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April 27, 2007

"Open-Source Journalism"

Back in 1999, Salon columnist Andrew Leonard coined the term, "Open-Source Journalism" while describing a story where a writer for JANE'S submitted an article for critique prior to publication to "Slashdot," after which readers "sliced and diced the story into tiny pieces," to such degree that an editor at the magazine later announced that the article would not be published after all. Leonard poses the question:

Will better journalism ensue if more reporters and editors beta test their own work? Hard to say — in the deadline-crazed world of technology journalism, there's often hardly enough time to get a story properly copy edited and proofed, let alone reviewed by hundreds of frothing critics. Still, the principle is worth taking a look at. There's an immense amount of expertise on the Net — sites like Slashdot are pioneering new territory as they facilitate access to that knowledge, to the great and last benefit of all.

The tremendous growth in readership of political blogs in the last five years, such as Josh Marshall's Talkingpontsmemo, which receives close to a million visitors a month, has put this concept to test outside just the technology news arena. As Marshall explains in a blog post from April 3, 2005:

"It would have been impossible for me, for instance, to have written most of what I've written on Social Security over the last few months if I didn't have literally thousands of people reading their local papers and letting me know what they're seeing or reporting back from townhall meetings or giving me the heads up on things that are about to break on the hill. That's not a replacement for journalism; it's different. But it's potentially very powerful."

What do you think?

Have blogs and the Internet in general strengthened or weakened the craft of journalism?

Bill Moyers: On the Record

Since the Wednesday broadcast of our documentary Buying the War there has been an overwhelmingly positive response from the press and the public, some of it right here on this blog. But some in the White House press corps have expressed dissatisfaction over the way we portrayed the Presidential press conference of March 6, 2003. Bill Plante, a friend and former colleague, and April Ryan of the Urban Radio Networks have contacted me directly, and CBS's Mark Knoller made comments that ran at CBSNews.com.

I invite you to watch what we ran in the documentary and read the transcript and judge for yourself. We posted the transcript on our site before the broadcast, by the way.

We began the documentary with that press conference because it crystallized how the Administration controlled the flow and content of information leading up to the war. Our particular focus was on how the press failed to challenge the President on the Administration’s assertion of links between Saddam and Al-Qaeda. If you read the transcript from the program, you will see that I pointed out that "at least a dozen times during this press conference he [the President] will invoke 9/11 and Al Qaeda to justify a preemptive attack on a country that has not attacked America. But the White House press corps will ask no hard questions tonight about those claims." There were questions about the war, but if you go to the actual record of the press conference, you will find the President wasn’t challenged on his assertion that Saddam was somehow in league with terrorists who brought us 9/11. I remember watching the press conference and the surreal way it played out.

It was also on this occasion that the President confessed publicly what the members of the press who were present already knew: the press conference was "scripted." Bill Plante wrote me to say that it "was no more 'scripted' than any other" press conference he’d attended in recent years. So? Isn’t it about time the public knew how the game is rigged? Especially on the eve of war? Wouldn’t it have been to the public's benefit if at least one reporter shot up his or her hand and insisted the President throw his list away? Helen Thomas, where are you now that we need you? But Helen was banished.

Looking back on the night, NEW YORK TIMES White House correspondent Elisabeth Bumiller told a group of journalism students: "I think we were very deferential because ... it's live, it's very intense, it's frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you' re standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country's about to go to war…There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time."

Let me repeat, that confession by a member of the press corps: “I think we were very deferential.” Another member of the press corps had this to say in the NEW YORK OBSERVER: "'I don't think he was sufficiently challenged," said ABC News White House correspondent Terry Moran. He said Mr. Bush's hyper-management left the press corps ‘looking like zombies.’”

We used Ms. Ryan’s exchange with the President (watch here) to demonstrate that it was no secret that the President had acknowledged he was calling on selected journalists. We took the essence of her question and the President’s response, and did her a favor in doing so. If there’s any doubt just read the transcript:


THE PRESIDENT: April. Did you have a question, or did I call upon you cold?
Q Oh, I have a question. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. I'm sure you do have a question.

Q Mr. President, as the nation is at odds over war, with many organizations like the Congressional Black Caucus pushing for continued diplomacy through the U.N., how is your faith guiding you? And what should you tell America -- well, what should America do, collectively, as you instructed before 9/11? Should it be "pray?" Because you're saying, let's continue the war on terror.


Even though the president at first responds with something about diplomacy, notice how quickly he brings the conversation back to 9/11.


THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that question a lot. First, for those who urge more diplomacy, I would simply say that diplomacy hasn't worked. We've tried diplomacy for 12 years. Saddam Hussein hasn't disarmed, he's armed.

And we live in a dangerous world. We live in new circumstances in our country. And I hope people remember the -- I know they remember the tragedy of September the 11th, but I hope they understand the lesson of September the 11th. The lesson is, is that we're vulnerable to attack, wherever it may occur, and we must take threats which gather overseas very seriously. We don't have to deal with them all militarily. But we must deal with them. And in the case of Iraq, it is now time for him to disarm. For the sake of peace, if we have to use our troops, we will.


And then, he elaborates on his faith.


My faith sustains me because I pray daily. I pray for guidance and wisdom and strength. If we were to commit our troops -- if we were to commit our troops -- I would pray for their safety, and I would pray for the safety of innocent Iraqi lives, as well.

