Bill Moyers looks inside the right-wing media machine that the conservative NEW YORK TIMES columnist David Brooks called a “dazzlingly efficient ideology delivery system.” The program examines how a vast echo chamber that is admittedly partisan and powerfully successful delivers information — and misinformation — with more regard for propaganda than fact. Founding father to the conservative movement, Richard Viguerie tells Moyers, “That’s what journalism is, Bill. It’s all just opinion. Just opinion.”
Since 9/11 and the start of the war on terror, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been one of the leading voices in the fight for the protection of civil liberties. They have taken on cases when no one else would, cases involving foreign nationals living in our country whose rights were violated in the early round-ups after 9/11, or cases where law enforcement infiltrated groups of US nationals on our soil, only because they disagreed with our government’s policies. Most recently they have been in the news for making public a series “of U.S. Navy documents that reveal that abuse and even torture of detainees by US Marines in Iraq was widespread.” Bill Moyers speaks with Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, about life amidst an ongoing war on terror and the delicate balance between protecting civil liberties and national security. Moyers ends the show by signing off for one last time as he hands the ropes over to co-host David Brancaccio.
You can access the original web page for this program at the archived NOW with Bill Moyers website.
BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW. In the news this week plenty of opportunity to compare and contrast.
On one side, the President gives George Tenet, the man in charge of the CIA at the time of the 9/11 attacks, this country’s highest civilian award, the presidential medal of freedom.
On the other side, the President today signs a law that will turn the CIA upside down because of all of its intelligence failures. The independent 9/11 Commission pushed for these changes after the CIA failed repeatedly to uncover information about the terrorists’ intentions.
MOYERS: As usual, we’re not making this up. It’s all on the record. And thanks to a front page story in the NEW YORK TIMES this week, we have also learned of a debate raging in the corridors of the Pentagon. Seems some folks there want to go even further in using lies and misinformation to manipulate public opinion abroad.
We have news for them. A former corporal in the German army learned how to do that first. In his gospel of MEIN KAMPF, the future fuehrer of Nazi Germany wrote that, “The great masses of people—will more easily fall victim to a great lie than to a small one.”
Which brings us to our first subject. On the eve of the election last month my wife Judith and I were driving home late in the afternoon and turned on the radio for the traffic and weather. What we instantly got was a freak show of political pornography: lies, distortions, and half-truths — half-truths being perhaps the blackest of all lies. They paraded before us as informed opinion.
Now we weren’t born yesterday, and what we heard was not news to us. But it came with such force, so close to the election, and from one of the country’s most powerful corporations, that the message and the moment seemed more malignant than ever.
One would have thought after terrorist attacks of 9/11 that the need for credible news and opinion, reliable and verifiable, would have found an answer from those who could supply it. That’s not happened. Our report was produced by our long-time colleague, Kathleen Hughes.
ANNOUNCER: Now, live from the underground command post. Mark Levin—.
MOYERS: November 1, 2004. Just one day before the election.
LEVIN: If Kerry wins, the military loses. If Kerry wins, law enforcement loses. If Kerry wins, national security, your neighborhoods, and your family lose.
MOYERS: On this day alone WABC radio owned by the Walt Disney Corporation — that’s Walt Disney as in Mickey Mouse — would treat New Yorkers to 9 straight hours of Kerry bashing.
ANNOUNCER: From coast to coast…
MOYERS: And New Yorkers weren’t the only ones targeted.
ANNOUNCER: …to shining sea, Sean Hannity is on 77 WABC—
MOYERS: ABC radio talk show host Sean Hannity is syndicated on 420 radio stations around the country, reaching almost 12 million people.
HANNITY: If you don’t want John Kerry to be your president, if you don’t want to retreat in the war on terror, if you don’t want Osama to get his way, then my advice to you is to get out and vote.
ANNOUNCER: You’re in a Rush groove, baby!
MOYERS: And then there’s Rush Limbaugh, the godfather of talk show hosts.
LIMBAUGH: John Kerry, on the eve of the election, a man who doesn’t want to be pinned down on anything…
MOYERS: He has twenty million faithful listeners every week, and he’s heard in all 50 states.
He’s spawned scores of Limbaugh wannabes. A nationwide survey indicates that more than 90 percent of all political talk radio programs reflect conservative views. They constitute a virtual propaganda army of the Right, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
FOX NEWS PROMO: We report, you decide.
MOYERS: And then there’s television.
