ANNOUNCER: From our studios in New York, Bill Moyers and David Brancaccio.
BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW. In the news this week plenty of opportunity to compare and contrast.
On one side, the President gives George Tenet, the man in charge of the CIA at the time of the 9/11 attacks, this country's highest civilian award, the presidential medal of freedom.
On the other side, the President today signs a law that will turn the CIA upside down because of all of its intelligence failures. The independent 9/11 Commission pushed for these changes after the CIA failed repeatedly to uncover information about the terrorists' intentions.
MOYERS: As usual, we're not making this up. It's all on the record. And thanks to a front page story in the NEW YORK TIMES this week, we have also learned of a debate raging in the corridors of the Pentagon. Seems some folks there want to go even further in using lies and misinformation to manipulate public opinion abroad.
We have news for them. A former corporal in the German army learned how to do that first. In his gospel of MEIN KAMPF, the future fuehrer of Nazi Germany wrote that, "The great masses of people…will more easily fall victim to a great lie than to a small one."
Which brings us to our first subject. On the eve of the election last month my wife Judith and I were driving home late in the afternoon and turned on the radio for the traffic and weather. What we instantly got was a freak show of political pornography: lies, distortions, and half-truths half-truths being perhaps the blackest of all lies. They paraded before us as informed opinion.
Now we weren't born yesterday, and what we heard was not news to us. But it came with such force, so close to the election, and from one of the country's most powerful corporations, that the message and the moment seemed more malignant than ever.
One would have thought after terrorist attacks of 9/11 that the need for credible news and opinion, reliable and verifiable, would have found an answer from those who could supply it. That's not happened. Our report was produced by our long-time colleague, Kathleen Hughes.
ANNOUNCER: Now, live from the underground command post. Mark Levin….
MOYERS: November 1, 2004. Just one day before the election.
LEVIN: If Kerry wins, the military loses. If Kerry wins, law enforcement loses. If Kerry wins, national security, your neighborhoods, and your family lose.
MOYERS: On this day alone WABC radio owned by the Walt Disney Corporation that's Walt Disney as in Mickey Mouse would treat New Yorkers to 9 straight hours of Kerry bashing.
ANNOUNCER: From coast to coast...
MOYERS: And New Yorkers weren't the only ones targeted.
ANNOUNCER: ...to shining sea, Sean Hannity is on 77 WABC…
MOYERS: ABC radio talk show host Sean Hannity is syndicated on 420 radio stations around the country, reaching almost 12 million people.
HANNITY: If you don't want John Kerry to be your president, if you don't want to retreat in the war on terror, if you don't want Osama to get his way, then my advice to you is to get out and vote.
ANNOUNCER: You're in a Rush groove, baby!
MOYERS: And then there's Rush Limbaugh, the godfather of talk show hosts.
LIMBAUGH: John Kerry, on the eve of the election, a man who doesn't want to be pinned down on anything...
MOYERS: He has twenty million faithful listeners every week, and he's heard in all 50 states.
He's spawned scores of Limbaugh wannabes. A nationwide survey indicates that more than 90 percent of all political talk radio programs reflect conservative views. They constitute a virtual propaganda army of the Right, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
FOX NEWS PROMO: We report, you decide.
MOYERS: And then there's television.
FOX NEWS PROMO: Fair and balanced. Tomorrow only one network…
MOYERS: Over on cable, one day before the election Bill O'Reilly was being foxy indeed.
O'REILLY [11/1/04]: As you know, THE FACTOR doesn't endorse candidates but I do want to recommend that you avoid Dr. Betty Castor who is running for the Senate in Florida…
MOYERS: He was spinning out not one, but two "non-endorsements" for Republican candidates for the Senate.
O'REILLY [11/1/04]: Also it looks like Tom Daschle will be defeated by John Thune for a Senate seat from South Dakota. That is a good thing as Daschle for decades has put politics above the folks, obstructing good legislation because it came from the other party. We wish Mr. Thune the best.
MOYERS: Sean Hannity, Fox's other popular anchor the same Sean Hannity syndicated on 420 radio stations took "fair and balanced" out on the road.
HANNITY [10/30/04]: He is the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time in history.
