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May 30, 2007

Preview: Cleaning House

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Friday, June 1 at 9pm on Bill Moyers Journal, one of Washington's most influential public advocates, Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen, talks about what is at stake in the ethical reforms under consideration in Congress.

May 24, 2007

Poetry and War

Tomorrow on The Journal, author Maxine Hong Kingston talks with Bill Moyers about poetry and war:

"My hope is that through art, through telling their stories, by having people hear what they went through, it changes them again," Kingston tells Bill Moyers. "There's the coming home from war, being broken, feeling losses, but then there is a wholeness that takes place if the person were able to write their story, to write their poem, to have people hear them and listen and understand. Then they are changed again."

For nearly 15 years Maxine Hong Kingston has led writing-and-meditation workshops for veterans and their families. This poem is one of the many works created by the veterans:

Poem for Têt
by Ted Sexauer, medic, 173rd Airborne

Lang Cô village, Viêt Nam
Lunar New Year, 31/1/1995

This is the poem
that will save my life
this the line that will cure me
this word, this, the word word the one

this breath the one I am.

(more from "Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace")

Feel free to share your stories with the blog community below.

May 23, 2007

Story Update: McClatchy Claims It's Barred from Defense Secretary Plane

For those of you following the Knight Ridder (now McClatchy) reporters recently featured in BUYING THE WAR, read this recent article from EDITOR AND PUBLISHER:

Staffers at McClatchy’s Washington, D.C., Bureau — one of the few major news outlets skeptical of intelligence reports during the run-up to the war in Iraq — claims it is now being punished for that coverage.

Bureau Chief John Walcott and current and former McClatchy Pentagon correspondents say they have not been allowed on the Defense Secretary’s plane for at least three years, claiming the news company is being retaliated against for its reporting.

“It is because our coverage of Iraq policy has been quite critical,” Walcott told E&P. He added, “I think the idea of public officials barring coverage by people they’ve decided they don’t like is at best unprofessional, at worst undemocratic and petty.”

Read the full article here.

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:


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.

Keep'em coming.
Bill Moyers

May 21, 2007

Tolerance and Democracy

Expanding upon your diverse comments regarding Bill Moyers' interview with Bruce Bawer, consider these two arguments from the blog discussion:

Posted by: Toscha | May 19, 2007 01:11 PM:

...it is beyond hypocritical to criticize an ideology or faith that is, according to you, anti-democracy, and then turn around and state that democratic freedoms (to say, vote for your elected representatives) should not be extended to people who profess this faith or ideology! Bawer holds democratic values as the end all be all, but in the same breath admits these values do not work when it comes to a certain segment of the population. Democracy means giving everyone a voice and adequate information and accepting the will of the people. Not, giving everyone who agrees with you a voice and ensuring the will of the people reflects your values.

Posted by: M. Costello | May 19, 2007 09:16 PM:

It should be noted that Muslims are quick to insist on their rights in Europe, but equally quick, and in large numbers to denounce others who exercise those rights. The Danish cartoons episode is but one example of this. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press is ok, except when criticism of Islam is involved. Such is the Muslim notion of democracy at work, and such is the notion of Muslim democracy.

What do you think?

-Can democracies ever be too tolerant of other cultures and their beliefs?
-When, if ever, does tolerance become appeasement?

Photo: Robin Holland

May 18, 2007

Bill Moyers Essay: SOS

It's time to send an SOS for the least among us — I mean small independent magazines. They are always struggling to survive while making a unique contribution to the conversation of democracy. Magazines like NATIONAL REVIEW, THE AMERICAN PROSPECT, SOJOURNERS, THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE, THE NATION, WASHINGTON MONTHLY, MOTHER JONES, IN THESE TIMES, WORLD MAGAZINE, THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW, REASON and many others.

The Internet may be the way of the future, but for today much of what you read on the Web is generated by newspapers and small magazines. They may be devoted to a cause, a party, a worldview, an issue, an idea, or to one eccentric person's vision of what could be, but they nourish the public debate. America wouldn't be the same without them.

Our founding fathers knew this; knew that a low-cost postal incentive was crucial to giving voice to ideas from outside the main tent. So they made sure such publications would get a break in the cost of reaching their readers. That's now in jeopardy. An impending rate hike, worked out by postal regulators, with almost no public input but plenty of corporate lobbying, would reward big publishers like Time Warner, while forcing these smaller periodicals into higher subscription fees, big cutbacks and even bankruptcy.

It's not too late. The postal service is a monopoly, but if its governors, and especially members of Congress, hear from enough citizens, they could have a change of heart. So, liberal or conservative, left or right, libertarian, vegetarian, communitarian or Unitarian, or simply good Samaritan, let's make ourselves heard.

For more information, please visit:

May 17, 2007

Racism, Misogyny and Hip-Hop

The recent firing of Don Imus for making racial slurs on the radio has stirred up much discussion about racism in America, particularly the role that certain derogatory words play in fanning the flames of social bigotry.

Russell Simmons, founder of legendary hip-hop label Def Jam, has been at the forefront of this debate recently, pushing for a ban on the use of 3 words in hip-hop lyrics that he deems sexist and racist:

"The words 'bitch' and 'ho' are utterly derogatory and disrespectful of the painful, hurtful, misogyny that, in particular, African-American women have experienced in the United States as part of the history of oppression, inequality, and suffering of women.

The word 'nigger' is a racially derogatory term that disrespects the pain, suffering, history of racial oppression, and multiple forms of racism against African-Americans and other people of colour."