FOX NEWS PROMO: Fair and balanced. Tomorrow only one network—
MOYERS: Over on cable, one day before the election Bill O’Reilly was being foxy indeed.
O’REILLY [11/1/04]: As you know, THE FACTOR doesn’t endorse candidates but I do want to recommend that you avoid Dr. Betty Castor who is running for the Senate in Florida—
MOYERS: He was spinning out not one, but two “non-endorsements” for Republican candidates for the Senate.
O’REILLY [11/1/04]: Also it looks like Tom Daschle will be defeated by John Thune for a Senate seat from South Dakota. That is a good thing as Daschle for decades has put politics above the folks, obstructing good legislation because it came from the other party. We wish Mr. Thune the best.
MOYERS: Sean Hannity, Fox’s other popular anchor — the same Sean Hannity syndicated on 420 radio stations — took “fair and balanced” out on the road.
HANNITY [10/30/04]: He is the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time in history.
MOYERS: Ardently stumping for the Republican ticket before crowds in three swing states, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
HANNITY [10/30/04]: The polls show we can take Pennsylvania with your help.
MOYERS: And who is we? The President of the United States and his good buddy, Sean Hannity. Listen to this bit of fair and balanced interviewing:
HANNITY: Do you think that when he says these things, John Kerry, your opponent, and you were in these three debates with him, do you think he knows he’s not telling the truth? I mean—
G.W. BUSH [10/25/04]: I’m not sure, Sean.
MOYERS: This past election Americans experienced the full might and moxie of the right wing media — frontline partisan warriors of a multibillion-dollar communications empire — whose goal is to shape public discourse, influence public opinion and win elections.
Think back to how right wing pundits ganged up to spread the message, without a shred of hard evidence, that Osama bin Laden’s latest video, which arrived just days before the election meant the terrorist was supporting John Kerry.
LIMBAUGH [11/1/04]: This is highly suspicious to me, but it is what it is. I mean, Bin Laden sounds like the Kerry campaign. Bin Laden sounds like John Kerry.
MOYERS: Bin Laden “Urges Bush Defeat” read the headline in right wing tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s NEW YORK POST. The very next day a POST columnist wrote that “A vote for Kerry is a vote for —terrorists—.and Al Qaeda.”
And listen to Sean Hannity:
HANNITY [10/29/04]: Why would Osama bin Laden, who’s been quiet for so long, come out and virtually try and influence the election today in favor of John Kerry by attacking the president the way he did?
MOYERS: Do you think what Sean Hannity said is fair?
VIGUERIE: Oh, absolutely.
MOYERS: But there’s no fact to back that up. There’s no effort to substantiate that with documentation.
VIGUERIE: That’s what journalism is. It’s just all opinion. Just opinion.
MOYERS: So says Richard Viguerie, a founding father of the modern conservative movement and still one of its most powerful figures. In this new book, Viguerie tells the story of how over the past 40 years the right came to dominate American politics by creating alternative and new media, everything from computerized direct mail to Fox News.
O’REILLY [10/29/04]: This Osama bin Laden video was just released late this afternoon. And I believe it will help President Bush.
MOYERS: Fox whipped the Osama tape into a perfect storm of Republican propaganda.
O’REILLY [10/29/04]: But I want to know if you believe the way I do that this helps Bush or not?
MOYERS: Fred Barnes.
BARNES [10/29/04]: Next to actually capturing Osama Bin Laden, having him campaign against you was probably the best thing that could happen.
MOYERS: Peggy Noonan.
NOONAN [10/29/04]: George Bush weakened him. He hates Bush.
MOYERS: Dick Morris.
MORRIS [10/29/04]: So obviously it’s a design on his part to help Kerry.
MOYERS: All opinion—not a whiff of reporting or documentation or evidence.
REPORTER: Conservative broadcaster Sean Hannity brought some friends to Pensacola to rally Republicans.
MOYERS: What do you make of the fact that Sean Hannity went barnstorming for the Bush-Cheney ticket the weekend before the election?
VIGUERIE: I just wish he could have done a little bit more. I thought it was just great. And we’re not gonna play, Bill, by the liberal establishment’s rules. They say, “This is acceptable and this is not acceptable.”
Those days are gone and gone forever.
MOYERS: Forty years ago Viguerie pioneered the use of direct mail to make an end-run around the mainstream media, which he says was controlled by liberal gatekeepers who disdained conservatives.
VIGUERIE: When I first got involved in national politics in the early 60s, for the most part conservatives were ignored. You know, there was just almost no way that we could, you know, get into the establishment media. And the few times that we did we were attacked and vilified.
