend to forget.

The Gov'ment did it - "they" started that nasty war - not something that I am associated with... Sure, but they did it with our tacit approval, our tax money and pre-emptively attacked another nation, in our good name, "We the People."

Sometimes, "we" are responsible for acts and events "we" are not proud of - nonetheless, bombs marked, "U.S." are made and delivered by; "We The People."

There's nothing sloppy about that simple fact...

sincerely;

tomfool


Hi there Bill, I loved catching your interview with Jon Stewart! Anyway I wonder if you've been following the Ron Paul campaign at all? How its grassroots support is growing at at unsurpassed momentum, in possibly campaign history. Id love to hear your opinion on the man and wonder if you plan on an interview with him in the near future? Please look him up if you haven't done so before.

Thank you, Mr. Moyers for all the great work you have done over the years. I am glad to see you back on PBS, I know you will once again bring respect to journalism and integrity to your profession.

I have followed you for years, and know from some of your past work, that you tell the facts, the truth, and let people draw their own conclusions. Thank you for doing what you do so well.

Can you do a report into how the blogs have helped to keep the truth out there, as people were railroaded into allowing this group lead our Nation down this road to Armagghedon. Need to investigate the waste of taxpayer money on no-bid, over cost contracts, including, but not only Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater, Diebold, and other voting machine companies, as well as pharma and CDC/homeland security response or lack of same to TB traveler...

What in the hell was their plan for this?? We didn't learn anything from the anthrax attacks after 911??? or are they still studying (sic) what happened, and haven't developed a plan B... maybe they just planned it, or allowed it to happen, with a plan C, to clean up the mess afterwards??? To give bush or cheney reason to declare a national emergency??? and martial law??? LOTS of great info thru the blogs, would like to hear YOUR take in one of your reports. Help us sort the facts from fiction... Thanks again.

You are wise to avoid Faux News. Even Daniel had to be thrown into the lions den. God Bless.

I believe Mr. Moyers would be interested in this reminder I offer him of his time as press secretary for LBJ. If he is interested, I'd like to share with him data I have on a man he may remember, John McNaughton, chief assistant in 1964-65 to Robert McNamara. I long ago worked with a younger John on his Dad's newspaper in Pekin, Ill. Thanks.

Morgaine Swann said everything I was thinking about your response to Benjamin regarding use of term "we" by commentators. I too feel we are all,to a certain degree, responsible for our elected leaders actions.

I'm glad you didn't include "aequalibus... qui pauci admodum restant." We aren't that old... yet!

A note to your typist: it's "gratiam," not "gratism."

While I'm nit-picking, a note to your webmaster: your server is encoding content with UTF8, but mislabeling it as ISO 8859-1. This makes apostrophes, and some other punctuation, show up as â (a with circumflex) followed by some bytes of gibberish.

I recall your segment on Prof. Clifton Grubb fondly. For years I had a copy of the transcript.

I'd like to see that one again, and wouldn't mind re-reading the transcript.

So great to be able to watch your insightful reporting once again. And if you run for the presidency I will raise money for your haircuts. :)

Just a note to thank you,Mr. Moyers, for bringing your journalistic talents back to PBS. I can't tell you how gratifying it is to hear such topical subjects in your lucid and thoughtful manner.

Is the interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali available anywhere, online or otherwise?

Thanks for responding, Bill; keep up the great work.

In depth exploration of any topic is incompatible to commercial TV nowadays and I look forward to your interviews as a highlight of the week to keep myself informed.

Mr. Moyers - What responsibility do you feel the New York Times has in its complicity in selling the war by printing Judith Miller's propaganda?

Also, just before the US went into Iraq, there was a coordinated protest by millions of people all over the planet - the first in history - and they were dismissed as a "focus group" by Mr. Bush. What are your thoughts on that?


I respectfully disagree with your response to Benjamin regarding use of the term "we" by commentators. Whether individuals agree with the actions of the central US government or not, that government is not some autonomous entity. We the people put that government in place. The sense of responsibility I feel for the actions the government has taken help motivate me to get involved and attempt to change things. I think this lack of feeling responsible for the actions of our government is one of the reasons voter turnout is so embarassingly low here in the US. We did bomb Iraq. We did torture prisoners at Abu Ghraib. I might not have been there in person, but my actions (my votes, my communication with my elected representatives, etc) make me (and you and everyone else here in the US) responsible for those acts. I agree that precision is needed in use of the term 'we' but in this case, I think it's definitely justified.

I'm a UK citizen, but I find the political situation in the US fascinating. I'm amazed at the rhetoric and name calling you find on your news outlets, not just from the right on Fox but also from people like (the increasingly petulant) Olbermann on MSNBC.

Anyway, I watched Bill O'Reilly's commentary on your "Buying the War" piece and noticed it was largely an ad-hominem attack on you without much commentary on the facts presented. I can understand why you refuse to go on O'Reilly's program - he's not terribly fair to his interviewees - but how do you deal with such unbalanced criticism of your work from such a powerful source? Are you not tempted to go on "The Factor" and try to state your case?

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