- Bill Moyershost of the new weekly PBS program, Bill Moyers Journal. Up until 2004, he hosted NOW with Bill Moyers for three years. He was one of the organizers of the Peace Corps, a spokesperson for Lyndon Johnson, a publisher of Newsday, senior correspondent for CBS News and a producer of many groundbreaking series on public television. He is the winner of more than 30 Emmy Awards and the author three best-selling books.
Legendary broadcaster Bill Moyers is returning to the airwaves of PBS tonight to launch his new series, Bill Moyers Journal. The debut episode is titled, “Buying the War.” Moyers makes the case that the press has yet to come to terms with its role in enabling the Bush administration to go to war on false pretenses. Two-and-a-half years ago, Moyers retired after a 30-year career where he became one of the most recognizable faces on public television. We air excerpts of “Buying the War” and talk with Moyers about the media, the late journalist David Halberstam, corporate consolidation of the airwaves, and the hope he sees from the grassroots. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Legendary broadcaster Bill Moyers is returning to the airwaves of PBS tonight to launch his new series Bill Moyers Journal. The debut episode is titled “Buying the War.” Moyers makes the case that the press has yet to come to terms with its role in enabling the Bush administration to go to war on false pretenses. In a few minutes, Bill Moyers joins us here in the firehouse studio, but first, an excerpt from his debut program. This part includes an interview with former CBS News anchor Dan Rather, who gives his own mea culpa for the media’s coverage in the lead-up to the Iraq War.
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Good evening. I am pleased to take your questions tonight.
BILL MOYERS: Two weeks before he will order America to war, President Bush calls a press conference to make the case for disarming Saddam Hussein.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Iraq is a part of the war on terror. It’s a country that trains terrorists. It’s a country that could arm terrorists. Saddam Hussein and his weapons are a direct threat to this country.
BILL MOYERS: For months now, his administration has been determined to link Iraq to 9/11.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: September the 11th should say to the American people that we’re now a battlefield.
BILL MOYERS: At least a dozen times during this press conference, he will invoke 9/11 and al-Qaeda to justify a pre-emptive attack on a country that has not attacked America. But the White House Press Corps will ask no hard questions tonight about those claims. Listen to what the president says.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: This is a scripted —
REPORTER: Thank you, Mr. President.
BILL MOYERS: “Scripted.” Sure enough, the president’s staff has given him a list of reporters to call on.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Let’s see here. Elizabeth… Gregory… April, did you have a question, or did I call upon you cold?
APRIL RYAN: I have a question.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: OK. I’m sure you do have a question.
ERIC BOEHLERT: He sort of giggled and laughed, and the reporters sort of laughed. I don’t know if it was out of embarrassment for him or embarrassment for them, because they still continued to play along. After his question was done, they all shot up their hands and pretended they had a chance of being called on.
APRIL RYAN: Mr. President, how is your faith guiding you?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: My faith sustains me, because I pray daily. I pray for guidance.
ERIC BOEHLERT: And I think it just crystallized what was wrong with the press coverage during the run-up to war. I think they felt like the war was going to happen, and the best thing for them to do was to get out of the way.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Thank you for your questions. Good night.
BILL MOYERS: Our story begins with the horror of 9/11.
9/11 EYEWITNESS: Oh, my god! That looks like a second plane.
BILL MOYERS: Like everyone else, journalists were stunned by the death and devastation.
REPORTER: [ABC News, 9/11/01] This is as close as we can get to the base of the World Trade Center. You can see the firemen assembled here, the police officers, FBI agents. And you can see the two towers. A huge explosion now raining debris on all of us. We better get out of the way!
AARON BROWN: [CNN Live, 9/11/01] And there, you can see perhaps the second tower, the front tower, the top portion of which is collapsing. Good lord.
PAT DAWSON: [NBC News, 9/11/01] If there is a war, it’s a war against terrorism that started — rather ongoing right now — it started here at about quarter to nine this morning.
DAN RATHER: There are no words that can describe this.
I was deeply moved by 9/11. I don’t know of any American who wasn’t. I think we all bought into it, that the world had changed.
BOB SIMON: I think the atmosphere in the United States after September 11 was so overwhelmingly patriotic and overwhelmingly “we must do something about this.”
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.
CROWD: Yeah! Arf! Arf! Arf! USA! USA! USA! USA!
DAN RATHER: George Bush is the president. He makes the decisions. And, you know, as just one American, wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.