MOYERS: Ardently stumping for the Republican ticket before crowds in three swing states, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
HANNITY [10/30/04]: The polls show we can take Pennsylvania with your help.
MOYERS: And who is we? The President of the United States and his good buddy, Sean Hannity. Listen to this bit of fair and balanced interviewing:
HANNITY: Do you think that when he says these things, John Kerry, your opponent, and you were in these three debates with him, do you think he knows he's not telling the truth? I mean…
G.W. BUSH [10/25/04]: I'm not sure, Sean.
MOYERS: This past election Americans experienced the full might and moxie of the right wing media frontline partisan warriors of a multibillion-dollar communications empire whose goal is to shape public discourse, influence public opinion and win elections.
Think back to how right wing pundits ganged up to spread the message, without a shred of hard evidence, that Osama bin Laden's latest video, which arrived just days before the election meant the terrorist was supporting John Kerry.
LIMBAUGH [11/1/04]: This is highly suspicious to me, but it is what it is. I mean, Bin Laden sounds like the Kerry campaign. Bin Laden sounds like John Kerry.
MOYERS: Bin Laden "Urges Bush Defeat" read the headline in right wing tycoon Rupert Murdoch's NEW YORK POST. The very next day a POST columnist wrote that "A vote for Kerry is a vote for …terrorists….and Al Qaeda."
And listen to Sean Hannity:
HANNITY [10/29/04]: Why would Osama bin Laden, who's been quiet for so long, come out and virtually try and influence the election today in favor of John Kerry by attacking the president the way he did?
MOYERS: Do you think what Sean Hannity said is fair?
VIGUERIE: Oh, absolutely.
MOYERS: But there's no fact to back that up. There's no effort to substantiate that with documentation.
VIGUERIE: That's what journalism is. It's just all opinion. Just opinion.
MOYERS: So says Richard Viguerie, a founding father of the modern conservative movement and still one of its most powerful figures. In this new book, Viguerie tells the story of how over the past 40 years the right came to dominate American politics by creating alternative and new media, everything from computerized direct mail to Fox News.
O'REILLY [10/29/04]: This Osama bin Laden video was just released late this afternoon. And I believe it will help President Bush.
MOYERS: Fox whipped the Osama tape into a perfect storm of Republican propaganda.
O'REILLY [10/29/04]: But I want to know if you believe the way I do that this helps Bush or not?
MOYERS: Fred Barnes.
BARNES [10/29/04]: Next to actually capturing Osama Bin Laden, having him campaign against you was probably the best thing that could happen.
MOYERS: Peggy Noonan.
NOONAN [10/29/04]: George Bush weakened him. He hates Bush.
MOYERS: Dick Morris.
MORRIS [10/29/04]: So obviously it's a design on his part to help Kerry.
MOYERS: All opinion…not a whiff of reporting or documentation or evidence.
REPORTER: Conservative broadcaster Sean Hannity brought some friends to Pensacola to rally Republicans.
MOYERS: What do you make of the fact that Sean Hannity went barnstorming for the Bush-Cheney ticket the weekend before the election?
VIGUERIE: I just wish he could have done a little bit more. I thought it was just great. And we're not gonna play, Bill, by the liberal establishment's rules. They say, "This is acceptable and this is not acceptable."
Those days are gone and gone forever.
MOYERS: Forty years ago Viguerie pioneered the use of direct mail to make an end-run around the mainstream media, which he says was controlled by liberal gatekeepers who disdained conservatives.
VIGUERIE: When I first got involved in national politics in the early 60s, for the most part conservatives were ignored. You know, there was just almost no way that we could, you know, get into the establishment media. And the few times that we did we were attacked and vilified.
MOYERS: In those days I never saw a Walter Cronkite or a David Brinkley, the anchormen of those days endorse candidates, or propagate a partisan viewpoint as I see now in the conservative movement.
VIGUERIE: Well, I think you have to recognize the difference between the Peter Jennings, the Dan Rathers, Tom Brokaws and a Rush Limbaugh and a Sean Hannity. They're clearly identify themselves as conservative partisans. They're up front about it.