MOYERS: In those days I never saw a Walter Cronkite or a David Brinkley, the anchormen of those days endorse candidates, or propagate a partisan viewpoint as I see now in the conservative movement.
VIGUERIE: Well, I think you have to recognize the difference between the Peter Jennings, the Dan Rathers, Tom Brokaws and a Rush Limbaugh and a Sean Hannity. They’re clearly identify themselves as conservative partisans. They’re up front about it.
And, they make no claim to be an objective unbiased observer. And that’s fine. You have people on the left, Mario Cuomo, Jim Hightower, others have Al Franken. They’re out there with a point of view. And—
MOYERS: None with the megaphone that your side has.
VIGUERIE: But that’s the marketplace. The marketplace has decided they want to give the conservatives a bigger microphone than they do the liberals. And, that’s saying Bill, that the American people like the message they’re hearing from the Rush Limbaughs, the Sean Hannitys of the world more than they do from the liberal commentators.
MOYERS: That’s not how David Brock sees it. What the conservatives have done, he says, is create not a market but a monopoly of political propaganda masquerading as news. It’s the theme of his new book, THE REPUBLICAN NOISE MACHINE.
BROCK: What goes on in conservative media is a systematic and intentional effort to misinform and to distort.
And I think the proof of that is that even after being called to account, you see continued repetition of just information that’s wrong.
MOYERS: He offers this example among many: Right before the election, THE WASHINGTON TIMES, the conservative daily newspaper funded by the Rev. Sun Young Moon, quoted a Republican Congressman saying that back in 1997, on CNN’s CROSSFIRE John Kerry had advocated pre-emptive military strikes against Iraq.
BROCK: And then the article said that there was no transcript available for CROSSFIRE in 1997. That didn’t sound right. We found the transcript quickly, and sure enough the transcript showed that Kerry didn’t say what the WASHINGTON TIMES had said.
MOYERS: But the truth wasn’t enough to keep right wing Web sites and Fox News rom running with the story.
FOX NEWS REPORTER [9/24/04]: But New York Republican Congressman Peter King says Kerry took a different position on CNN’s Crossfire in 1997.
BROCK: There’s a synergy in the conservative media that most media corporations would envy. Today, a false or wrong article in the WASHINGTON TIMES is read on the air by Rush Limbaugh, reaching 15 to 20 million people. The author of that piece can go on THE O’REILLY FACTOR, reaching another five to ten million. Matt Drudge, the internet gossip, will post the article, reaching another six million.
And that’s the kind of racket that liberals don’t really have access to. Which is very committed, and very cooperative— a lot of cooperation between official organs of the Republican party, Republican advocacy organizations, and their media.
MOYERS: Today David Brock runs a watchdog group called Media Matters for America, funded by liberal donors to keep an eye on conservative media. You wouldn’t know it to hear him now, but for twelve years Brock was a militant warrior in the very attack machine he now critiques.
As an idealistic conservative fresh out of college he came to Washington and worked for the Rev. Moon’s WASHINGTON TIMES, the Heritage Foundation, and the magazine AMERICAN SPECTATOR. He wrote scathing exposes of the Clintons and a factually inaccurate but best-selling book about Anita Hill.
ANITA HILL [10/11/91]: He talked about pornographic materials…
MOYERS: She’s the former colleague of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas who accused him of sexual impropriety.
But then Brock recanted, confessing in a book called BLINDED BY THE RIGHT that it was all part of a campaign based on lies, hate and hypocrisy.
BROCK: I do think I have some unique insight into how corrupting and how dangerous the conservative movement is. And to me—
BROCK: I think, yes. Because so much is based on— Well, I’m just gonna have to say that there are a lot of lies being told.
MOYERS: In his new book, Brock says the key to the success of the right-wing media is “—opinion—predicated on a raft of distortions, misrepresentations, and outright lies presented to the readers and viewers as fact.”
BROCK: I think it used to be that if you walked into a newsroom and you had no documentary evidence whatsoever for your charges, the newsroom might take a pass. Now today, the conservatives have figured out how to make an end run around requiring any proof.
SWIFT VET #1: I served with John Kerry.
SWIFT VET #2: I served with John Kerry.
MOYERS: Case in point: those attacks on John Kerry’s Vietnam War record by a group calling itself the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. One of their biggest donors, Bob Perry. was also a big contributor to George W. Bush back in Texas and has given millions of dollars to Republican causes.