I didn’t mean it in a journalistic sense. I know it may have come across that way. I meant it in the sense as an individual citizen: Mr. President, if you need me, if you need me to go to hell and back for my country, I will do it.
But I’ll tell you this. If they could go down to ground zero here in Lower Manhattan — and you referred to it earlier — and see the following, see those firemen — take this [inaudible], will you?
DAVID LETTERMAN: OK, I tell you what —
DAN RATHER: Well, I can finish.
DAVID LETTERMAN: No, no, no, Dan. Take care, yourself. We’ll be right back here with Dan Rather.
BILL MOYERS: What I was wrestling with that night listening to you is, once we let our emotions out as journalists on the air, once we say we’ll line up with the president, can we ever really say to the country the president is out of line?
DAN RATHER: Yes, of course, you can. Of course, you can. No journalist should try to be a robot and say they have attacked my country, they’ve killed thousands of people, but I don’t feel it. What you can do and what should have been done in the wake of that is suck it up and say, “OK, that’s the way I feel. That’s the way I feel as a citizen. And I can serve my country best by being the best journalist I can be. That’s the way I can be patriotic.” By the way, Bill, this is not an excuse. I don’t think there is any excuse for, you know, my performance and the performance of the press, in general, in the roll-up to the war — there were exceptions, there were some people who I think did a better job than others — but overall and in the main, there’s no question that we didn’t do a good job.
AMY GOODMAN: That was former CBS News anchor Dan Rather in an excerpt of “Buying the War,” which airs tonight on the new weekly program Bill Moyers Journal. When we come back from break, Bill Moyers joins us live. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: As we turn now to Bill Moyers, the documentary “Buying the War” marks the return of Bill Moyers to the airwaves of PBS. Two-and-a-half years ago, he retired after a 30-year career, where he became one of the most recognizable faces on public television. Bill Moyers joins us now in our firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Bill.
BOB SIMON: My pleasure to be here, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, why are you back?
BILL MOYERS: The world is still here. It’s still intriguing. Things are happening. I mean, I don’t have retirement skills. I don’t play golf. I don’t play bridge. I’m getting too creaky to lean over and play with my little grandchildren. All I know to do is work, and as long as you’re a journalist with two feet and two eyes and a good team around you, the work is endless. So here I am.
AMY GOODMAN: And you’re starting with “Buying the War.”
BILL MOYERS: We are entering the fifth year of this war. The casualties keep mounting. April was the deadliest month so far. The deadliest day occurred in April. And the press, which was very much responsible for creating the momentum for the war, has yet to understand its role. So I wanted to look, with my producer Kathy Hughes, at what are the lessons we can learn from what happened in the build-up to the war, so that we might not see it happen again. This is an example of what happens when the press surrenders its independence and suspends its skepticism and becomes a cheerleader for an administration. And I don’t care what administration it is — Democratic or Republican. When the press gives up its power to scrutinize what power is doing, then we’re all in trouble.
AMY GOODMAN: What were you most surprised by as you did this investigation?
BILL MOYERS: I was most surprised at the marvelous work being done by the Knight Ridder bureau in Washington — Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel — who were onto this story about the flawed intelligence and the forged documents and the invalidity of what the administration was saying before anybody else. But because they don’t have an outlet in Washington and New York and because they don’t have — they don’t play the game according to the Beltway rules, their reporting was marginalized. Their reporting was put aside, shut aside. You’ll see them in the broadcast tonight. They’re marvelous journalists, totally devoted to finding the facts and getting them to the American people. But because they were not celebrities, they never got on television. Because they were not stars, they didn’t get on Meet the Press and places like that. So their reporting was blunted by indifference. That’s the thing that surprised me.
AMY GOODMAN: They say in your documentary, “We’re not writing for the people who are deciding to go to war. We’re writing for the communities where the people are being sent to war.”
BILL MOYERS: Yes, and the head of what was then Knight Ridder — it’s been sold since then to McClatchy — Walcott says, is that, you know, when you’re going to war, you’re realizing that people are going to die. And the way — this is my comment, not his — the way that they were talking — the way they still talk about the war inside the Beltway is in abstract concepts, grand strategies, who’s right, who’s wrong, not in terms of the human cost that we have now seen in Iraq. And it wasn’t talked that way in 2003 on the eve of the war, either.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to return to another clip of “Buying the War.” This part goes back to September 8th, 2002, the day The New York Times published a front-page article by Michael Gordon and Judith Miller entitled “U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts.” That same day, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press, hosted by Tim Russert.