--Russell Simmons

But Melissa Harris-Lacewell, with whom Bill Moyers talks this week on THE JOURNAL, believes that banning certain words only serves to "cover over racism" and that truly facing the issue of bigotry in America today requires new tools:

"I hope by the end of my class though, they would be saying, 'Look, we recognize that even if we got rid of every derogatory, racial utterance, even if no one ever, black or white, used the 'N' word again, that this would not actually end racial inequality in America.'

I hope that my students have learned something about the structural nature of inequality and the way that racism gets perpetuated through our assumptions and our history and our culture, and not just through bad words or language."

--Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell

What do you think? How important are words in fighting prejudice in America?

Photo: Robin Holland

Poll: Free Trade

Answer our poll question, then debate the topic below.

May 14, 2007

Bill Moyers asks...

As you saw on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with Professor Marilyn B. Young about the war in Iraq and the legacy of Vietnam:
Watch the video---------------
BILL MOYERS: You know, I was in the Johnson White House when the President escalated the war in Vietnam. And as with the Bush administration, intelligence was fixed to support the policy. The President brought Congress aboard without telling them the whole truth. The domino theory was our mantra. If we don't stop them there, they'll be here. I mean, Johnson, Nixon, Bush, the foreign policy elites. Is there something in our DNA?
Now it's your turn to sit in the interview chair:

"Is there something in our DNA?"

May 11, 2007

Personal Faith and Politics

I never want to impose my religion on anybody else. But when I make decisions I stand on principle. And the principles are derived from who I am. I believe we ought to love our neighbor like we love ourself. That's manifested in public policy through the faith-based initiative where we've unleashed the armies of compassion to help heal people who hurt. I believe that God wants everybody to be free. That's what I believe. And that's one part of my foreign policy. In Afghanistan I believe that the freedom there is a gift from the Almighty. And I can't tell you how encouraged how I am to see freedom on the march. And so my principles that I make decisions on are a part of me. And religion is a part of me."

--President, George W. Bush
Third Presidential Debate, Tempe, AZ, October 13, 2004

Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. To say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity.

--Senator, Barack Obama
Call to Renewal Conference, June 28, 2006.

Examining the church and state debate on its most intimate level, how personal faith affects the decisions of individual politicians, raises new questions:

-Should a politician be expected to keep separate his/her personal faith from the political arena?

-Or, should we expect a politician to make decisions based upon his/her faith and moral values?

What do you think?

Bill Moyers Essay: The Cost of War

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Tonight on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL, a report on the true human cost of war.

Click the picture above to watch the essay in entirety.

How has this war cost you?

May 9, 2007

Poll: Separation of Church and State

Answer our poll question, then debate the topic below.

May 3, 2007

Learning the Lessons of Wrongful Convictions

By Barry Scheck, Innocence Project Co-Director

When we called Jerry Miller to ask him to come to New York to talk with Bill Moyers, he said yes immediately. He had seen some of Bill's programs while spending 25 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and he was eager to have a thoughtful discussion about his case and the issues it raises.

Jerry was 22 years old when he was arrested and charged with a brutal rape, robbery and kidnapping. Less than two weeks ago, he was exonerated in a Chicago courtroom – at the age of 48. A wrongful conviction robbed him of practically his entire adult life.

Jerry is the 200th person exonerated through DNA evidence nationwide. He is a truly unique individual – but his case is eerily similar to many of the 199 before it, and his story echoes the thousands of letters the Innocence Project receives from prisoners every year.

Like 120 of the first 200 people exonerated through DNA evidence, Jerry is African American. Like 77% of the first 200, he was convicted based on eyewitness misidentification. Like nearly all of our clients, he spent years appealing his conviction and came to us as a last resort. And like every single innocent person we have walked out of prison, he now wonders whether his experience will mean anything – whether his case will be a learning moment about the criminal justice system’s shortcomings, or everyone will hear his story, feel bad for him and then go back to business as usual.

The staff at Bill Moyers Journal told us that readers on this blog are used to seeing questions that spark thoughtful dialogue from a variety of perspectives. Our question is the same one that Jerry and our other clients ask us so often:

What will it take for our criminal justice system to learn the lessons these exonerations provide?

What are some of the lessons of these cases? How can we all learn more from these cases – so that other innocent men and women are not wrongfully convicted and left to watch Bill Moyers from prison cells, hoping that in a few years, they too can share their story?


Barry Scheck is the Co-Founder and Co-Director (with Peter Neufeld) of the Innocence Project. Started at Cardozo School of Law in 1992, the Innocence Project is a national organization that uses DNA testing to exonerate wrongfully convicted people and implements policy reforms to prevent future injustice. Scheck and Neufeld became involved in forensic DNA issues in the 1980s, and their work has shaped the course of law and policy nationwide. Scheck, Neufeld and Pulitzer Prize-winning NEW YORK TIMES reporter Jim Dwyer are the authors of Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution, and Other Dispatches From the Wrongly Convicted, published by Doubleday.

Bill Moyers talks with Jerry Miller this week on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

Photo: Robin Holland

A Brief History of Disbelief

This week on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL, Bill Moyers talks with Jonathan Miller about his upcoming series and his views on religion in the modern world.

Jonathan Miller's series "A Brief History of Disbelief" will air on many PBS stations across the country starting May 4. Click the adjacent picture to watch a clip from the series.

To find out when it is airing where you live click here or check with your local public television station.

Miller, referring to the events of 9/11, states:

The conspicuous absence of the the Twin Towers involving, as it does, the inherent conflicts between Christianity, Islam and Judaism, is I think one of the most powerful expressions of religious fanaticism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

What do you think?

  • Where does religious fanaticism come from?

  • Is ever there such as thing as too much belief?

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