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Bill Moyers Responds

With a rejoinder from Stephen F. Hayes.

11:01 PM, Feb 21, 2002 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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BILL MOYERS responds to Stephen F. Hayes's piece "PBS's Televangelist":

Stephen Hayes opens his attack on me ("PBS's Televangelist," Feb. 25) by claiming that in the PBS specials following September 11 I interviewed, among others, "Cornel West, O.J. attorney Alan Dershowitz, and 'Vagina Monologues' playwright Eve Ensler." He gets it right only once. I have never met or interviewed Alan Dershowitz or Eve Ensler.

Two errors on the opening pitch: Not a promising start. But it's the standard (no pun intended). Mr. Hayes maintains for the remainder of his game. For example, by garbling the record, he tries to score points on comments I once made about interviewing right-wingers who want to "hit first and ask questions later." But he says nothing about all the interviews I have conducted over the years with such widely admired conservatives as Ronald Reagan (for a full hour on PBS, from his ranch--the first such interview he had permitted there), George H. W. Bush (also a full PBS hour), Sandra Day O'Connor (another hour), Edwin Meese, Robert Bork, Leon Kass, Thomas Wolfe, Mary Ann Glendon, John Lukacs, etc. To have included such information, of course, would have spoiled Mr. Hayes's polemic.

Another example: Mr. Hayes bravely quotes an anonymous "Republican adviser" as saying that "the only qualification for Moyers [in hosting the new PBS series "NOW with Bill Moyers"] is that he keeps comparing conservative Republicans to the Taliban." I asked Mr. Hayes to provide chapter-and-verse for his source's allegation. He didn't because he couldn't. Check the transcripts yourself: I used that description once in a broadcast to describe Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell when they piously agreed with bin Laden that "what happened on 9/11 was God's judgment on a decadent America."

So it goes: Paragraph after paragraph, replete with willful misrepresentation, deceitful juxtaposition, and outright error, with a little hypocrisy thrown in for flavor. Mr. Hayes makes a big to-do out of the fact that I wouldn't disclose to him what my income is, but as a journalist I am no more obligated to publish my earnings than is Weekly Standard editor William Kristol--less so, in fact, since I took no money from Enron. Furthermore, as I told him, I follow the same proprietary rules as every other independent production company in the field--from Ken Burns and MacNeil/Lehrer Productions to productions of "Firing Line" and McLaughlin and Company.

Mr. Hayes seems to think he was being spun when he called my office seeking an interview and was told my doctor had advised me not to talk "on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays." But that was a real case of severe laryngitis and the doctor had indeed said that I shouldn't talk if I wanted to broadcast later in the week, a point I would have shared with Mr. Hayes if he had asked. (The laryngitis mysteriously struck, by the way, soon after a rumor circulated that a voodoo doll bearing my likeness had been delivered to the office of Richard Armey from the Heritage Foundation, where Mr. Hayes served his apprenticeship in polemics; I have been unable to confirm that rumor, but because of the credibility of the source--an anonymous "Republican adviser"--I have decided to publish it.)

You get the drift. Mr. Hayes had a job to do, and he did it. His assignment was not to get it right but to get it Right. Periodically for twenty years now the right-wing complex in Washington has come after me in order to get at PBS (always--surprise, surprise!--just before the appropriations process in Congress.) It's not a pretty sight--Reed Irvine wielding a bludgeon or David Horowitz an axe--but as Mr. Hayes so patently demonstrates, since when do Tony Soprano's boys concern themselves with aesthetics in dispatching their quarry?

What raised the ideological ire this time is the recent Middleton Lecture at the LBJ Library, where I talked once again about how the nexus of corporate power, market fundamentalism, and money in politics is transforming democracy, undermining capitalism, and polarizing America. I was tempted to take out an advertisement to reprint it here to demonstrate just how grossly Mr. Hayes distorts my meaning, but I hate to think I'd be subsidizing Rupert Murdoch. So I will just recommend that your more fair-minded readers check it out for themselves at the LBJ library.

Bill Moyers

Stephen F. Hayes replies: Bill Moyers writes that my article on him features "paragraph after paragraph" of "willful misrepresentation, deceitful juxtaposition, and outright error." He comes up with just two examples.

Let's deal with the more important complaint first. Moyers is unhappy that someone carped to me: "The only qualification for Moyers" to be selected to anchor PBS's post-Sept. 11 programming "is that he keeps comparing conservative Republicans to the Taliban." Moyers claims that I "didn't" and "couldn't" substantiate this.

Leaving aside the fact that the source was speaking sarcastically--a type of rhetoric that Bill Moyers otherwise shows great facility with--I provided several examples of such comparisons in my brief chat with him. Indeed, Moyers was a pioneer in deploying the conservatives-as-Taliban trope. Here's what he said in a speech last March 22: "When [producer] Sherry [Jones] and I reported the truth behind the news of the Iran-contra scandal for a Frontline documentary called "High Crimes and Misdemeanors," the right-wing Taliban in town went running to the ayatollahs in Congress, who decried the fact that public television was committing--horrors--journalism."

And of course, the speech at the LBJ library that he references is one long exercise in drawing parallels between terrorists and conservatives. Both are "true believers" who "threaten our democracy" he says.

When I interviewed him, Moyers didn't deny, as he does now, that I was able to substantiate my source's gibe. Instead, he sought to draw a distinction between what he says on the air and the politically partisan red meat he serves up on the lecture circuit. In fact, when I asked him about the LBJ speech, he said "That's fair game, you've got it on the record there." Then he compared himself to conservative eminence and longtime "Firing Line" host William F. Buckley. "Bill Buckley used to make speeches all the time to Republicans and conservative audiences, even while he was conducting the longest-running show in PBS history. But did you find those things he said in his speeches in his show? Not necessarily." So much for what I "didn't" and "couldn't" substantiate.

As for the other allegation of error, Moyers says that he has "never met or interviewed Alan Dershowitz or Eve Ensler." I wrote that a PBS special Moyers co-hosted with Gwen Ifill on September 20 featured "two hours of live dialogue between Moyers and, among others, author and rapper extraordinaire Cornel West, O.J. attorney Alan Dershowitz, and 'Vagina Monologues' playwright Eve Ensler." PBS itself called the show a "dialogue from Washington, New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco . . . co-anchored by Mr. Moyers (in New York) and Ms. Ifill (in Washington)."

Contrary to the impression left by Moyers's letter, Dershowitz and Ensler did appear on the show. Ensler's appearance was a pre-taped (what else) monologue. Dershowitz, interviewed by Emily Rooney, appeared live from WGBH studios in Boston. My use of the word "dialogue," echoing PBS's spiel, may have been imprecise. If so, I'm certainly willing to stipulate that Bill Moyers doesn't personally conduct interviews with or meet all the people who appear on his shows.

Stephen F. Hayes is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.