BILL MOYERS: Quoting anonymous administration officials, the Times reported that Saddam Hussein had launched a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb using specially designed aluminum tubes. And there on Meet the Press that same morning was Vice President Cheney.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Meet the Press, 9/8/02] There’s a story in The New York Times this morning. This is —- and I want to attribute the Times. I don’t want to talk about, obviously, specific intelligence sources, but -—
JONATHAN LANDAY: Now, ordinarily information like the aluminum tubes wouldn’t appear in the news. It was top intelligence. And the vice president and the national security adviser would not be allowed to talk about this on the Sunday talk shows. But it appeared that morning in The New York Times, and therefore, they were able to talk about it.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Meet the Press, 9/8/02] It’s now public that, in fact, he has been seeking to acquire, and we have been able to intercept and prevent him from acquiring, through this particular channel, the kinds of tubes that are necessary to build a centrifuge. And the centrifuge is required to take low-grade uranium and enhance it into highly enriched uranium, which is what you have to have in order to build a bomb.
BILL MOYERS: Did you see that performance?
BOB SIMON: I did.
BILL MOYERS: What did you think?
BOB SIMON: I thought it was remarkable.
BILL MOYERS: Why?
BOB SIMON: Remarkable. You leak a story, and then you quote the story? I mean, that’s a remarkable thing to do.
BILL MOYERS: Using the identical language of the anonymous sources quoted in the Times, top officials were now invoking the ultimate specter of nuclear war: the smoking gun as mushroom cloud.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: [CNN, 9/8/02] There will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire a nuclear weapon. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.
ERIC BOEHLERT: Those sorts of stories, when they appear on the front page of the so-called liberal New York Times, it absolutely comes with a stamp of approval. I mean, if The New York Times thinks Saddam is on the precipice of [inaudible] mushroom clouds, then there is really no debate.
BOB SCHEIFFER: Face the Nation, 9/8/02] We read in The New York Times today a story that says that Saddam Hussein is closer to acquiring nuclear weapons. Does he have nuclear weapons? Is there a smoking gun here?
DONALD RUMSFELD: The smoking gun is an interesting phrase.
COLIN POWELL: Then, as we saw in reporting just this morning…
TIM RUSSERT: What specifically has he obtained that you believe would enhance his nuclear development program?
BILL MOYERS: Was it just a coincidence in your mind that Cheney came on your show and others went on the other Sunday shows the very morning that that story appeared?
TIM RUSSERT: I don’t know. The New York Times is a better judge of that than I am.
BILL MOYERS: No one tipped you that it was going to happen?
TIM RUSSERT: No, no. I mean —
BILL MOYERS: The Cheney office didn’t make any — didn’t leak to you that there was going to be a big story?
TIM RUSSERT: No. No. I mean, I don’t have the — this is — you know, on Meet the Press, people come on and there are no ground rules. We can ask any question we want. I did not know about the aluminum tube story until I read it in The New York Times.
BILL MOYERS: Critics point to September 8, 2002, and to your show, in particular, as the classic case of how the press and the government became inseparable. Someone in the administration plants a dramatic story in The New York Times, and then the vice president comes on your show and points to The New York Times. It’s a circular, self-confirming leak.
TIM RUSSERT: I don’t know how Judith Miller and Michael Gordon reported that story, who their sources were. It was a front-page story of The New York Times. When Secretary Rice and Vice President Cheney and the others came up that Sunday morning on all the Sunday shows, they did exactly that. What my concern was, is that there were concerns expressed by other government officials. And to this day, I wish my phone had rung, or I had access to them.
BILL MOYERS: Bob Simon didn’t wait for the phone to ring.
When you said a moment ago, when we started talking to people who knew about aluminum tubes, what people? Who were you talking to?
BOB SIMON: We were talking to people — to scientists, to scientists and to researchers and to people who had been investigating Iraq from the start.
BILL MOYERS: Would these people have been available to any reporter who called, or were they exclusive sources for 60 Minutes?
BOB SIMON: No, I think that many of them would have been available to any reporter who called.
BILL MOYERS: And you just picked up the phone?
BOB SIMON: Just picked up the phone.
BILL MOYERS: Talked to them?
BOB SIMON: Talked to them and then went down with the cameras.
