Mr. Bill Moyers. This from a speech last May--the best articulation I've ever seen of the empty symbolism that now passes for patriotic sentiment:
Apparently there was apoplexy in the right wing area, particularly when I closed the [NOW] broadcast one Friday night by putting a flag in my lapel and said--well, here's exactly what I said. Here's a copy of what I said: "I wore my flag tonight, first time. Until now I haven't thought it necessary to display a little metallic icon of patriotism for everyone to see. It was enough to vote, pay my taxes, perform my civic duties, speak my mind and do my best to raise our kids to be good Americans. Sometimes I would offer a small prayer of gratitude that I had been born in a country whose institutions sustain me, whose armed forces protected me and whose ideals inspired me. I offered my heart's affection in return. It no more occurred to me to flaunt the flag on my chest than it did to pin my mother's picture on my lapel to prove her son's love. Mother knew where I stood. So does my country. I even tuck a valentine in my tax returns on April 15th. So what's this doing here? I put it on to take it back. The flag's been hijacked and turned into a logo, the trademark--the trademark of a monopoly on patriotism. On most Sunday morning talk shows, official chests appear adorned with the flag as if it's the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. During the State of the Union, did you notice Bush and Cheney wearing the flag? How come? No administration's patriotism is ever in doubt, only its policies. And the flag bestows no immunity from error. When I see flags sprouting on official labels, I think of the time in China when I saw Mao's Little Red Book of orthodoxy on every official's desk, omnipresent and unread.
"But more galling than anything are all those moralistic ideologues in Washington sporting the flag in their lapel while writing books and running web sites and publishing magazines attacking dissenters as un-American. They are people whose ardor for war grows disproportionately to their distance from the fighting. They're in the same league as those swarms of corporate lobbyists wearing flags and prowling Capitol Hill for tax breaks, even as they call for spending more on war.
"So I put this on as a modest riposte to men with flags in their lapels who shoot missiles from the safety of Washington think tanks. or argue that sacrifice is good as long as they don't have to make it, or approve of bribing governments to join the 'Coalition of the Willing.' I put it on to remind myself that not every patriot thinks we should do to the people of Baghdad what bin Laden did to us. The flag belongs to the country, not to the government, and it reminds me that it's not un-American to think that war, except in self defense, is a failure of moral imagination, political nerve and diplomacy. Come to think of it, standing up to your government can mean standing up for your country."
What I love about Moyers is that, more than anybody, he's been the chronicler of and tribune against the right-wing assault on the American system itself. With NOW, he marvelously documented both causes and effects; he also tried to raise the level of conversation, and was scrupulously fair about incorporating perspectives with which he clearly disagreed. I remember watching one night when he had on David Keane of the American Conservative Union. After the substance of whatever they were discussing, Keane closed by saying something like, "I don't think you're treasonous or un-American, Bill. Just wrong." Moyers left it at that.
But this commitment to full debate didn't do it for the current ruling powers of Occupied Washington. As is now well known, they tried to drown out Moyers and bury NOW in a sea of right-wing noise. In this incredible speech given recently at an anniversary celebration for the National Security Archive, Moyers finally told his side of the story.
Once upon a time--four years ago to be exact--PBS asked me to create a new weekly broadcast of news, analysis, and interviews. They wanted it based outside the beltway and to be like nothing else on the air: report stories no one else was covering, conduct a conversation you couldn't hear anywhere else. That we did. We offered our viewers a choice, not an echo. In our mandate, we reached back to the words of Lord Byron that once graced the masthead of many small town newspapers: "Without, or with, offence to friends or foes," he said, "I sketch your world exactly as it goes."
We reported real stories and talked with real people about real problems. We told how faraway decision-making affected their lives. We reported on political influence that led to mountaintop removal mining and how the government was colluding with industry to cover up the effect of mercury in fish on pregnant women.