And, they make no claim to be an objective unbiased observer. And that's fine. You have people on the left, Mario Cuomo, Jim Hightower, others have Al Franken. They're out there with a point of view. And…
MOYERS: None with the megaphone that your side has.
VIGUERIE: But that's the marketplace. The marketplace has decided they want to give the conservatives a bigger microphone than they do the liberals. And, that's saying Bill, that the American people like the message they're hearing from the Rush Limbaughs, the Sean Hannitys of the world more than they do from the liberal commentators.
MOYERS: That's not how David Brock sees it. What the conservatives have done, he says, is create not a market but a monopoly of political propaganda masquerading as news. It's the theme of his new book, THE REPUBLICAN NOISE MACHINE.
BROCK: What goes on in conservative media is a systematic and intentional effort to misinform and to distort.
And I think the proof of that is that even after being called to account, you see continued repetition of just information that's wrong.
MOYERS: He offers this example among many: Right before the election, THE WASHINGTON TIMES, the conservative daily newspaper funded by the Rev. Sun Young Moon, quoted a Republican Congressman saying that back in 1997, on CNN's CROSSFIRE John Kerry had advocated pre-emptive military strikes against Iraq.
BROCK: And then the article said that there was no transcript available for CROSSFIRE in 1997. That didn't sound right. We found the transcript quickly, and sure enough the transcript showed that Kerry didn't say what the WASHINGTON TIMES had said.
MOYERS: But the truth wasn't enough to keep right wing Web sites and Fox News rom running with the story.
FOX NEWS REPORTER [9/24/04]: But New York Republican Congressman Peter King says Kerry took a different position on CNN's Crossfire in 1997.
BROCK: There's a synergy in the conservative media that most media corporations would envy. Today, a false or wrong article in the WASHINGTON TIMES is read on the air by Rush Limbaugh, reaching 15 to 20 million people. The author of that piece can go on THE O'REILLY FACTOR, reaching another five to ten million. Matt Drudge, the internet gossip, will post the article, reaching another six million.
And that's the kind of racket that liberals don't really have access to. Which is very committed, and very cooperative… a lot of cooperation between official organs of the Republican party, Republican advocacy organizations, and their media.
MOYERS: Today David Brock runs a watchdog group called Media Matters for America, funded by liberal donors to keep an eye on conservative media. You wouldn't know it to hear him now, but for twelve years Brock was a militant warrior in the very attack machine he now critiques.
As an idealistic conservative fresh out of college he came to Washington and worked for the Rev. Moon's WASHINGTON TIMES, the Heritage Foundation, and the magazine AMERICAN SPECTATOR. He wrote scathing exposes of the Clintons and a factually inaccurate but best-selling book about Anita Hill.
ANITA HILL [10/11/91]: He talked about pornographic materials...
MOYERS: She's the former colleague of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas who accused him of sexual impropriety.
But then Brock recanted, confessing in a book called BLINDED BY THE RIGHT that it was all part of a campaign based on lies, hate and hypocrisy.
BROCK: I do think I have some unique insight into how corrupting and how dangerous the conservative movement is. And to me…
BROCK: I think, yes. Because so much is based on… Well, I'm just gonna have to say that there are a lot of lies being told.
MOYERS: In his new book, Brock says the key to the success of the right-wing media is "…opinion…predicated on a raft of distortions, misrepresentations, and outright lies presented to the readers and viewers as fact."
BROCK: I think it used to be that if you walked into a newsroom and you had no documentary evidence whatsoever for your charges, the newsroom might take a pass. Now today, the conservatives have figured out how to make an end run around requiring any proof.
SWIFT VET #1: I served with John Kerry.
SWIFT VET #2: I served with John Kerry.
MOYERS: Case in point: those attacks on John Kerry's Vietnam War record by a group calling itself the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. One of their biggest donors, Bob Perry. was also a big contributor to George W. Bush back in Texas and has given millions of dollars to Republican causes.
MOYERS: Let's take an example of how the right wing machine works. Take the Swift Boat ads.
VIGUERIE: Well, the Swift Boat people came to a small conservative publisher, Regnery, and fellas get together that had not talked to each other in 30 years and they write this book and they published it in a matter of a couple of months after they got the manuscript. Matt Drudge got a hold of the manuscript July 30th.