BILL MOYERS: Few journalists followed suit. And throughout the fall of 2002, high officials were repeating apocalyptic warnings with virtually no demand from the establishment press for evidence.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of “Buying the War” that is airing nationally on PBS tonight, debuting Bill Moyers Journal. The September 8, 2002, article by Judith Miller and Michael Gordon was later singled out by The New York Times as part of its editor’s note apologizing for its inaccurate coverage of Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. Elaborate on this further, the significance of this. And did you talk to Michael Gordon or Judith Miller for this documentary?
BILL MOYERS: No. We asked Judith Miller, but she declined, because she’s been involved in this legal quarrel, called by the government to testify in the Libby trial, so she didn’t want to talk. A number of the early players in this war, I asked to be interviewed, people who had gone along with the war, who helped promote the war, people like Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News; columnists like Charles Krauthammer, who was one of the hawkest of the — one of the most ferocious of the hawks; William Kristol, who edits The Weekly Standard, which had become a kind of mouthpiece of the Pentagon and the neoconservative argument for war. They didn’t want to talk. They prefer to go on friendlier environments to talk about it.
And this is the travesty, this is the — that became the tragedy, Amy. You can’t win — you can fight a war that’s based on lies, but you can’t win it, because there comes a point when you can’t keep asking people to die for a lie. And that’s why there’s a moral tragedy in this. And none of these people — you know, to be a pro-war pundit meant you never had to apologize. If we had standards in journalism so that those of us who might violate them get put in the penalty box for a while, half these people wouldn’t be on the air today. But without ever looking back and saying, “Yes, we were wrong,” they are all over television and the radio today. And that’s one of the reasons I did this broadcast, to try to make them see, hope that they might see themselves in a different light.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the mea culpas, what I call the “kinda culpas” of The New York Times, The Washington Post? New York Times box on page A-10 didn’t name names as it went through the articles, like this one of September 8th that was so definitive in giving a pretext for the war.
BILL MOYERS: Both The New York Times and The Washington Post raised their hands and said, “I’m sorta guilty.” You know, sort of modest mea culpas. But they’ve never really come out and done the detailed analysis of what went wrong and what they’ve done to make sure it doesn’t go wrong again.
AMY GOODMAN: I had a chance to talk to Michael Gordon, the New York Times reporter who co-authored this piece, about a year ago. During our interview, I asked him about his reporting in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
MICHAEL GORDON: There was no agency in the American government that said Saddam was not involved in WMD. You know, the State Department, although it’s turned out to be correct, certainly on the nuclear issue, did not turn out to be —- you know, didn’t challenge the biological case or the chemical case, and I’m going to offer you this last thought, and I’m happy to respond to any questions you have, but, you know, there are a number of complicated WMD issues -—
AMY GOODMAN: Let me just ask something on that. Are you sorry you did the piece? Are you sorry that this piece —
MICHAEL GORDON: No, I’m not. I mean, what — I don’t know if you understand how journalism works, but the way journalism works is you write what you know, and what you know at the time you try to convey as best you can, but then you don’t stop reporting.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me, let me —
MICHAEL GORDON: Can I answer your question, since you asked me a question?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, no, I wanted to get —
MICHAEL GORDON: No, wait a second, if you ask me a question — I’m happy to answer all your questions, but what I’m trying to explain to you is one thing. That was what I knew at the time. It’s true that it was the key judgment. It’s the same information they presented to Colin Powell, by the way, and it’s what persuaded him to go to the United Nations and make the case on the nuclear tubes. I wrote the contrary case, giving the IAEA equal time. They disputed it. I don’t have a dog in this fight. I didn’t know what was the ultimate truth. When the IAEA came out in January and disputed it, I reported it.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Gordon, let me just respond. We don’t —- we have limited time in the program, but I just -—
MICHAEL GORDON: Well, then you should let me answer your questions.
AMY GOODMAN: I did.
MICHAEL GORDON: No, you haven’t let me answer your question.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you sorry then, that The New York Times was sorry that this piece appeared as it did on the front page of The New York Times?
MICHAEL GORDON: I don’t think “sorry” is the word The New York Times used.
AMY GOODMAN: New York Times reporter Michael Gordon. Bill Moyers?
