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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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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.