MOYERS: Let’s take an example of how the right wing machine works. Take the Swift Boat ads.
VIGUERIE: Well, the Swift Boat people came to a small conservative publisher, Regnery, and fellas get together that had not talked to each other in 30 years and they write this book and they published it in a matter of a couple of months after they got the manuscript. Matt Drudge got a hold of the manuscript July 30th.
MOYERS: Totally journalistic probing, right?
VIGUERIE: And, you know, within, you know, a day or two it was all over the internet. You know within a few days after that talk radio had lifted it to another level. Cable television took it up there.
BRIT HUME [8/12/04]: A new book entitled UNFIT FOR COMMAND accuses Kerry of hyping his war record for political purposes. Many of the charges are explosive but do they add up?
HANNITY [8/10/04]: They contradict just about every story he has told about his experience here.
VIGUERIE: And for three and a half weeks, Bill, it was totally and completely ignored by the mainstream media. CBS, NEW YORK TIMES, TIME Magazine. Nobody touched it.
MOYERS: Those news outlets did in fact take notice of the ads, but it would take time to try and nail down exactly what happened in Vietnam 35 years ago, even though the official record appeared to contradict most of what the Swift Boaters were saying. But by turning up the volume and keeping it up, the partisan media made it a story others couldn’t ignore.
VIGUERIE: And it got to be such a big story out there, through the new and alternative media, that the mainstream media, the above the radar media, no longer could ignore the story.
O’REILLY [8/9/04]: The Swift Boat controversy continues.
MOYERS: Several weeks after the attacks had been repeated over and again on cable television, the fact-checkers finally caught up.
In late August, some of the nation’s major newspapers published their own investigations showing that many Swift Boaters who said Kerry had lied about his service had not been eyewitnesses to his actions in Vietnam; some who had praised Kerry’s valor in years past were now contradicting themselves. The military’s own records backed up the story of Kerry’s conduct in the line of fire.
BROCK: And the bottom line is, there was never a military record that surfaced during this entire six weeks that showed anything to substantiate or verify what the Swift Boat veterans were saying.
MOYERS: When the mainstream media got a hold of that story, they began to deconstruct it. They begin to say, “This isn’t right. That isn’t right. There’s no basis for this. There’s no basis for that.” But by that time it was too late, right?
VIGUERIE: Well, that’s a matter of opinion as to whether there was a basis for this story or that story.
But you know, that’s the beauty of having thousands of sources of news and information out there so that people can make up their own decision. They can believe what the NEW YORK TIMES and CBS says about the Swift Boat issue or they can believe what the Swift Boat people say.
BROCK: It really was a made-up story. Now, it’s not to say they didn’t have genuine feelings, that they didn’t approve of what John Kerry did when he got back from the Vietnam War. But they never proved that John Kerry didn’t earn his war medals.
MOYERS: Was there some one person who pushed the button and set the machinery in motion?
VIGUERIE: No. It’s just that’s the nice and exciting thing that we do not have what Hillary referred to as a vast right wing conspiracy.
MOYERS: But did you ever in your wildest imagination conceive that you conservatives would have the media power you have today?
VIGUERIE: Clearly not, Bill. In the 1960s and 70s, nobody could conceive then of the internet or cable television. You know, cable television didn’t come on the scene till 1980 even. So we never gave up, like the Israelites in the Bible, we had to wander through the desert for forty years until we got to the Promised Land.
MOYERS: And look who would lead them across the Jordan River.
LIMBAUGH : An excellent role model for the youth of American or anybody else needing guidance, for that matter. I am Rush Limbaugh.
MOYERS: Irreverent, partisan, choosing his own version of the facts.
LIMBAUGH : Follow me.
LIMBAUGH [3/21/90]: The left is always every cause is based upon the apocalypse THE OZONE hole. Oh no, we’re destroying the ozone, with cans of hairspray. There is no ozone hole now!
LIMBAUGH : I’ve read every newspaper there is. I know every thing in every newspaper.
MOYERS: By 1994, Limbaugh’s daily radio and TV shows set the agenda for Republican partisans, giving them what Richard Viguerie calls “the news hour by hour.”
LIMBAUGH [7/26/94]: I want you to understand before we start what the crime bill really is. It’s nothing more than a 30 million dollar social welfare spending bill.
VIGUERIE: In 1993 and 1994, he was the salvation of the conservative movement. Every day Rush Limbaugh would give us our marching orders, if you would.
MOYERS: So grateful were the Republicans that after they took control of both Houses in 1994, their new leader Newt Gingrich named Limbaugh an honorary Congressman.