We described what life was like for homeless veterans and child migrants working in the fields. We exposed Wall Street shenanigans and tracked the Washington revolving door. We reported how Congress had defeated efforts to enact safeguards that would mitigate a scandal like Enron, and how those efforts were shot down by some of the same politicians who were then charged with investigating the scandal. We investigated the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Steven Griles, a full�18 months before he resigned over conflicts of interest involving the oil and mining industries for which he had been a lobbyist on the other side of that revolving door. We reported on those secret meetings held by Cheney with his industry pals and attempted to find out who was in the room and what was discussed. We reported how ExxonMobil had influenced the White House to replace a scientist who believes global warming is real.
We won an Emmy for the hour-long profile of Chuck Spinney, the Pentagon whistleblower who worked from within to expose graft and waste in defense spending. And the blog, Dailykos.com, speculated that it was our interview with Ambassador Joe Wilson, two weeks before the invasion of Iraq and months before Robert Novak outed Wilson's wife Valerie Plame as a CIA operative, that first outraged the administration. "An honor I dreamed not of."
None of this escaped the attention of the Chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Kenneth Tomlinson, a buddy of Karl Rove and the designated driver for the administration's partisan agenda for public broadcasting. Tomlinson set out, secretly, to discredit our broadcast. He accused us of being unfair and unbalanced, but that wouldn't wash. We did talk with liberal voices like Howard Zinn, Susan Sontag, Sister Joan Chittester, Isabel Allende, Thomas Frank and Arundhati Roy. But we also spoke with right-wingers like Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Cal Thomas, Frank Luntz, Richard Viguerie, Robert Bartley of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and then his successor, Paul Gigot.
What got Tomlinson's goat was our reporting. After all, we kept after his political pals for keeping secrets, and over and again we reported on how the big media conglomerates were in cahoots with official Washington, scheming for permission to get bigger and bigger. The mainstream media wouldn't touch this topic. Murdoch, Time Warner, Viacom, GE/NBC, Disney/ABC, Clear Channel, Sinclair--all stood to gain if their lobbying succeeded. Barry Diller appeared on our broadcast and described the relationship between the big news media and Washington as an "oligarchy." Sure enough, except for NOW with Bill Moyers, the broadcast media were silent about how they were lobbying for more and more power over what Americans see, read, and hear. It was left to one little broadcast, relegated to the black hole of Friday night, to shine the light on one of the most important stories of the decade.
What finally sent Tomlinson over the edge and off to the ramparts, however, was a documentary we did about the people of Tamaqua, a small town in Pennsylvania. The Morgan Knitting Mill there had just laid off more than a third of its workforce-- the last of 25 textile mills that sustained the townspeople after the demise of the coal industry. The jobs were going to Honduras and China. Our report told how free trade agreements like NAFTA had encouraged companies to lay off American workers, produce goods more cheaply abroad and then import the goods back here. We showed how the global economy contributes to the growing inequality in America, with the gap between the rich and poor doubling in the last three decades until it is now wider than in the days of the Great Depression.
Those are the facts--"reality-based" reporting--that caused Tomlinson to tell The Washington Post that what he saw was "liberal advocacy journalism." Well, if reporting what happens to ordinary people because of events beyond their control, and the indifference of government to their fate, is liberalism, I plead guilty.
Tomlinson was now on the warpath. In secret (his preferred modus operandi ) he hired an acquaintance out in Indianapolis named Fred Mann to monitor the content of our show. What qualified Fred Mann for the job has been hard to learn. His most recent position was as director of the Job Bank and alumni services at the National Journalism Center in Herndon, Virginia, an organization that is administered by the Young America's Foundation, which is, in turn, affiliated with the rightwing Young Americans for Freedom. The foundation describes itself as "the principle outreach organization for the conservative movement" and has received funding from ExxonMobil and Phillip Morris, among others. But the trail to Mann went cold there. Several journalists have tried telephoning or emailing him. I tried four times just this week to reach him. One enterprising young reporter even left notes for him at an Indianapolis Hallmark Store where Mann frequently faxed data to Tomlinson. No luck. I guess we'll have to wait for Robert Novak to out him.
