The Corner

Bill Moyers’s “Journal(ism)”

I don’t really watch Bill Moyers’s show, and by “really” I mean pretty much never, ever. Except that I have watched some of it –  twice in the last month in fact. Once was by accident. While channel surfing I caught Moyers grilling my liberal friend Peter Beinart. Apparently in the lead-up to the Iraq war, Peter had not lived up to the former LBJ press flack’s exacting standards for truth, research and skepticism. Peter held his own just fine. But Moyers’ low-boil sanctimony made a real impression on me.  The second time I watched Moyers’ show was his Jeremiah Wright interview. And, though this will shock no one, the standards Moyers’ finds so lacking in others were completely absent in Moyers as well. I know the show is called Bill Moyers’ Journal, the conceit being that people really care what Moyers’ thinks about himself. So we can forgive somewhat his odd fascination with the fact that he  didn’t personally know Wright. I guess we can forgive this odd stroll down memory lane as well:

He served six years in the military: two as a marine, and four in the Navy as a cardiopulmonary technician. That’s where our paths crossed for the only time.

[Photo of LBJ at the hospital]

That’s Jeremiah Wright, behind the I.V. pole, monitoring President Lyndon Johnson’s heart as he was recovering from gall bladder surgery at Bethesda Naval Hospital. And right behind him is a very young me. I was the President’s Press Secretary.

Vital information indeed! 

Perhaps on the next exciting installment he could recount us the tale of using the urinal adjacent to Dag Hammarskjold or maybe the time he caught Pierre Salinger double-dipping a potato chip in the guacamole at Cesar Chavez’s birthday party.

Anyway, the interview made Barbara Walters seem like an interrogator for the Egyptian secret service. But I did hope that in at least one area Moyers would show some integrity. He even gave me hope that he would. In his introductory remarks Moyers said:

Jeremiah Wright will be in Washington Monday for a news conference at the National Press Club — his first since the controversy erupted over those incendiary sound bites. You’ve heard them; who hasn’t heard them: Wright suggesting the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were payback for American policy; Wright repeating the canard heard often in black communities that the u.s. government spread HIV in those communities; Wright seemingly calling on God to damn America.

But just who is this man? That’s the question I asked when those sound bites began popping up. I’d heard the name Jeremiah Wright — his church in Chicago belongs to the fellowship of the United Church of Christ. I joined a UCC church on Long Island 40 years ago and attend Riverside Church in New York City, which is affiliated with American Baptists and the UCC. But I couldn’t remember ever having met Reverend Wright. So I wanted to know more about the man, the ministry, and the church.

Me: I liked the fact that Moyers called the HIV thing a canard. It gave me hope that he would actually ask Wright about it. But, no. It was not to be.  That would be too journalistic. 

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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