BILL MOYERS: I don’t know Michael Gordon. I would instead urge your viewers to watch the broadcast tonight and see the alternative to the Michael Gordons of the world: the Jonathan Landays and the Warren Strobels. I mean, they were there at the same time. They had sources deep inside the Pentagon, the DIA — the Defense Intelligence Agency — and the CIA. There were other ways of looking at this story and examining and holding the information to scrutiny, and you’ll see those in what the Knight Ridder bureau did: a totally different approach from how The New York Times and Washington Post performed.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, what’s interesting about all of this is it’s not just a historical look. I mean, in the latest issue of FAIR Extra!, which has a cover picture of protest — “Can You Hear Us Now?” — “Here We Go Again” is one of the articles by Steve Rendall, and it refers to Michael Gordon, but this time February 10th, 2007, with that front-page piece, “Deadliest Bomb in Iraq is Made by Iran, U.S. Says.” And once again, you have, as Steven Rendall said, Gordon citing a one-sided array of anonymous sources charging the Iranian government with providing a particularly deadly variety of roadside bomb to Shia militias in Iraq. And you see the drumbeat building now around Iran with these same reporters.
BILL MOYERS: I think some people have learned some lessons. Since the speculation started in January or February that there might be a military strike against Iran by the United States government, I’ve seen a number of mainstream reporters who have done what Strobel and Landay and Walcott did at the time of the buildup to Iraq: begin to ask some tough questions. Not all of them, but I think some of the lessons have sunk in. I mean, the sad thing is that we journalists rarely say, “I’m sorry.” We rarely admit we made a mistake. If there’s a correction by The New York Times of a story, it’s usually like this, and we in broadcasting rarely say we made this mistake. All I’m trying to do with this documentary — and by the way, this is a fact-based, evidence-driven film, in which I talk to people on all sides of the story. What I’m just trying to get us to see in the media is that you should never go to war on a suspicion. You know, I was in the Johnson White House at the time of the escalation to the Vietnam War. David Halberstam and I — the late David Halberstam — had many conversations about this. It was David Halberstam’s reporting from Vietnam that made me realize, even from within the White House, that the official view of reality that we were adopting had some flaws in it.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain how it works. I mean, you were press secretary for Lyndon Johnson.
BILL MOYERS: For two years.
AMY GOODMAN: For two years. Halberstam had been reporting on Vietnam. And again, for viewers and listeners who might have missed the horrible news this week, David Halberstam died in a car crash on Monday morning in California in Menlo Park. How did it work? The journalist out there on the ground; you, the spokesperson for the president of the United States who is waging the war, that one, Vietnam?
BILL MOYERS: Well, David Halberstam is the one reporter who helped me realize over time that what’s important to journalism is not how close you are to power. Michael Gordon was close to power. You have to be influenced by that. You have to believe nobody would lie to you about a war. But David Halberstam and Peter Arnett of the Associated Press and Morley Safer of 60 Minutes were out in Vietnam reporting the facts on the ground. And we’d see those reports, and we’d be angry about them, because they were undermining the official view of reality. And yet, when you thought about them, you realized, what’s their stake? They’re not trying to make policy. They’re trying to report the impact of policy. And so, you begin to pay attention to them, and you realize, as I said, that the further you get from power, the closer you can get to the truth. That was the great lesson of David Halberstam’s life and all of those reporters in Vietnam.
So the reason that I was initially skeptical about the buildup to the war and what we were hearing from the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department four years ago, is because I had been there 40 years ago, when the war in Vietnam was escalating. Lyndon Johnson rushed to a premature judgment on the Gulf of Tonkin. We had flawed intelligence. And we circled the wagons and didn’t want to hear the alternative to our view of the world. And this was happening all over again. George W. Bush, in denial — I think in denial — has been making many of the same mistakes that led us into Vietnam. And Iraq has become a quagmire like Vietnam, because, as I said earlier, you can’t keep asking young men and women to die for a lie, because that’s not the way you win the support of the nation. And when Harry Reid said the war is not winnable, I thought of Vietnam. No matter how much we said or the government said — I had left in early '67 — that there was hope around the corner, the casualty count, both here and in Vietnam, was undermining the case. And that's what’s happening in Iraq now.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill Moyers is our guest. He’s back on PBS tonight with “Buying the War.” We’ll be back with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Bill Moyers, and he is back. We’re going to play another clip. With the documentary, he is debuting his new weekly program on PBS, Bill Moyers Journal, which will normally air on Friday nights, but it’s tonight. It begins with this clip, begins with Walter Isaacson, who served as chair and CEO of CNN during the lead-up to the war in Iraq.