One thing that's really great about our country, April, is there are thousands of people who pray for me that I'll never see and be able to thank. But it's a humbling experience to think that people I will never have met have lifted me and my family up in prayer. And for that I'm grateful. That's -- it's been -- it's been a comforting feeling to know that is true. I pray for peace, April. I pray for peace.


Ms. Ryan may not like the way she looks, either, but we didn’t misrepresent her exchange with the President that night.

April 26, 2007

Landay and Strobel Talk Back

Thank you for your responses to "Buying the War" and for the insightful questions you submitted to Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel. We apologize but due to the overwhelming traffic on the site experienced Wedneseday night, neither members of The Moyers Blog staff nor McClatchy gentlemen could log on to respond to your comments. But, Landay and Strobel did have a chance to read through your questions and provided some answers below :

On April 26, 2007 10:26 AM, Mark wrote:

As usual great reporting. This piece left me with two questions that I hope Bill and his team will be following up on.

Why - if the administration knew the information was faulty at best and worked so hard to market the war, what was the real reason behind it. Was it related to the secret energy meetings Cheney held early in the administration.

What next - the administration clearly mislead the american public and the world to engage in an unlawful war. What should become of the architects of this disaster? Are they less than war criminals? Shouldn't this be of primary importance to the media and people that were used and mislead?

Warren Strobel:
There were lots of questions last night about what the real reason behind the war is and was. I think we make a mistake if we look for one single, simple answer to explain Bush's decision to invade Iraq (such as oil, etc).

My sense, from my own reporting and from several good books that I have read - "Assassin's Gate" by George Packer and "Fiasco" by Tom Ricks, in particular - is that there were multiple, overlapping reasons. Let me throw out just a few:
1) frustration and bitterness among Bush's aides who had served in Bush 41 that they had not overthrown Saddam in 1991;
2) a desire to recreate the Middle East in their own (democratic) image;
3) post-9/11 paranoia about another attack from whatever source;
4) a desire to show, that after being wounded by the 9/11 attacks, the United States could strike anywhere in the world, even if the target wasn't directly linked to the 9/11 plot (former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith actually said something like this).

So in a sense, it was a Perfect Storm, though as the Moyers documentary points out, it was not inevitable.

It's also important to remember that while senior Bush aides could have and should have known the entire case was faulty and based on bogus intelligence, it's also probable they *believed* their own talking points. The vice president STILL argues that al Qaida was in Iraq before March 2003, although every bit of "evidence" on that count has been discounted. I refer you to the latest Senate Intelligence Committee report last fall on that score...

As to what happens to administration officials and the administration in general, that's for the voters to decide. We just try to report the facts and help the public, hopefully, make informed choices.


On April 26, 2007 11:47 AM John Highfill wrote:

What can a citizen do to press the media - especially TV - to ask, and keep asking the tough questions until they are honestly satisfied themselves that they are reporting the truth? I pick on TV because I know there are many young people (under 40) who only get their news from TV and the web. I greatly appreciate your reporting, but I do not recall that much of what the two featured Knight Ridder reporters wrote made it to the front page of our local Knight Ridder paper - The Charlotte Observer.

How can we hold/ encourage/make/etc. journalist seek a truth that they believe as individual contentious reporters? How can we impact their corporate superiors to allow and support their reporters in their quest for truth? I want the unvarnished truth - good, bad or indifferent. I thought that is what good reporting was supposed to be about.

Jonathan Landay:
I'm not sure that the failure of major news media to delve into the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq can be totally blamed on corporate consolidation and control of big media. Knight Ridder was (and The McClatchy Co.) is the second largest publisher of newspapers in the United States and one of the largest in the world. KR was and McClatchy is mainstream media, with more than 30 newspapers and multiple websites and many other publications. But there was never a point where Knight Ridder's corporate leadership tried to rein us in or interfere with our reporting. On the contrary, we received only the strongest encouragement and unwavering support from KR's top executives. This was all about journalism. We simply did our jobs. Our editors had faith that our work was accurate and so did their bosses. I should note that the pre-invasion stories that the Moyer's show featured were among scores of stories that we wrote over a four-year period on the administration's use of exaggerated and bogus intelligence, U.S. intelligence community incompetence (as well as top-flight analysis), the administration's reliance on so-called defectors produced by the Iraqi National Congress and the Pentagon's failure to properly plan for the post-Saddam period despite multiple warnings from U.S. intelligence agencies on the dangers of an insurgency. There was one occasion when I did receive a query from KR corporate about a Wall Street Journal piece that said materials recovered in Iraq purportedly showed a Saddam-al Qaida link. My subsequent inquiries led to an exclusive report on how those materials showed nothing of the sort. Our reports on pre-war intelligence, the defectors and planning failures are archived at:



On April 26, 2007 09:07 AM Sean Tucker wrote:

Thank you very much for yesterday’s documentary.

One issue that was not discussed on the program was the role and influence of the foreign media. Did/do American journals read the front pages of Canadian and British papers? This might be effective in counteracting group think the next time.

Best regards,

Warren Strobel:
Interesting question. Many in the foreign - especially European media were more skeptical. But I think "Buying the War" shows how much "group think," as you put it, was going on in the United States, particularly right after 9/11. European views didn't permeate very much - in fact people like Rumsfeld pretty much told the Europeans to mind their own business and just follow our lead. "Old Europe" at least.