MOYERS: Newt Gingrich said without Limbaugh, Republicans would never have become the majority in the House and the Senate. You remember that?
VIGUERIE: I remember it very well. That was at a meeting the Republicans had shortly after the November 1994 election. And no matter what Rush does the rest of life, he probably will never achieve greater heights in terms of the warmth and the feeling that conservatives had for him.
MOYERS: Nowadays it’s not just Rush Limbaugh and his wannabes on talk radio who are generating warm feelings on the right. There’s also Hannity and O’Reilly and their kind on cable, out-influencing American elections, and this year there was a newcomer on the block, eager to throw its weight around, Sinclair Broadcasting.
Sinclair controls or maintains 62 local television stations in 39 markets across the country, including 3 CBS affiliates, 4 NBC affiliates, and 8 ABC affiliates. Its top brass donates heavily to the Republican Party. Sinclair made news last spring when it told its local ABC affiliates not to air a special broadcast of NIGHTLINE.
Here’s what Sinclair’s viewers were prevented from seeing and hearing — the names and faces of Americans killed in Iraq.
KOPPEL: …Donald Cline, Jr., Robert Dowdy, Ruben Estrella-Soto…
MOYERS: Sinclair said the broadcast was a political, anti-war statement.
KOPPEL: Jonathan Gifford.
LEIBERMAN: Security is still a major issue here—
MOYERS: None of this surprised Jon Leiberman.
Until recently Leiberman was one of Sinclair’s rising stars, reporting from Baghdad even as he served as the news department’s Washington Bureau chief.
LEIBERMAN [10/28/04]: We would do five stories a week out of our Washington bureau. Four of them, at the direction of my higher-ups, were anti-Kerry stories and the fifth was normally a pro-administration story.
MOYERS: On this evening he’s speaking to journalism students at the University of Maryland.
LEIBERMAN: If you were a viewer of our newscasts, you wouldn’t have known about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal for two weeks if all you did was watch our newscasts. Instead, we were going after John Kerry.
That gives you a little bit of an example — a real life example — of what is balanced and what is fair.
MOYERS: Then, three weeks before the recent election, Sinclair flexed its corporate muscle again. All 62 of its television stations — many in swing states — were ordered to run a documentary amplifying those disputed Swift Boat charges against John Kerry.
KIMMELMAN: So on comes Sinclair Broadcasting, a company that owns 60-plus stations around the country, local broadcast stations. They get a public license to serve the public interest, and they’re supposed to be fair and balanced in how they do it. And they say they’re going to air a one-sided documentary favorable to one candidate.
MOYERS: Gene Kimmelman is director of the Consumers Union in Washington.
KIMMELMAN: When we heard Sinclair was planning to air this documentary, we contacted them and said, you’ve got public licenses. You’ve got 60-plus stations. Have you asked people whether they think right before an election it’s good or fair to air a one-sided documentary? Do you think maybe if you do air it, you ought to be putting the opposite point of view on, also during prime time, and give it an equal chance to counterbalance the other documentary? We didn’t get a response.
MOYERS: So Kimmelman organized a coalition of citizens groups across the country to challenge Sinclair. It worked. Sinclair backed down and said it wouldn’t run the entire film. Instead, it would be excerpted as part of a news special. Four days before air, the news team was called in to put it together. Jon Leiberman was at the meeting.
LEIBERMAN: I knew that they were just trying to masquerade this documentary as news. And I stood up and I looked around and I said, “If we do this and we call it news, every person in this room will lose their credibility. And we will wake up on Friday morning and our news division will be devastated.”
MOYERS: For Leiberman it was the last straw. He left the meeting and told the BALTIMORE SUN what was happening. Sinclair promptly fired him.
LEIBERMAN [10/28/04]: Everybody in that room wanted to stand up and say, “We’re journalists; we wanna do the right thing.”
MOYERS: Refusing to toe the party line can indeed be costly. Just ask Charles Goyette.
ANNOUNCER: And the talk of Arizona. Here is Charles Goyette.
GOYETTE: And good morning—
MOYERS: He’s a familiar voice in Phoenix, Arizona, where he’s been on radio for nearly 20 years.
By the year 2000 Clear Channel Communications — the nation’s largest owner of radio stations — was getting even bigger. It had bought up eight stations in Phoenix and hired Goyette as a drive time talk show host.
GOYETTE: And I joined them when they came into the market. And it was wonderful. And they treated me well, and I liked it, and I had a great shift, and we built a huge following.