Fred Mann never got around to writing his full report, but when members of Congress pressed Tomlinson to show them the notes from Mann, it turns out that he had divided NOW's guests into categories, with headings like, "Anti-Bush," "Anti-business," and "Anti-Tom DeLay." He characterized Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, who departed from Republican orthodoxy to question the Iraq war, as "liberal," which must have come as a quite a shock to the senator.
During all this I sought several times to meet with Tomlinson and the Board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I wanted to ask them first-hand what was going on and to discuss the importance of public broadcasting's independence. They refused. I invited Tomlinson more than once to go on the air with me, with a moderator and format of his choosing, to discuss our views on the role of public broadcasting. He refused.
But all the while he was crudely pressuring the President of PBS, Pat Mitchell, to counter NOW. And he himself was in direct contact with Paul Gigot, the rightwing editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial pages, to bring to PBS a show that Gigot had hosted on the cable business network CNBC until it was cancelled for lack of an audience. So the Journal Editorial Report came to PBS, with the Wall Street Journal, that fierce defender of the free market, accepting over $4 million of taxpayer dollars courtesy of Ken Tomlinson.
The emails between Tomlinson and Gigot during this time reveal two ideological soul mates scheming to make sure "our side," as they described themselves, gets "an absolute duplication of what Moyers is doing." But as the record will show, Gigot's show was nowhere near what NOW with Bill Moyers was doing. We were digging, investigating, and reporting; they were opining. We were offering a wide range of opinions and views; they were talking to each other. The participants on Gigot's broadcast were his own staff members at the newspaper whose editorial pages are the Pravda of American journalism, where the Right speaks only to the Right. To be blunt about it, we had more diversity of opinion on a single broadcast than Gigot had all year or than he has ever tolerated on his own editorial pages. Reporting? You have to be kidding. In their private exchange of emails Tomlinson informs Gigot that he doesn't really need to do field reporting. Gigot agrees, and goes on to say that he finds such reporting not only a waste of time and money, but "boring" [I'm not making this up: the editor of the editorial page of a great American newspaper finds field reporting "boring."] So it is that ideologues like Gigot can hold stoutly to a worldview despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality.
Gigot has now taken his show to FOX News, where such tactics will find a compatible home among like-minded partisans. "Our side" turns out to be the great Republican noise machine. A couple of days after that announcement, the Wall Street Journal published a thoroughly disingenuous editorial, obviously written by Gigot, defending Kenneth Tomlinson and their own involvement with him, while taking potshots at the Inspector General of CPB who had investigated the whole mess at the request of members of Congress. The editorial compared him to Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau.
But in a final triumph of reporting and evidence over ideology and spin, the Inspector found that Tomlinson had committed multiple transgressions: he broke the law, violated the corporation's guidelines for contracting, meddled in program decisions, injected politics into hiring procedures, and admonished CPB executive staff "not to interfere with his deal" with Gigot. The emails show Tomlinson bragging to Karl Rove, who played an important role in his appointment as chairman, about his success in "shaking things up" at CPB. They also confirm that he had consulted the White House about recruiting loyalist Republicans to serve as his confederates in an organization that had been created in 1967 to prevent just such partisan meddling in public broadcasting. (Thanks to Tomlinson and his White House allies, the new President of CPB is the former co-chair of the Republican National Committee. She arrives under a cloud that only her actions can dispel. We shall see.)
Curiously, Gigot's Wall Street Journal editorial conveniently failed to mention that the emails between himself and Tomlinson indicate Tomlinson perjured himself under oath, before Congress, when he said he had nothing to do with the agreement that landed Gigot at PBS. Fact is, they worked hand-in-glove. As I just mentioned, Tomlinson told his own staff not to interfere with "his deal" with Gigot. There's even an email in which Tomlinson says to Gigot, after they have been plotting on how to bring the proposed Gigot show to fruition, "Let's stay in close touch."