It would be nice to think, in the blog age, that foreign newspapers would have more of an imapact in the US. But we still tend to be a very insular country.


On April 26, 2007 10:02 AM John wrote:

Great Show! Great Reporting. I'm still left with the question of "Why?". The Administration lied, they manipulated intelligence reports, they exaggerated threats, they spun every fact like a top. For What Purpose? Why did they want to go to war with Iraq so badly? Anyone?

Jonathan Landay:
Only the officials who took this country to war can answer that question accurately. I can only give you my best reading based on the reporting we did. I don't believe there was one single reason. I believe there was a confluence of constituencies within the administration that had different reasons for wanting to topple Saddam Hussein. Please don't take my response as justifying or defending them in any way. Firstly, I know that many officials and their fellow travelers outside the government really believed that ridding the world of a tyrant who massacred hundreds of thousands of his own people and invaded his neighbors was the right thing to do. But in their pantheon of reasons, this definitely was way, way, way down their list of priorities. I divide the constituencies this way:

President Bush - I think he saw 9/11 as some kind of special calling, that it was a sign that he was chosen to lead some kind of mission to make the United States and the world safe from Islamic extremism and threats like Saddam Hussein, the clerics in Iran and Kim Song Il in Pyongyang. I also believe that he wanted to get the man who tried to kill his daddy.

Cheney, Rumsfeld, other neocons and their cheerleaders outside the administration: They saw the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War as an historic opportunity for the United States to use its unrivaled political, economic and military might to reshape a part of the world in a way that eliminated long-standing threats to U.S. security and improved access to the world's largest oil-producing region. Ahmad Chalabi fit right into this vision. He said that if installed as Saddam's successor, he would sign a peace treaty with Israel and give the United States permanent military bases in the middle of the restive Muslim world. I also think that this constituency firmly believed that they had to do more than oust the Taliban, a ragtag plastic sandal-wearing militia that was hardly a worthy foe, to show other powers that the United States would not sit still following an attack like 9/11. Iraq was a much easier target than Iran or North Korea and those permanent bases would allow the administration to shift U.S. forces out of Saudi Arabia, site of Islam's holiest shrines, where their presence was fueling anti-Western resentment and helping al Qaida recruiting. Moreover, this constituency had convinced itself that Saddam was hiding WMD and working with bin Laden. They came into office with a historic distrust of the CIA and its analytical record, with some justification. The CIA had missed how far along Iraq's nuclear weapons program was before the first Gulf War, missed the Indian nuclear test and missed the North Korean missile test. So they rejected CIA reports that Saddam was not involved in 9/11 and that there were no operational links between al Qaida and Saddam, as well as intelligence community judgments that Saddam would not give WMD to al Qaida or other terrorists. But in their manic obsession to justify the invasion, they enthusiastically embraced the CIA's junk, erroneous judgments that Saddam was hiding major WMD programs. Go figure.

Wolfowitz, Feith and fellow travelers inside and outside the government: I believe they shared all of the above with Cheney and Rumsfeld, but also had this naïve notion that they could replace Saddam with democracy that would spread to other Arab countries and Iran, and bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In other words, make the Middle East safe for Israel. In fact, the opposite has happened, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict flaring, al Qaida finding more recruits than ever before, U.S. soldiers dying in Iraq and Afghanistan _ which is now Iraq on a slower burn _ Hezbollah more powerful than ever in Lebanon, worldwide anger at the United States at an all-time high and Iran moving toward the ability to produce nuclear weapons.


On April 26, 2007 09:07 AM Ali Khwaja wrote:

Why hasn't anyone publicly come out and said who owns the Washington Post and New York Times and where their loyalties lie.....ie. pro-Israeli. That's what this was truly all about...America sacrificing their boys and girls so Israel can stay top dog....Its a shame how everyone was manipulated into this....Watch the same thing happen with Iran

Warren Strobel:
Several comments/questions along these lines. I just flatly disagree. One of the brilliant things about the Moyers piece is how he makes crystal clear what really happened - a post-9/11 stifling of debate and dissent by what someone in the film called "the patriotism police."


On April 25, 2007 11:32 PM stephanie wrote:

Thank you for your reporting and perseverance in the face of what must have been tremendous pressure to shut up or speak differently.

Moyers' show demonstrates that readers/viewers must read/watch news not just critically, but also skeptically - that is, not to have blind faith that reporters are doing the investigating necessary to corroborate and verify claims and stories.

Thus, I wonder: what suggestions do you have for us lay people as to how to find real reporters reporting - those who substantively investigate Administration or other interested parties' claims, whether on Iraq or any other issue?

Thank you.

Jonathan Landay:
There ARE real reporters out there, including at some of the publications that helped make the administration's case for war. The New York Times continues to break incredibly important stories, like the NSA eavesdropping program, unparalleled reporting on the detainee abuse issue, the stacking of U.S. government agencies with former officials of the industries those agencies are supposed to regulate and the genocide in Darfur. The Washington Post has written about the CIA secret prisons and the appalling conditions at Walter Reed Army Hospital. But the newspaper business is in crisis. The Internet and a drop in readership has led to a reduction in revenues, which has led to a drop in stock prices. Wall Street, which was for years used to extremely high profits from newspaper companies, is unhappy and so newspaper company stock prices have fallen. Knight Ridder was forced to put itself on the auction block because of a shareholders' revolt. Newspapers have been laying off reporters, reducing their ability to keep the public informed. Where there is a real need for better reporting is on television, which rarely tells stories that there aren't pictures for. I'm not sure what can be done about a situation where profits and keeping sponsors happy has become more important than keeping the public informed, something that is absolutely vital to safeguarding our democracy.