And at the time that I was hired, there was no specification in my contract that I would have taken my talking points from the RNC or from anybody else. It was just, you know, come in, do a responsible, informative, and entertaining radio show.
MOYERS: Goyette is an avowed conservative. But as the nation prepared for the Iraq war, he started asking the kind of questions you didn’t hear coming from most other talk show hosts.
GOYETTE: And I’d bring on retired CIA professionals to talk about the intelligence and the way that it was being twisted and turned. So it wasn’t just me saying, “Shut up, the President is wrong.”
MOYERS: Meanwhile, some of Clear Channel’s 1200 stations coast to coast were sponsoring rallies, ostensibly to support the troops in Iraq. Goyette refused to attend his company’s rally in Phoenix.
GOYETTE: I had management people saying, “We expected you to be a patriot.” Well, I was being a patriot. And support our troops? I wanted our troops to all come home alive. But the “Support Our Troops” rally became really virtually indistinguishable from “Support Bush” rallies. And the chants were, we support our President. We support George W. Bush. And of course, I didn’t.
MOYERS: Finally, Goyette says, his higher ups at Clear Channel put their foot down.
GOYETTE: Management directed me to shut up about the war. I mean, they simply told me to, you know, to shut up about the war. I told them I can’t do that.
MOYERS: Goyette was exiled to the night time shift. Clear Channel officials say the move had nothing to do with politics, just ratings.
Once his contract expired, he moved here to KFNX, one of the few independently owned stations in Phoenix.
Six months before Charles Goyette wound up on the night shift, another Clear Channel radio host in South Carolina was also arguing that the war was unjustified. She was fired. She’s suing Clear Channel, arguing she was let go for her political opinions. As in the case of Goyette, Clear Channel representatives said the decision had to do with ratings, not politics.
Gene Kimmelman says the line between business and politics is getting more and more blurred.
KIMMELMAN: Besides the bottom line orientation, we’re seeing some political influence come into play, where some of the people who own the media companies may be not even trying to make the most money, they’re trying to get certain people elected to office. They’re trying to promote a particular political point of view. Now, when that comes into play, it changes the entire landscape of what is fair in presenting news and information to the American people.
BROCK: Well, it means that people just don’t have access to the information they need anymore.
MOYERS: Consider this: as people were preparing to vote this November, a Harris Poll found that 41% of American adults still bought the line that Saddam Hussein helped plan the September 11th attacks on the U.S.
Although there was never a shred of evidence to support that, and even after the official 9/11 commission said there was no evidence, the constant drumbeat of a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda continued to reverberate through the echo chamber of right wing talk radio and Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
O’REILLY [5/25/04]: It was here that Saddam Hussein trained terrorists.
MOYERS: No one has done more to keep alive the White House line on the war in Iraq and the discredited claims of links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein than Murdoch and his minions.
HUME [6/27/04]: That controversy has simmered for weeks now and a newly disclosed document confirmed a further contact between Iraq and Al Qaeda has not…
MOYERS: And there’s more to come. Fox News now claims more viewers than any of its rivals.
HANNITY: I’m Sean Hannity—
MOYERS: Earlier this week Fox News announced that Zell Miller, the right-wing Democrat who delivered the keynote speech at last summer’s Republican convention, will join the illustrious fair and balanced news team.
MILLER [9/1/04]: Our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of a Democrat’s manic obsession to bring down our Commander-in-Chief.
MOYERS: And just last week Fox News made a deal with Clear Channel, the colossus of radio. Clear Channel will carry Fox News Radio on most of its news/talk stations.
As for Walt Disney and ABC Radio, they reportedly have signed Sean Hannity to a 25 million dollar deal, assuring him of being around and heard for several elections to come.
MOYERS: All of this makes Richard Viguerie one happy warrior.
This profile of how you conservatives did come to power with alternative media. But if you did it after the election, you would have to add an epilogue that said, “We won.”
VIGUERIE: And as soon as I sell the copies that are in print right now, we’ll update it.
MOYERS: I suspect Richard Viguerie’s book will get that second printing, but with all due respect, I have to disagree with my fellow Texan when he says that “journalism is all opinion.” I know that’s the fashionable argument on the right and I recognize that those of us who are not on the right have our opinions, too. But I remember hearing the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan say that all of us are entitled to our own opinion but not our own facts.