MOYERS: Totally journalistic probing, right?
VIGUERIE: And, you know, within, you know, a day or two it was all over the internet. You know within a few days after that talk radio had lifted it to another level. Cable television took it up there.
BRIT HUME [8/12/04]: A new book entitled UNFIT FOR COMMAND accuses Kerry of hyping his war record for political purposes. Many of the charges are explosive but do they add up?
HANNITY [8/10/04]: They contradict just about every story he has told about his experience here.
VIGUERIE: And for three and a half weeks, Bill, it was totally and completely ignored by the mainstream media. CBS, NEW YORK TIMES, TIME Magazine. Nobody touched it.
MOYERS: Those news outlets did in fact take notice of the ads, but it would take time to try and nail down exactly what happened in Vietnam 35 years ago, even though the official record appeared to contradict most of what the Swift Boaters were saying. But by turning up the volume and keeping it up, the partisan media made it a story others couldn't ignore.
VIGUERIE: And it got to be such a big story out there, through the new and alternative media, that the mainstream media, the above the radar media, no longer could ignore the story.
O'REILLY [8/9/04]: The Swift Boat controversy continues.
MOYERS: Several weeks after the attacks had been repeated over and again on cable television, the fact-checkers finally caught up.
In late August, some of the nation's major newspapers published their own investigations showing that many Swift Boaters who said Kerry had lied about his service had not been eyewitnesses to his actions in Vietnam; some who had praised Kerry's valor in years past were now contradicting themselves. The military's own records backed up the story of Kerry's conduct in the line of fire.
BROCK: And the bottom line is, there was never a military record that surfaced during this entire six weeks that showed anything to substantiate or verify what the Swift Boat veterans were saying.
MOYERS: When the mainstream media got a hold of that story, they began to deconstruct it. They begin to say, "This isn't right. That isn't right. There's no basis for this. There's no basis for that." But by that time it was too late, right?
VIGUERIE: Well, that's a matter of opinion as to whether there was a basis for this story or that story.
But you know, that's the beauty of having thousands of sources of news and information out there so that people can make up their own decision. They can believe what the NEW YORK TIMES and CBS says about the Swift Boat issue or they can believe what the Swift Boat people say.
BROCK: It really was a made-up story. Now, it's not to say they didn't have genuine feelings, that they didn't approve of what John Kerry did when he got back from the Vietnam War. But they never proved that John Kerry didn't earn his war medals.
MOYERS: Was there some one person who pushed the button and set the machinery in motion?
VIGUERIE: No. It's just that's the nice and exciting thing that we do not have what Hillary referred to as a vast right wing conspiracy.
MOYERS: But did you ever in your wildest imagination conceive that you conservatives would have the media power you have today?
VIGUERIE: Clearly not, Bill. In the 1960s and 70s, nobody could conceive then of the internet or cable television. You know, cable television didn't come on the scene till 1980 even. So we never gave up, like the Israelites in the Bible, we had to wander through the desert for forty years until we got to the Promised Land.
MOYERS: And look who would lead them across the Jordan River.
LIMBAUGH : An excellent role model for the youth of American or anybody else needing guidance, for that matter. I am Rush Limbaugh.
MOYERS: Irreverent, partisan, choosing his own version of the facts.
LIMBAUGH : Follow me.
LIMBAUGH [3/21/90]: The left is always every cause is based upon the apocalypse THE OZONE hole. Oh no, we're destroying the ozone, with cans of hairspray. There is no ozone hole now!
LIMBAUGH : I've read every newspaper there is. I know every thing in every newspaper.
MOYERS: By 1994, Limbaugh's daily radio and TV shows set the agenda for Republican partisans, giving them what Richard Viguerie calls "the news hour by hour."
LIMBAUGH [7/26/94]: I want you to understand before we start what the crime bill really is. It's nothing more than a 30 million dollar social welfare spending bill.
VIGUERIE: In 1993 and 1994, he was the salvation of the conservative movement. Every day Rush Limbaugh would give us our marching orders, if you would.
MOYERS: So grateful were the Republicans that after they took control of both Houses in 1994, their new leader Newt Gingrich named Limbaugh an honorary Congressman.