On April 26, 2007 08:18 AM Albert E. wrote:

Dear Mr. Landay and Mr. Strobel,

I’ve never seen a busier blog, ever. No doubt you’re overwhelmed with all the comments, as am I. The server was so busy that I finally gave up trying to post my comment last night after 3 hours of constant activity. Exemplary credit goes to each and every person who helped in this project! It’s amazing what the truth does to people.

At this point in the thread I guess I’m only echoing the same sentiment of many others. Here is my comment and question: I was MORTIFIED to hear Walter Pinkus of the Washington Post recall that 1981 was when the press allowed the Dems to take over THEIR truth seeking responsibilities. Shouldn't you guys and every other journalist be SHOUTING from every rooftop EVERY DAY AND NIGHT, FROM THIS POINT ON, in order to sort out what has become a puzzle, wrapped in a riddle, rolled up in an enigma? Shouldn't we declare this a public emergency right away?! Won’t things only get worse if this nightmare continues to be even slightly downplayed? I stress the importance of this because we’re talking about trying to peel off the layers of a two decade old propaganda onion! I’d appreciate your candor and THANK YOU for your work.

Warren Strobel:
Thanks. Yes, it was too bad the blog got overwhelmed last night. Walter Pincus is a great reporter, who did good work on this story and many others.

I think he has a point, in that it is much easier for journalists to do their jobs if there is an intelligent, active political opposition, whether it be R or D. But we as journalists CAN'T, CAN'T, CAN'T rely on that alone. It is more important than ever to do independent truth-squading when the politicians fail. Otherwise, who else will? Either we are the "Fourth Estate," to use that almost archaic term, or
we're not.


On April 25, 2007 11:30 PM Edgar wrote:

Could this happen again with Iran? Are reports that Iran wants nuclear weapons and is close to developing them true?

Great job with your reporting I wish I'd heard of you before.


Jonathan Landay:
The irony here is that Iran better fits the administration's criteria for invading Iraq than Iraq did. Iran does support Islamic extremist groups that have attacked American targets, like Khobar Towers, and other targets, like the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires. And there is evidence gathered by the International Atomic Energy Agency that indicates that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Even without that evidence, Iran is developing the ability to enrich uranium on an industrial scale. It says it only wants fuel for power plants. But the same process that enriches uranium for power plants also produces highly enriched uranium for weapons. By most accounts, it won't achieve this ability for another five years or so. But given the crisis in Iraq, the stresses on U.S. forces, massive opposition from allies and the huge worldwide opprobrium that a U.S. attack would ignite (not to mention terrorist attacks), I do not believe that the administration planning to strike Iran at this time.


On April 26, 2007 07:03 AM Art and Meredith Neria wrote:

Why were/are so many in Journalism afraid of the Bush regime? Are we under a government of, by and for the corporations? We appreciate knowing that what we sensed was the case back in 2002 and 2003 -that we were being hoodwinked by this administration- was actually the fact of the matter; small consolation today. But now we know there are fact-diggers and fact-reporters still doing their jobs. Turns out, we need to be doing our own research and voicing our beliefs. Freedom is fought for here at home as well. Thank you for the reminder.

Warren Strobel:
Thanks for the comment. One of the things that got left out of the show was how then Knight Ridder, now McClatchy, has given us tremendous corporate backing for our journalism. I know the corporate office got some flack for what we were doing and writing back in 2002, 2003, 2004, but we never felt chill winds from our own company trying to hold us back. Questions wondering whether we were sure we were on the right track, yes. Self-censorship, no.

Also, to get to your first point, we find it kind of ironic to see all sorts of journalists challenging the administration on all sorts of fronts now - I mean, it's good and healthy to have that kind of accountability. But it's a lot easier for a reporter to do that when Bush has low approval ratings, the Iraq war is not going well and the Democrats control Congress...


On April 26, 2007 12:00 AM Hannah Valley wrote:

So, what now? We should apologize to Iraq immediately. Write them a check for the damage we caused and leave. But, of course, as an African-American I know we won't do this. This war will forever be a stain on our nation's honor

Warren Strobel:
What now, indeed? That's not up to us in the press to determine. I would simply comment that, based on my reporting and foreign affairs background, it's a lot easier to get into a situation like this (whether it's the United States in Iraq, the Brits in Northern Ireland, the French in Algeria, etc) than it is to get out. I hate to sound like a White House spokesman, but it IS true that simply leaving doesn't make the problem go away. Iraq could fracture; Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia could send in troops or militias; there could be further destabilization across the Middle East.

All the more reason the original decision to go to war should have been more scrutinized. Colin Powell was right about the Pottery Barn rule - "You broke it; you own it."

This Week: Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart

This Friday, April 27th on Bill Moyers Journal (check local listings), Bill Moyers talks with Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central's THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART, about how faking the news can reveal more of the truth than all of the Sunday-morning talk shows put together.

Click the picture for a preview.