WALTER ISAACSON: One of the great pressures we’re facing in journalism now is it’s a lot cheaper to hire thumb suckers and pundits and have talk shows on the air than actually have bureaus and reporters. And in the age of the Internet, when everybody’s a pundit, we’re still going to need somebody there to go talk to the colonels, to be on the ground in Baghdad and stuff, and that’s very expensive.
DAN RATHER: Reporting is hard. The substitute for reporting far too often has become, “Let’s just ring up an expert. Let’s see. These are experts on international armaments. And I’ll just go down the list here and check Richard Perle.”
RICHARD PERLE: Hardball, 2/25/03] Once it begins to look as though he is relinquishing his grip on power, I think he’s toast.
WILLIAM KRISTOL: Inside Politics, 2/14/03] The choice is disarming him by war or letting him have his weapons of mass destruction.
DAN RATHER: This is journalism on the cheap, if it’s journalism at all. Just pick up the phone, call an expert, bring an expert into the studio. Easy, not time-consuming, doesn’t take resources. And if you’re lucky and good with your list of people, you get an articulate person who will kind of spark up the broadcast.
WALTER ISAACSON: The people at Knight Ridder were calling the colonels and the lieutenants and the people in the CIA and finding out, you know, that intelligence is not very good. We should have all been doing that.
BILL MOYERS: How do you explain that the further you get away from official Washington, the closer you get to reality?
WALTER ISAACSON: That’s one of the hazards in this business, is when you rely on top-level sources too much, you can lose out on getting the real information.
REPORTER: [CNN, 1/19/03] The president’s top national security advisers fanned out on the talk shows with a coordinated message.
DONALD RUMSFELD: [1/19/03] The test here is not whether they can find something. The test is whether or not Iraq is going to cooperate.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: [1/19/03] This is about the disarmament of Iraq, not about weapons inspectors hunting and pecking all over the country.
COLIN POWELL: [1/19/03] Time is running out, and we just can’t keep hunting and pecking and looking…
JOHN WALCOTT: The people at the top generally are political, rather than professional, and their first loyalty is to a political party or to a person, not to a bureaucracy, not to a job. And so, what you get from them is spin.
TIM RUSSERT: Look, I’m a blue-collar guy from Buffalo. I know who my sources are. I work them very hard. It’s the mid-level people that tell you the truth.
BILL MOYERS: They’re the ones who know the story?
TIM RUSSERT: Well, they’re working on the problem, and they understand the detail much better than a lot of the so-called policymakers and political officials.
BILL MOYERS: But they don’t get on the Sunday talk shows?
TIM RUSSERT: No. They don’t want to be, trust me. I mean, they can lose their jobs, and they know it. But they can provide information which can help in me challenging or trying to draw out sometimes their bosses and other public officials.
AMY GOODMAN: Tim Russert in this excerpt of “Buying the War,” which premieres Bill Moyers Journal tonight on PBS. Bill Moyers, in the studio with us. You, in your first weekly show on Friday night, will have both Josh Marshall and Jon Stewart. Explain the significance of Stewart and Comedy Central and The Daily Show.
BILL MOYERS: Well, I almost didn’t come back to PBS. I really wanted to be a correspondent on The Daily Show, but I wasn’t funny enough, so I had Stewart come over. You know, he and I have been back and forth below. Jon Stewart is part of the new media.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you really going to be a correspondent?
BILL MOYERS: No. You’ve been in journalism too long if you start believing things like that, Amy. No, no, I’m just teasing. But Jon Stewart is the Mark Twain of our day. If Mark Twain were here today, he would not be writing these long tomes. He would be on Comedy Central, because the way to get across the truth today is to wrap it in the kind of humor that will go down the way Jon Stewart’s humor goes down. So Jon Stewart on comedy is — by the way, the Pugh Research Center recently pointed out that more people get their reliable news from fake news than they do from the evening newscast. And Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were identified by the most informed people as their regular sources of information about the world. Interesting phenomenon.
Josh Marshall runs two very popular journalistic blogs called talkingpointsmemo.com and muckraker.com. And he was early onto the story of the fired prosecutors, because with the Internet you’ve got so many readers out there, they will report to you what they’re hearing in Little Rock, Arkansas, when a prosecutor gets fired or in New Mexico when a prosecutor gets fired because he’s resisting political influence from the Justice Department. Josh Marshall has a team of reporters, but he uses citizens out there also to serve as his sources.