MOYERS: Newt Gingrich said without Limbaugh, Republicans would never have become the majority in the House and the Senate. You remember that?
VIGUERIE: I remember it very well. That was at a meeting the Republicans had shortly after the November 1994 election. And no matter what Rush does the rest of life, he probably will never achieve greater heights in terms of the warmth and the feeling that conservatives had for him.
MOYERS: Nowadays it's not just Rush Limbaugh and his wannabes on talk radio who are generating warm feelings on the right. There's also Hannity and O'Reilly and their kind on cable, out-influencing American elections, and this year there was a newcomer on the block, eager to throw its weight around, Sinclair Broadcasting.
Sinclair controls or maintains 62 local television stations in 39 markets across the country, including 3 CBS affiliates, 4 NBC affiliates, and 8 ABC affiliates. Its top brass donates heavily to the Republican Party. Sinclair made news last spring when it told its local ABC affiliates not to air a special broadcast of NIGHTLINE.
Here's what Sinclair's viewers were prevented from seeing and hearing the names and faces of Americans killed in Iraq.
KOPPEL: ...Donald Cline, Jr., Robert Dowdy, Ruben Estrella-Soto...
MOYERS: Sinclair said the broadcast was a political, anti-war statement.
KOPPEL: Jonathan Gifford.
LEIBERMAN: Security is still a major issue here…
MOYERS: None of this surprised Jon Leiberman.
Until recently Leiberman was one of Sinclair's rising stars, reporting from Baghdad even as he served as the news department's Washington Bureau chief.
LEIBERMAN [10/28/04]: We would do five stories a week out of our Washington bureau. Four of them, at the direction of my higher-ups, were anti-Kerry stories and the fifth was normally a pro-administration story.
MOYERS: On this evening he's speaking to journalism students at the University of Maryland.
LEIBERMAN: If you were a viewer of our newscasts, you wouldn't have known about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal for two weeks if all you did was watch our newscasts. Instead, we were going after John Kerry.
That gives you a little bit of an example a real life example of what is balanced and what is fair.
MOYERS: Then, three weeks before the recent election, Sinclair flexed its corporate muscle again. All 62 of its television stations many in swing states were ordered to run a documentary amplifying those disputed Swift Boat charges against John Kerry.
KIMMELMAN: So on comes Sinclair Broadcasting, a company that owns 60-plus stations around the country, local broadcast stations. They get a public license to serve the public interest, and they're supposed to be fair and balanced in how they do it. And they say they're going to air a one-sided documentary favorable to one candidate.
MOYERS: Gene Kimmelman is director of the Consumers Union in Washington.
KIMMELMAN: When we heard Sinclair was planning to air this documentary, we contacted them and said, you've got public licenses. You've got 60-plus stations. Have you asked people whether they think right before an election it's good or fair to air a one-sided documentary? Do you think maybe if you do air it, you ought to be putting the opposite point of view on, also during prime time, and give it an equal chance to counterbalance the other documentary? We didn't get a response.
MOYERS: So Kimmelman organized a coalition of citizens groups across the country to challenge Sinclair. It worked. Sinclair backed down and said it wouldn't run the entire film. Instead, it would be excerpted as part of a news special. Four days before air, the news team was called in to put it together. Jon Leiberman was at the meeting.
LEIBERMAN: I knew that they were just trying to masquerade this documentary as news. And I stood up and I looked around and I said, "If we do this and we call it news, every person in this room will lose their credibility. And we will wake up on Friday morning and our news division will be devastated."
MOYERS: For Leiberman it was the last straw. He left the meeting and told the BALTIMORE SUN what was happening. Sinclair promptly fired him.
LEIBERMAN [10/28/04]: Everybody in that room wanted to stand up and say, "We're journalists; we wanna do the right thing."
MOYERS: Refusing to toe the party line can indeed be costly. Just ask Charles Goyette.
ANNOUNCER: And the talk of Arizona. Here is Charles Goyette.
GOYETTE: And good morning…
MOYERS: He's a familiar voice in Phoenix, Arizona, where he's been on radio for nearly 20 years.
By the year 2000 Clear Channel Communications the nation's largest owner of radio stations was getting even bigger. It had bought up eight stations in Phoenix and hired Goyette as a drive time talk show host.