Photo: Robin Holland

April 25, 2007

Q and A with Knight Ridder Reporters

Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel Tonight's broadcast, "Buying the War" introduced you to intrepid Knight Ridder (now McClatchy) reporters Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, who between them have over 40 years experience reporting on foreign affairs and national security.

We apologize but due to your overwhelming response, Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel and The Moyers Blog staff were unable to log in to the live chat. We will post answers as soon as we are able. Thank you for joining us on air and keep tuned to the blog for more from Landay and Strobel.

If you are having trouble posting please email us with your questions and comments.

Thank you for your patience and participation.

**Update: Answers by Landay and Strobel Coming Soon**

April 24, 2007

The Christian Century Interviews Bill Moyers

From The Christian Century, April 17, 2007:

Bill Moyers on journalism and democracy

Throughout his career in print and broadcast journalism, Bill Moyers has blended a passionate interest in the workings of politics with a strong interest in religion. He is perhaps best known for the many interviews and reports he has produced and narrated for the Public Broadcasting System, including the "Faith and Reason" series in 2006. He has received over 30 Emmy awards for his documentary work and was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

Moyers began his career as a participant in politics. He was an aide to Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and served as deputy director of the Peace Corps under President John F. Kennedy. Later he was special assistant and then press secretary for President Johnson. At an earlier stage in life he attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and was ordained as a Baptist minister.

He is launching a new weekly series on PBS in April, and his documentary Buying the War, about the press and the buildup to the war in Iraq, airs on PBS on April 25. We spoke with him about the coverage of the war and about the health of journalism and democracy.

You were part of the Johnson administration during its escalation of the Vietnam War. What perspective does that experience give you on the current administration and the war in Iraq?

Both Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush made the mistake of embracing a totalistic policy for a concrete reality that requires instead a more pragmatic response. You shouldn't go to war for a Grand Theory on a hunch, yet both men plunged into complex local quarrels only to discover that they were treading on quicksand. And they learned too late that American exceptionalism doesn't mean we can work our will anywhere we please. While freedom may be a universal yearning, democracy is not, alas, a universal solution—there are too many extenuating circumstances.

Both presidents rushed to judgment on premature and flawed intelligence—LBJ after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Bush in conflating the terrorists attacks of 9/11 with the activities of Saddam Hussein. Each thought anything less than all-out victory would stigmatize his presidency. And in both wars, as the American people watched the casualties mount and the horrors unfold—Abu Ghraib had its precedents in Vietnam—they saw the abstractions invoked by each president to justify the conflict confounded by the coarseness of human nature laid bare by war.

Vietnam cost far more in lives—American and Vietnamese—than Iraq has so far. What came out of it was not democracy but capitalism with a communist face—something that was likely to happen anyway, as it did in China. Iraq, on the other hand, has destabilized world affairs more than the Vietnam War ever did. Long after I am gone my grandchildren will be living with the consequences of this unilateral and preemptive war in the Middle East.

If the Bush administration were to ask you for your advice, what would you say to them?

Well, I did give President Bush advice once: on a broadcast I urged him to make Al Gore head of homeland security—in other words, turn our response to the terrorist attacks into a bipartisan effort, make the fight against terroism an American cause, not a partisan battle cry.

What would I say now? Fire the ideologues and assign them to scrub the floors at Guantánamo for penitence. Stop confusing neocon pundits with Old Testament prophets. Read the Bible for humility's sake, but for policy's sake commit to memory the report of the Iraq Study Group. Don't sacrifice any more soldiers to prove you're in charge; get the soldiers out of the line of fire between Sunnis and Shi'ites. And remind your hirelings of Winston Churchill's definition of democracy as the occasional necessity of deferring to the opinions of other people.

What kind of response did you get from your speech to cadets at West Point, in which you spoke about the limitations and liabilities of war making?

For 30 seconds after I finished there was just silence in that large auditorium, and I thought: "You really blew it this time. You not only lost them, you insulted them." Then one by one, cluster by cluster, row by row, the cadets started standing up and applauding. I had to struggle to contain my emotions. I would like to tell you it was because they agreed with me. The truth is, I think, that they appreciated hearing a civilian talk openly about what they constantly wrestle with privately—the conflict of conscience required in obeying orders from leaders who have taken leave of reality. They listened like no audience I've had in a long time. And afterward they kept me up late in a lively give-and-take.

Earlier in the day I met for over two hours with a score of top cadets who were on their way to compete for Rhodes and Marshall scholarships and the like. They wanted to talk about the environment, science, philosophy, politics, history. The cadets are smart, disciplined and sophisticated people. One just hopes they get the civilian leadership they deserve.

One thing seems clear: In the buildup to the Iraq war and even in the first several years of that war, much of the news media did not ask tough questions of this administration. Why was that?

There are many reasons. The attacks of 9/11 brought a surge of solidarity that understandably engulfed journalists too. That event made asking critical questions difficult and unpopular. When cable networks and the major networks started reporting civilian casualties as a result of American actions in Afghanistan, for example, the patriot police came knocking. Later, if you challenged what the administration was saying about Iraq, they put you in their crosshairs again—charged you with being un-American, unpatriotic—for wanting evidence that Saddam really was behind 9/11, that he had ties to al-Qaeda, that he was actually building weapons of mass destruction.

Furthermore, a lot of journalists and editors are conditioned to believe that a thing is so because a president says it is so. Many young reporters thought it inconceivable that a government would lie or manipulate intelligence to go to war.

