The Magazine

J. Edgar Moyers

The biggest hypocrite in America.

Mar 2, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 23 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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The most surprising thing about the recent revelations concerning Bill Moyers is that anyone should be surprised. For those of us who care--and those of us who care, care deeply--detailed accounts of Moyers's career as a political bottom-feeder have been publicly available since the mid-1970s.

Yet even Moyers watchers will find the new information juicy, if perfectly in keeping with the Moyers we have come to know. The Washington Post reported last week that in 1964, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI investigated Jack Valenti, a close aide to President Lyndon Johnson, chasing rumors that Valenti was gay. He wasn't, but homosexuality was a sore subject in the Johnson White House in 1964. The same month that the FBI launched its investigation into Valenti, the president's most trusted adviser, a fellow Texan named Walter Jenkins, was arrested in a Washington YMCA on what was then quaintly called a "morals charge." The presidential election was a few weeks away. The timing could have been better.

With Johnson's reluctant approval, the FBI followed an anonymous tip that Valenti was (another quaint phrase) "a sex pervert." Hoover's men came up with nothing, aside from a remark from a closeted gay photographer that Valenti was a "very charming and intelligent individual." He was certainly right about that. After he left government Valenti became a lobbyist for Hollywood and a Washington fixture, impossible to miss at a black tie dinner or in the gossip column of the Post or zipping down H Street in his silver Mercedes. He was the size of a leprechaun and accented his mysteriously deep permatan with a gleaming semi-pompadour. His fathomless store of gossip, his gift for profanity, and, perhaps most of all, his clothes--high collars, billowing ties, Burberry two-buttoned, double-vented suits with lapels as sharp as an X-Acto knife--marked him as a creature otherwise unseen in the natural world. Valenti was the Washington lounge lizard.

Another trait of his, one he shared with many veterans of the Johnson White House, was a deep antagonism to Bill Moyers, who had also served Johnson as an aide/confidant/sycophant. (Johnson required his staff to multitask.) The FBI memos that the Post uncovered give a hint why Moyers's former colleagues disliked him so. "Even Bill Moyers," the Post reporter writes, "is described in the records as seeking information on the sexual preferences of White House staff members." Even Bill Moyers! Forty years of bogus reputation-building prop up that even. Valenti knew better. When he was in government, seeking information about sexual preferences was the kind of thing Moyers did.

In 1976, a Senate committee, forever after known as the Church Committee, released reams of documents recounting the unseemly behavior of American intelligence agencies during the 1950s and 1960s. Several of the documents involved Moyers, who by the mid-1970s had already climbed into his PBS pulpit and assumed the role of national scold, thrashing, for example, the Nixon administration for its abuse of governmental power--just as he would later vilify the Reagan administration, during the Iran-contra scandal.

The Church documents detailed the government's notorious campaign against Martin Luther King Jr.--a series of wiretaps and other surveillance, covering King from his home to his hotel rooms, which began under President Kennedy and accelerated under Johnson. Hoover routinely forwarded the results, including accounts of King's sexual activities, to the Johnson White House, and on at least one occasion Moyers forwarded a Hoover report on King throughout the executive branch.

In retrospect, when he has discussed it, Moyers has said the White House's interest in King was in monitoring his association with alleged Communists who might endanger the civil rights movement. But King had another association even more worrisome to the White House: anti-establishment Democrats. King traveled to the 1964 Democratic Convention in hopes of encouraging a slate of dissident delegates and was greeted by the usual FBI wiretaps. The agent in charge, Cartha DeLoach, kept in contact with Moyers and Walter Jenkins throughout the convention. Afterwards, Moyers sent a thank-you note to DeLoach, who replied:

Thank you for your very thoughtful and generous note concerning our operation in Atlantic City. .  .  . I'm certainly glad that we were able to come through with vital tidbits from time to time which were of assistance to you and Walter. You know you have only to call on us when a similar situation arises.