GOYETTE: And I joined them when they came into the market. And it was wonderful. And they treated me well, and I liked it, and I had a great shift, and we built a huge following.
And at the time that I was hired, there was no specification in my contract that I would have taken my talking points from the RNC or from anybody else. It was just, you know, come in, do a responsible, informative, and entertaining radio show.
MOYERS: Goyette is an avowed conservative. But as the nation prepared for the Iraq war, he started asking the kind of questions you didn't hear coming from most other talk show hosts.
GOYETTE: And I'd bring on retired CIA professionals to talk about the intelligence and the way that it was being twisted and turned. So it wasn't just me saying, "Shut up, the President is wrong."
MOYERS: Meanwhile, some of Clear Channel's 1200 stations coast to coast were sponsoring rallies, ostensibly to support the troops in Iraq. Goyette refused to attend his company's rally in Phoenix.
GOYETTE: I had management people saying, "We expected you to be a patriot." Well, I was being a patriot. And support our troops? I wanted our troops to all come home alive. But the "Support Our Troops" rally became really virtually indistinguishable from "Support Bush" rallies. And the chants were, we support our President. We support George W. Bush. And of course, I didn't.
MOYERS: Finally, Goyette says, his higher ups at Clear Channel put their foot down.
GOYETTE: Management directed me to shut up about the war. I mean, they simply told me to, you know, to shut up about the war. I told them I can't do that.
MOYERS: Goyette was exiled to the night time shift. Clear Channel officials say the move had nothing to do with politics, just ratings.
Once his contract expired, he moved here to KFNX, one of the few independently owned stations in Phoenix.
Six months before Charles Goyette wound up on the night shift, another Clear Channel radio host in South Carolina was also arguing that the war was unjustified. She was fired. She's suing Clear Channel, arguing she was let go for her political opinions. As in the case of Goyette, Clear Channel representatives said the decision had to do with ratings, not politics.
Gene Kimmelman says the line between business and politics is getting more and more blurred.
KIMMELMAN: Besides the bottom line orientation, we're seeing some political influence come into play, where some of the people who own the media companies may be not even trying to make the most money, they're trying to get certain people elected to office. They're trying to promote a particular political point of view. Now, when that comes into play, it changes the entire landscape of what is fair in presenting news and information to the American people.
BROCK: Well, it means that people just don't have access to the information they need anymore.
MOYERS: Consider this: as people were preparing to vote this November, a Harris Poll found that 41% of American adults still bought the line that Saddam Hussein helped plan the September 11th attacks on the U.S.
Although there was never a shred of evidence to support that, and even after the official 9/11 commission said there was no evidence, the constant drumbeat of a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda continued to reverberate through the echo chamber of right wing talk radio and Rupert Murdoch's media empire.
O'REILLY [5/25/04]: It was here that Saddam Hussein trained terrorists.
MOYERS: No one has done more to keep alive the White House line on the war in Iraq and the discredited claims of links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein than Murdoch and his minions.
HUME [6/27/04]: That controversy has simmered for weeks now and a newly disclosed document confirmed a further contact between Iraq and Al Qaeda has not...
MOYERS: And there's more to come. Fox News now claims more viewers than any of its rivals.
HANNITY: I'm Sean Hannity…
MOYERS: Earlier this week Fox News announced that Zell Miller, the right-wing Democrat who delivered the keynote speech at last summer's Republican convention, will join the illustrious fair and balanced news team.
MILLER [9/1/04]: Our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of a Democrat's manic obsession to bring down our Commander-in-Chief.
MOYERS: And just last week Fox News made a deal with Clear Channel, the colossus of radio. Clear Channel will carry Fox News Radio on most of its news/talk stations.
As for Walt Disney and ABC Radio, they reportedly have signed Sean Hannity to a 25 million dollar deal, assuring him of being around and heard for several elections to come.
MOYERS: All of this makes Richard Viguerie one happy warrior.
This profile of how you conservatives did come to power with alternative media. But if you did it after the election, you would have to add an epilogue that said, "We won."
VIGUERIE: And as soon as I sell the copies that are in print right now, we'll update it.