Stopping a government that's determined to go to war is always hard. But it's virtually impossible when large segments of the press mirror the official view of reality. When our channels of information become clogged with propaganda, the facts are trivialized; what officials say is the news, and no one else gets equal time.

The communications scholar Murray Edelman once wrote that "opinions about public policy do not spring immaculately or automatically into people's minds; they are always placed there by the interpretations of those who can most consistently get their claims and manufactured cues publicized widely." After 9/11 it proved easy for the administration and its apologists to manufacture a consensus motivated by fear.

There's also a real go-along-to-get-along mentality inside the beltway. When I left Washington 40 years ago it took me a while to realize that what's important is not how close you are to power but how close you are to the truth. The talk shows want to make "news" with the guest of the day whether or not the news has anything to do with reality. If you are a reporter in Washington, the official view of reality organizes your world.

One of my journalistic heroes is Charles J. Hanley of the Associated Press. He covered the weapons inspectors in Iraq for several months before the invasion, and his reporting should have caused everyone to see the administration's claims for what they were—fiction. But Hanley's own reporting was altered by editors who didn't want to be caught out on a limb.

This is the fellow, by the way, who reported the torture of Iraqis in American prisons before anyone else. American newspapers ignored it because, as Hanley said, "it was not an officially sanctioned story that begins with a handout from an official source." Think about that the next time you read or watch the news from Washington.

More generally, how do you assess the health of the news media? What concerns you and what gives you hope?

There's some world-class journalism being done in our country by journalists committed to getting as close as possible to the verifiable truth. Unfortunately, a few huge corporations now dominate the media landscape. And the news business is at war with journalism. Virtually everything the average person sees or hears outside of her own personal communications is determined by the interests of private, unaccountable executives and investors whose primary goal is increasing profits and raising the company's share price. One of the best newspaper groups, Knight Ridder—whose reporters were on to the truth about Iraq early on—was recently sold and broken up because a tiny handful of investors wanted more per share than they were getting.

Almost all the networks carried by most cable systems are owned by one of the major media conglomerates. Two-thirds of today's newspaper markets are monopolies, and they're dumbing down. As ownership gets more and more concentrated, fewer and fewer independent sources of information have survived in the marketplace. And those few significant alternatives that do survive, such as PBS and NPR, are under growing financial and political pressure to reduce critical news content.

Just the other day the major morning broadcast devoted long segments to analyzing why Britney Spears shaved her head, and the death of Anna Nicole Smith got more attention than the Americans or Iraqis killed in Baghdad that week. The next time you're at a newsstand, look at the celebrities staring back at you. In-depth coverage on anything, let alone the bleak facts of power and powerlessness that shape the lives of ordinary people, is as scarce as sex, violence and voyeurism are pervasive.

At the same time we have seen the rise of an ideological partisan press that is contemptuous of reality, serves up right-wing propaganda as fact, and attempts to demonize anyone who says otherwise. Its embodiment is Rush Limbaugh. Millions heard him take journalists to task for their reporting on the torture at Abu Ghraib, which he attempted to dismiss as a little necessary sport for soldiers under stress. He said: "This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation. . . . You ever heard of people [who] need to blow some steam off?"

So we can't make the case today that the dominant institutions of the press are guardians of democracy. They actually work to keep reality from us, whether it's the truth of money in politics, the social costs of "free trade," growing inequality, the resegregation of our public schools, or the devastating onward march of environmental deregulation. It's as if we are living on a huge plantation in a story told by the boss man.

What encourages me is the Internet. Freedom begins the moment you realize someone else has been writing your story and it's time you took the pen from his hand and started writing it yourself. The greatest challenge to the conglomeration of the media giants and the malevolent mentality of the partisan press is the innovation and expression made possible by the digital revolution. I'm also buoyed by the beginnings of a movement across the country of people who are fighting to keep mammoth corporations from controlling access to the Internet as they managed to control radio, then television, then cable. To find out more about this, go to Freepress.net or Savetheinternet.com.

What also gives me hope is that in a market society, sooner or later some entrepreneur is going to figure out how to make a fortune by offering people news they can trust. Millions of Americans care about our democracy, they want high-quality information because they know freedom dies of too many lies, and surely in this new age of innovation someone's going to figure out that good journalism can be profitable.

Where do you get your news?

I keep stacks of magazines beside my bed to read at night—including the Christian Century.

It's not a good day if I haven't roamed half a dozen newspapers, a score of Web sites (journalistic, liberal, conservative, religious, secular—you name it, the Web has it), two or three newsletters, a quarterly journal or two, and summaries of news and opinion sent to me by my colleagues.

I check out a few bloggers— just because it pays to know how others see the world. It also helps to know who's demonizing you today. Some bloggers are quite thoughtful, analytical, fair. Some are downright scurrilous—for example, the right-wing Moonie-connected blogger who recently lied about Barack Obama's schooling.

Sometimes I think there are too many voices inside my head. Maybe I read too much. But they make sure I never think a matter settled. I'm with Mark Twain on this: "Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul."

What do you think of the success of satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert?

There can be more truth in a flash of wit than in a full-throated pronouncement by a pundit. I once told Stewart that if Mark Twain were alive today, he would be on Comedy Central. Stewart looked at me as if he wouldn't welcome the competition. As for Colbert: he's one smart fellow, but he scares me, even when he's funny, because you sometimes forget he's only kidding. Being an old fogy, I worry about mixing journalism with entertainment. But I confess that it's difficult not to write satire these days. Sometimes only satire makes sense. Enemies of the state, as satirists are, can be friends of the people.

