The film Selma, which chronicles the pivotal battle in the civil rights movement, is currently in theaters and has even garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The film has an unlikely critic, however—PBS host and former White House aide to Lyndon Johnson Bill Moyers. Moyers accuses the film of an “egregious and outrageous portrayal [of Lyndon Johnson’s conduct] that is the worst kind of creative license.” Specifically, Moyers is upset that the film suggests LBJ was behind Coretta Scott King receiving a recording of her husband having sex with another woman.
As an icon of the American left, Bill Moyers is unlikely ever to be held accountable for the sins he committed as Lyndon Johnson’s White House hatchet man. Nonetheless, we never fail to be amazed at Moyers’s arrogance and willingness to wade into civil rights debates given his own participation in the Johnson administration’s persecution of Martin Luther King Jr. The Weekly Standard’s own Andrew Ferguson first dragged Moyers’s misdeeds back into the light two decades ago in the New Republic:
As the campaign against King progressed, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover routinely forwarded to the White House summaries of the King wiretaps, which were placed not only in King’s home and office but also in his hotel rooms around the country. The summaries covered not only King’s dealings with associates but also his sexual activities. After receiving one such summary, Moyers instructed the FBI to disseminate it widely throughout the executive branch, to Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, Carl Rowan, and many others. Moyers was also aware at the time of Hoover’s efforts to leak the King material to the press.
That wasn’t the full extent of it. In 2009, the Washington Post reported that Moyers had also made inquiries regarding the sexual preferences of Jack Valenti and others working in the White House. When the Post asked about these allegations, it reported: “Moyers said by e-mail yesterday that his memory is unclear after so many years.”
Moyers’s reputation in the LBJ White House at the time was such that veteran journalist Morley Safer had this to say in his memoir: “I find it hard to believe that Bill Moyers would engage in character assassination. . . . But I confess, I find it harder not to believe it.” Safer continued:
His part in Lyndon Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover’s bugging of Martin Luther King’s private life, the leaks to the press and diplomatic corps, the surveillance of civil rights groups at the 1964 Democratic Convention, and his request for damaging information from Hoover on members of the Goldwater campaign suggest he was not only a good soldier but a gleeful retainer feeding the appetites of Lyndon Johnson.
There is no doubt that Johnson and Moyers had zero scruples when it came to spying on people’s sex lives and leaking personally damaging information. Maybe LBJ wasn’t behind the leaking of MLK’s sex tape to his wife, but Moyers is the last person one should trust to tell the truth about it, and it is by no means the “worst kind of creative license” to speculate Johnson was capable of such a thing. Indeed, this is a case where the use of creative license is more than warranted. Whatever other historical facts Selma may have gotten wrong, we’d venture that nothing in the film is quite so outrageous as the fact that a seemingly unrepentant Moyers thinks he has the moral standing to complain about the accurate portrayal of Lyndon Johnson as a president who abused his power.