A fellow journalist I admire, Tom Rosenstiel, goes so far as to say that what makes journalism an ethical practice is our obligation to try and get the facts right. Neutrality, he says, is not a core principle of journalism, but the commitment to facts, to public consideration, and to independence is. Even when we stray, and all of us do, in our hearts we know that’s right.
So read Richard Viguerie’s take on the new media. But read David Brock’s, too, THE REPUBLICAN NOISE MACHINE. He makes a case that no issue can be honestly debated and no election can be fairly decided when journalism marches in lockstep with a one-party state.
When you live and work as close as I do to where the World Trade Center once stood, you know terrorism is real. But we’ll not prevail over the terrorists by allowing them to frighten us into surrendering our deep interests and values as Americans for the illusion of security.
So argues my last guest on this series. He runs what his detractors call “the most dangerous organization in America” — the American Civil Liberties Union, the dreaded ACLU.
Anthony Romero has been in the news a lot recently, forcing out of the Pentagon chilling details about the use of torture by the military, filing suits around the country to find out who’s being investigated under the Patriot Act. No less a Patriot than Bill O’Reilly this week accused Anthony Romero of smearing the military, attacking Christianity, and promoting a radical agenda.
He joins me now, horns and all. The executive director of the ACLU.
ROMERS: And the tail tucked behind me, Bill. It’s good to see you.
MOYERS: Why are you so unpopular? I mean, the ACLU has to be one of the most unpopular groups in America.
ROMERO: And I wear it as a badge of honor. Because frankly, I think we’re the most moralistic organization in America. We take the best of America’s morals and values.
MOYERS: What do you mean?
ROMERO: Secular morals, secular values.
MOYERS: But that’s what you get attacked for. I just heard Rush Limbaugh in a sense taking people like you to task for—
ROMERO: Mr. Limbaugh, my client when we defended him on the medical privacy issue when the prosecutors were trying to get his medical records because of his purported drug use?
MOYERS: So are you saying that you’re unpopular because you defend unpopular people?
ROMERO: Because the rights of all people are sometimes attached to unpopular people. And that when you defend the rights of everyone, you have to take some unpopular causes. And that’s what the ACLU is all about. We are there to make sure that the guarantees in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution, that they’re not just paper guarantees. They’re not just things that we read about and file away in our school papers. Those are things that we live and we breathe, that we act on.
MOYERS: What I find most people willing to do is to make concessions on the issue of freedom for the moment because we are living in a new era. Terrorism is here to stay. Wouldn’t you agree with that?
ROMERO: Yes. It is.
MOYERS: I mean, this is the age of, as somebody said, the homeland security state.
ROMERO: That’s right.
MOYERS: Because the threat is new and real.
ROMERO: And this war on terror is unlike any other war that we have fought before. During the Second World War, the Allies would march into Berlin and the Japanese emperor would throw his hands up in the air and the Allies would declare victory. And then several months after that victory, we would let the internees out of the Japanese-American camps.
But this war on terror will never come to a public decisive end. And that’s why the questions that Americans and our Congress and our leaders have to ask is how do we wanna live in our democracy in the age of terror? Now we wanna make sure that we have safety and security, but that alone can’t be the sole charge of our government officials. We wanna make sure that those concerns are equally balanced and represented with a concern for freedom.
MOYERS: Terrorists have no respect for international law, international order. They salute no Constitution. We’ve seen the pictures of the beheadings. We’ve seen what they do. They must laugh at people who follow the rule of law in trying to chase them down.
ROMERO: But who are we? We’re Americans. We’re Americans dedicated to the rule of law. We’re Americans who believe that the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, is what makes us strong as a nation.
MOYERS: I have talked to a number of analysts since the election who say that if you had to define the decisive margin in that election, it would come from people concerned about the war on terror. I mean, they were willing to compromise on the issues of freedom and individual liberty in the interest of national security and personal security.
ROMERO: But what also has happened is I think many Americans have not been asked this question about, “Will you give up your own freedoms in the name of national security?” In many respects, when you look at the immigrant question especially, we have been asked, “Are you willing to give up their freedoms for your security?” And that’s where the Faustian bargain comes out.
We’re willing to deport these immigrants, arrest them and detain them without lawyers and without family members.
And arrest them and detain them for reasons that have nothing to do with 9/11. They’re willing to give up their freedoms in exchange for national security. And that’s where we were actually able to have a conversation about what— how is it affecting ordinary Americans. Let’s talk about procedures that are happening in the country that affect us all.