But I wouldn't dare try satire as a journalist; I'd have to target myself—and I'm not one for self-immolation.

You seem to have a very strong populist perspective. Where does that come from?

If I had been an embattled farmer exploited by the railroads and bankers back in the 19th century, I hope I would have shown up at that amazing convention in Omaha that adopted the platform beginning: "We meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin." Those folks were aroused by Christian outrage over injustice. They made the prairie rumble. If I had lived a few years later, I would hope to have worked for McClure's, the great magazine that probed the institutional corruption of the day and prompted progressive agitation.

The Great Depression was the tsunami of my experience, and my perspective was shaped by Main Street, not Wall Street. My parents were laid low by the Depression. When I was born my father was making $2 a day working on the highway, and he never brought home more than $100 a week in his working life. He didn't even earn that much until he joined the union on his last job. Like Franklin Roosevelt, I came to think that government by organized money should be feared as much as government by organized mob. I'd rather not have either, thank you.

I am a democrat—notice the small d—who believes that the soul of democracy is representative government. It's our best, although certainly imperfect, protection against predatory forces, whether unfettered markets, unscrupulous neighbors or fantastical ideologies—foreign or domestic. Our best chance at governing ourselves lies in obtaining the considered judgments of those we elect to weigh the competing interests and decide to the best of their ability what is right for the country. Anything that corrupts their judgment—whether rigged elections or bribery masked as campaign contributions—is the devil's work.

Can you name a single issue that concerns you the most these days?

Inequality. Nearly all the wealth created in America over the past 25 years was captured by the top 20 percent of households. Meanwhile, working families find it harder and harder to make ends meet. Young people without privilege and wealth struggle to get a footing. Seniors enjoy less and less security for a lifetime's labor. We are racially segregated in every meaningful sense except the letter of the law. And survivors of segregation and immigration toil for pennies on the dollar compared to those they serve.

None of this is the result of Adam Smith's "invisible hand" creating the greatest good for the greatest number. It's the result of invisible hands that write the checks to buy political protection for privilege. There's been a campaign to organize the world economy for the benefit of corporations. Whatever its benefits, political and corporate efforts to deregulate the international economy and promote globalization have been the most powerful force of political, economic, social and cultural destabilization the world has known since World War II.

The Nobel laureate Robert Solow is not a man given to extreme political statements. He characterizes what has been happening in America as nothing less than elite plunder: "The redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy and of power in favor of the powerful."

This wasn't meant to be a country where the winner takes all. Read the Declaration of Independence, the preamble to the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address. We were going to be a society that maintained a healthy equilibrium in how power works—and for whom.

Although my parents were knocked down and almost out by the Depression and were poor all their lives, I went to good public schools. My brother made it to college on the GI bill. When I borrowed $450 to buy my first car, I drove to a public university on public highways and rested in public parks along the way. America was a shared project and I was just one of its beneficiaries. But a vast transformation has been occurring, documented in a series of recent studies. The American Political Science Association, for example, finds that "increasing inequalities threaten the American ideal of equal citizenship and that progress toward real democracy may have stalled . . . and even reversed."

So here is the deepest crisis as I see it: We talk about problems, issues, policy solutions, but we don't talk about what democracy means—what it bestows on us, the power it gives us—the astonishing opportunity to shape our destiny. I mean the revolutionary idea that democracy isn't merely a means of government, it's a means of dignifying people so that they have a chance to become fully human. Every day I find myself asking, Why is America forsaking its own revolution?

You once remarked that seminary was a detour in your life. Why did you go to seminary and what difference do you think it made for you?

I knew at age 15 that I wanted to be a journalist—then, a little later, a political journalist. That's how I wound up spending the summer of 1954 on Lyndon Johnson's staff in the Senate. I wanted to learn the game at the feet of the master.

But I came home feeling unsatisfied by that experience, and I interpreted my angst as a call to something more fulfilling—the ministry, actually. I thought of the pastorate or a professorship. I spent four years getting my master of divinity before finding myself back in politics and government and then back again in journalism.

For a while I thought I had made a mistake, that I would have been better off if I had spent those four years in law school or getting a Ph.D. But as the years unfolded I realized what a blessing seminary had been. I had a succession of remarkable teachers who believed that a true evangelical is always a seeker. T. B. Maston, one of the great souls in my life, taught Christian ethics and more than anyone else helped me to see into the southern enigma of having grown up well loved, well churched and well taught and yet still indifferent to the reality of other people's lives. I learned about historical criticism, the beauty of the Greek language, and the witness of my Baptist ancestors to the power of conscience. That detour turned out to be quite a journey.

Later on, when I realized how almost every political and economic issue I dealt with in government and then as a journalist intersects with moral and ethical values, I was grateful for those years in seminary. They still inform my life.

So much is being written and said about the alliance between the religious right and the Republican Party. What role do you think religion should have in the public arena?

Whose religion? Christian? Muslim? Jew? Sikh? Buddhist? Catholic? Protestant? Shi'ite? Sunni? Orthodox? Conservative? Mormon? Amish? Wicca? For that matter, which Baptist? Bill Clinton or Pat Robertson? Newt Gingrich or Al Gore? And who is going to decide? The religion of one seems madness to another. Elaine Pagels said to me in an interview that she doesn't know a single religion that affirms the other's choice.