So you’ve got two new media that are really reshaping our world, along with — seriously — what you are doing here by having cobbled together a non-institutionalized network. You have a network that isn’t an institution. It comes from a lot of people around the country, a lot of sources, low-power radio, NPR, public television stations. The world of the media is changing. It used to be top-down with czars up here who said, “Dan Rather, you can’t report that,” or “Bill Moyers, you can’t say that.” And that’s changing because we’re building up constituencies of people who want alternative information.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel like PBS is changing? I mean, here you left with Ken Tomlinson head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. You were being politically monitored, your content. This man named Mann sent in a review of the guests you had on from a Hallmark store that Ken Tomlinson, the head of CPB, had commissioned. Do you feel like things are different now?
BILL MOYERS: Forty years ago, Lyndon Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, and for all of our flaws, I think PBS has become a true alternative. But —
AMY GOODMAN: Were you his spokesperson then?
BILL MOYERS: No, no. I had left and come to publish Newsday. I left in January of ’67, came to New York to publish Newsday. And that began my re-indoctrination into the world of journalism.
But PBS has been a marvelous source of creativity and alternative information, Amy, but it will never achieve its full potential until is slips the tether of government support. Only 17 percent of PBS’s budget comes from Congress, but that 17 percent compromises the system so much that unconsciously people know that there are places you can’t go, there are things you don’t do. And we serve a sort of centrist role here. I’m fortunate. I don’t take public — my new series does not have public money in it. I didn’t take any money from CPB or any money from PBS. I raised it all from foundations and corporations that believe in the independence of journalism. I am independent. But until PBS finds a way — has it own trust fund, no longer has to go up with its cup out to Congress, it’s not going to achieve its full potential, although I take my hat off to my colleagues throughout the system, because they do the best job they can.
AMY GOODMAN: But it seems in order to deal with this and get away from this, PBS is going to what’s called enhanced underwriting credits, which it’s very hard to distinguish from a commercial, and when it becomes more dependent on corporations, what makes it any different from commercial broadcasting?
BILL MOYERS: This is troubling. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act of '67, he said we believe in a system that is free of commercials and free of commercial values. And by the way, Lyndon Johnson made a fortune owning a monopoly broadcasting station in Austin, Texas. But even Lyndon Johnson knew that if you make peace with the little lies and fantasies of merchandising, you're going to compromise your broadcasting. So we wanted a system that was free of commercials and commercial values.
And, yes, going to get support from people who have identities to sell, images to promote, is compromising if we’re not very careful. I’ve had one corporate underwriter for over 17 years: Mutual of America Insurance Company. They have not once in 17 years, through some of the most controversial programming on public television, mine, have they ever interfered, have they ever asked Monday morning questions, have they ever been troubled. They may have been troubled, but they wouldn’t say anything to me about it. They got lots of criticisms when I would do certain broadcasts, but Mutual has never interfered. I am very lucky in that regard.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of the journalists, the elite journalists, the White House Press Corps, partying with the powerful? You’ve got the White House Correspondents’ dinner. You’ve got the David Gregorys dancing with Karl Rove at the RTNDA dinner. What about all of this?
BILL MOYERS: This is — you know, I did it when I was in Washington 40 years ago. I went to the White House Press Correspondents’ dinner. There’s a famous picture of me doing the frug — you were too young, you’re too young to know what the frug was — at one of those parties. It was only when I left Washington that I realized I was on the same reservation with them. I mean, whether we like to admit it or not, Washington is a company town. What’s the company? What’s the industry? Government. Who are the satellites? The press. And it’s such a small community, relatively speaking, and its interests are so much the same that people unintentionally lose the power to differentiate. And I am troubled today by the intimacy that seems to have developed — and you’ll see it on our broadcast tonight — between the stars of media and the powers of government. They are too close for comfort.
AMY GOODMAN: NAB, the National Association of Broadcasters, the consolidation of media, the advertisements — in the last week the gabfest everywhere for the end of the money quarter, and talking about the politicians — Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton — who had raised tens of millions of dollars. What they don’t talk about is where it’s going. The majority is going to those people who are speaking on the networks, their bosses.
