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In another sense, though, the choice of Moyers to lead a national reflection in the wake of September 11 was strange. Moyers hardly qualifies as politically nonaligned, a neutral moderator respectful of all sides. In recent years, this veteran of the Great Society--he began his public life as an aide to President Lyndon Johnson--has drifted further to the left, his arguments increasingly strident. By 1991, he was telling interviewer Eric Alterman, "I find it very hard to have intelligent conversations with people on the right wing because they want to hit first and ask questions later."
Moyers's difficulty conversing with people on the right seems to have impaired his ability to report their opinions fairly, particularly on issues of race. "The right gets away with blaming liberals for their efforts to help the poor, but what the right is really objecting to is the fact that the poor are primarily black," he told Alterman. "The man who sits in the White House today [George H.W. Bush] opposed the Civil Rights Act. So did Ronald Reagan. This crowd is really fighting a retroactive civil rights war to prevent the people they dislike because of their color from achieving success in American life."
For Moyers, the statement was hardly exceptional. No wonder some on Capitol Hill and in public television are incensed at Mitchell's choice of host for the new PBS series. "Why Moyers?" asks one longtime Republican adviser. "The only qualification for Moyers in this area is that he keeps comparing conservative Republicans to the Taliban."