If religion is the voice of the deepest human experience—and I believe it is—humanity contains multitudes, each speaking in a different tongue. Naturally, believers will bring their faith into the public square, translating their unique personal experience into political convictions and moral arguments. But politics is about settling differences while religion is about maintaining them. Let's realize what a treasure we have in a secular democracy that guarantees your freedom to believe as you choose and mine to vote as I wish.

Some people on the left think the Democratic Party needs to be more explicitly religious. What do you think about that counterstrategy?

If you have to talk about God to win elections, that doesn't speak well of God or elections. We are desperate today for cool thinking and clear analysis. What kind of country is it that wants its politicians to play tricks with faith?

As you look back on your work, what gives you the most satisfaction?

The happiest years of my life were the time I helped to organize the Peace Corps and served as its deputy director. We really did believe that we were engaged in the moral equivalent of war.

My long career in journalism has been a continuing course in adult education, and I have been fortunate to share what I have learned with so many others. We journalists are beachcombers on the shores of other people's experience and knowledge, but we don't take what we gather and lock it in the attic. Like a pastor in the pulpit, we're engaged in a moral transaction. When people give us an hour of their lives—something they never get back—we owe them something of value in return. Keeping our end of the bargain isn't easy, but it's deeply satisfying.

by the Century editors
Reprinted with permission of The Christian Century

April 17, 2007

Bill's Column: John Walcott Speech

This coming Wednesday on PBS, you'll meet John Walcott, Washington Bureau Chief of Knight Ridder, now McClatchy, and one of the few voices of skepticism about the Iraq War from the very beginning. Here's an excerpt from a speech John gave, as he wrestles with how the Iraq war was mishandled:

I, think that we're in the mess we're in in Iraq not only because the administration invaded Iraq with too few troops, without significant international support, with no exit strategy and by diverting resources from the unfinished war against al Qaida, but also because two other American institutions fell down on the job. First the Congress. What we hear today, from some Democratic presidential candidates and others, is this: "If I had known then what I know today, I would never have voted to go to war." My response is this: You could have known then what you know today, and you should have known then what you know today. It was your job, and no part of your job is more important than a decision to send some of our finest young men and women to war.

...the second institution that failed us is my own, the press. There were much bigger problems with the media after 9/11 than just too-cozy relationships with the wrong sources and timidity about challenging a popular president in the wake of an attack on our country. There was simple laziness: Much of what the administration said, especially about Iraq and al Qaida, simply made no sense, yet very few reporters bothered to check it out. They were stenographers; they were not reporters.

-John Walcott, Bureau Chief, McClatchy Washington Bureau

You can read the full speech here. As I read your comments on this blog, it seems many of you are wrestling with the same issues:

On April 18, 2007 09:10 AM, Jill H. wrote:

I have a son who will soon be returning for his second deployment to Falluja, and a husband who has retired from the Navy. I am in no way saying that I disrespect the job our military personnel do. But I do believe that freedom is not free - and it is our duty to fully examine our motives, and the impact we have on people around the world. We have a moral responsibility for our actions.

One thing I find most frightening is the comments from people (who often have never served in the military) who believe that survival means destroying others as a preventative measure against harm, and that, if you are too cowardly to accept that, they would just as soon kill you too, since you aren't worth being a part of their tribe. Is this really what it means to be an American?

Good question Jill, what do you all think?

April 16, 2007

Welcome to The Blog

Watch the video Hello, I'm Bill Moyers. It's been my pleasure through the years to hear thoughtful responses from so many of you after our broadcast. Whether you've agreed or disagreed, I've always been impressed by your willingness to join the dialogue. Well here's a new twist, to accompany our weekly broadcast, we're launching a blog: a community of viewers seeking out new points of view, and expressing and exchanging ideas. We'll offer you some food for thought, more from our guests, fresh voices, articles of note, and invite you hopefully to reason together. From time to time, I'll be weighing in myself, so we hope you'll check back often, tune in and tell us what you think, here at pbs.org.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007 at 9 PM on PBS (check local listings)

Watch the video

How the administration marketed the war to the American people has been well covered, but critical questions remain: How and why did the press buy it, and what does it say about the role of journalists in helping the public sort out fact from propaganda?

In this clip from the premiere of BILL MOYERS JOURNAL on PBS, Bob Simon of 60 Minutes, who was based in the Middle East, talks about the reporting he was seeing and reading out of the beltway, and John Walcott and Warren Strobel of Knight Ridder newspapers (now The McClatchy Company), discuss their work burrowing deep into the intelligence agencies to determine whether there was any evidence for the Bush Administration's case for war. On Wednesday, April 25 at 9 P.M. on PBS (check local listings), watch "Buying the War," a 90-minute documentary that explores the role of the press in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, which includes interviews with Dan Rather, formerly of CBS; Tim Russert of Meet the Press; and Walter Isaacson, former president of CNN.

Two days later on April 27, BILL MOYERS JOURNAL airs at its regular timeslot on Fridays at 9 P.M. with interviews and news analysis of underreported stories across an array of beats, including: the environment, media, politics, the economy, arts and culture, and social issues.

A Companion Blog to Bill Moyers Journal

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