BILL MOYERS: It’s a racket. It’s a racket. Let’s just face it. Democracy has become a racket when it comes to money and politics and the media. Most of that money goes to the consultants, the advertisers, the people who make the ads. Then it goes to the people who broadcast the ads. And one of the reasons you don’t get a lot of coverage on the local television stations today of local politics — it’s abominable —- is because they want that money from the advertising. I mean, this is contempt. It’s contempt of democracy. It’s contempt of our freedoms. And the collusion between broadcasters and politicians who raise all this money to support the broadcast industry to pay for the advertising is a corrupting power. We cannot rightly claim to have a functioning democracy as long as money is sovereign the way it is. And the press is covering the story of their raising money, not what they’re saying, and the stations out there are waiting -—
AMY GOODMAN: Covering up the story.
BILL MOYERS: Covering up the story, yeah. I mean, this — I would like to be nice about it. I would like to be diplomatic about it. But the fact of the matter is there’s a cancer eating at the heart of democracy, and it’s money in politics. If free speech means you have to buy it, then only those who can afford it have free speech. And that’s contemptible.
AMY GOODMAN: The consolidation of media — the Tribune Company has just announced it’s planning to cut 300 jobs from the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, The Baltimore Sun, just one small example.
BILL MOYERS: You know, Dan Rather is an honest man. I’ve known him 40 years. He was a good man caught in a rigged system, you know, in which you can’t ever really be totally yourself in commercial broadcasting. In the documentary tonight, he himself raises the question and says one of the compromising realities that we face is that the guys at the top of CBS, Viacom, have business dealings in Washington where they want deregulation, subsidies, tax breaks — I’m paraphrasing Dan now — and he says that has become a significant problem. In effect, the news business is at war with journalism.
And Sumner Redstone — you know, Sumner Redstone, the head of Viacom, the chairman of Viacom, said, “I’m going to vote Republican, although I’m a Democrat, because the Republicans will be better for Viacom than the Democrats.” Well, that trickles down to the newsroom. It has to trickle down to the newsroom. It’s a real world we live in.
And the fact that — well, today, you know, there’s a story in the press today that the stockholders who are opposed to family control of The New York Times — and one of those stockholders is Morgan Stanley, the big investment firm — are bringing enormous pressure to bear on The New York Times because it’s not returning a large enough profit. Now, The New York Times makes a lot of mistakes, like all news organizations do, but you have to say that as long as the family has owned that, they have been a better place to work as a journalist than almost any other major institutional publication. And if — well, look at what happened to Knight Ridder. Knight Ridder was, I think, the best newspaper chain in America — they had the best bureau in Washington — and that includes The New York Times and The Washington Post. But a few investors decided that Knight Ridder stock was not bringing them a big enough return, so they forced Knight Ridder to sell and disband. It’s now owned by McClatchy. They’re still running a good bureau down there, but the point is, as Dan Rather says in the documentary tonight, the for-profit approach to news is corrupting journalism.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, you asked Tim Russert, you said why not have the mid-level people on who are his sources, who are telling the truth, but there’s another whole sector. It’s the grassroots of this country. And what has been whited out of the media are the mass movements that make history, the movement growing all over this country, including in the military and intelligence, that’s opposed to war, hearing those voices at the grassroots level. And the population that has not been heard from the most on television, I would say, which is the one that overwhelmingly has the highest percentage opposed to war: African Americans in this country.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, the most successful recycling industry in America is among the handful of elite journalists and public officials. They just keep recycling themselves. You know, I saw Newt Gingrich on George Stephanopoulos last week blaming what happened in Virginia on liberals. I saw the discredited Tom DeLay —
AMY GOODMAN: He did the same on the Oklahoma City bombing.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah. I saw Tom DeLay, totally discredited by his conduct, on all the talk shows, you know, on PBS and other places of the day. It’s a recycling business. And the people who look at the world from the grassroots rarely get on television, with the exception of Democracy Now! and Bill Moyers Journal.
By the way, I just did a marvelous interview that will appear a few weeks from now on Bill Moyers Journal on Friday night with Grace Lee Boggs. You know her? Grace Lee Boggs, 91 years old, been a philosopher, a social activist, a Chinese American married to an African-American man, the late Jimmy Boggs, and she says in this documentary — in this interview that you’ll see in about three or four weeks on Bill Moyers Journal, she says we have to realize revolutions don’t start with government. They start with the grassroots. And she was in town recently, working with the poor, making speeches at churches. And I thought, as I watched her, that this is where the cultural change is going to come in America, the cultural and political change: from the grassroots.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. Bill Moyers begins Bill Moyers Journal tonight with “Buying the War.” PBS around the country. Bill Moyers, winner of more than 30 Emmy Awards, author of three best-selling books.