For instance, the powers the government has under the Patriot Act that allows them to seize all sorts of personal information, library records, personal information, financial records, employment records and then lowers the standard of review for your library records to lower than the probable cause standards that had been in place before. Now, why have librarians gotten exercise over this issue?
Librarians are not— they’re among the most pacifistic members of our society. John Ashcroft called them hysterical. I mean, I’ve met many hysterical lawyers and New Yorkers and bankers, very few hysterical librarians.
MOYERS: But have you found any evidence that the government has used that power to penetrate libraries and get the library’s information that would be harmful to a citizen?
ROMERO: We know of at least one or two instances where they have tried to use that power even though Mr. Ashcroft told Congress that he had never tried to use those powers. But the question for us is not so much how are these powers now being used. The question is why are those powers there in the first place?
You give the government that power, it lies on the table like a loaded gun. And even though this Attorney General may not pick up the loaded gun right away to fire off in this current moment, someone in the future may. And the question is, “Is stockpiling law enforcement powers that don’t make us any safer, is that good for our democracy?”
Shouldn’t we be asking our government officials to really go through the job of justifying to the American public are these measures necessary? Are they effective? And then secondly we’ve got to ask them, are they defensible?
Is what you give up worth what you get back in return? That’s the debate we ought to have in Congress. That’s the debate that we didn’t have on the Patriot Act.
MOYERS: Though many members of Congress admitted that they voted for it and only read it later if at all.
ROMERO: Yeah, that’s right.
MOYERS: What does that say to you?
ROMERO: It says to you that at that moment there was this effort to stand behind the President, to unify as a country and that our leaders were incapable of leading. They could not ask the tough questions. They refused to kick the tires on core issues and core values.
MOYERS: What is the compromise you think we ought to make?
ROMERO: Well, I think there are some elements of the Patriot Act that get at some of those issues. I think, for instance, resourcing the FBI more adequately so it can do its research and analysis and translation services. I think no one argues with the need of sharing that information across the federal government in principle.
It’s a matter of how you do it, not if you do it. We all remember that how the government sent Mohammed Atta an immigration visa a couple of months after he took the plane into the World Trade Center. Something was very wrong with that.
MOYERS: And the 9/11 Commission has said one of the great Grand Canyon faults before 9/11 was that there was no adequate sharing of information.
ROMERO: But when you do share information across the federal government, you want to do so in a way that doesn’t do an end run on the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. It doesn’t do an end run—
MOYERS: Fourth Amendment says—
ROMERO: Unreasonable searches and seizures, Fifth Amendment is due process, these are the core, the corner stones of protecting people.
MOYERS: When you talk about values, you’re talking about the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
ROMERO: The First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment.
MOYERS: All of them.
ROMERO: Some say the Second Amendment. The whole Constitution’s the core of American values. That’s the one thing that brings us together. And when we say that there’s a need for good government sharing of information is to make sure you do so in a way that doesn’t abridge those core principles, those core rights.
So, for instance, one part of the Patriot Act is this element called National Security Letter where the government is allowed access individuals’ computer information without any judge signing off on it at all.
MOYERS: They can hack it?
ROMERO: They can hack it.
MOYERS: Without a judge’s approval?
ROMERO: Without a judge’s approval.
MOYERS: The basis for— and the FBI would tell you, “We only do that if we think that person knows something about criminal activity. And we’re following Justice Department guidelines.”
ROMERO: But in fact the practice is in different jurisdictions show that they don’t only follow up individualized criminal suspicion. And in fact, they argue now that they can, for instance, through the Joint Terrorism Task Forces, go directly and monitor and surveil and track individuals who are doing nothing wrong other than expressing a point of view that may be at odds with their government.
MOYERS: Do we know if that’s happened?
ROMERO: Yes, yes. In one of our cases, at Drake University.
That the FBI, in Iowa, the FBI subpoenaed the records of this university-based peace group that was against the war, asked them for their finances, who their members were, the minutes of their meetings. And there was no indication they had done anything wrong. There was no criminalized suspicion there. There was no connection with terrorism that was asserted.
They just wanted to know what they were doing. When the ACLU intervened in this case, the FBI withdrew the subpoena. In Colorado, you have another instance. In Colorado you have through the Joint Terrorism Task Force, you have the Denver police turning over information on PETA protesters, the animal rights group, Amnesty International, the Chiapas Coalition, all lawful, law-abiding groups in Denver turning over information on their activities to the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force. And the FBI has said, “Well, we’re just doing our law enforcement. We’re collecting information on where there might be potential harm and crime.” The problem though is, Bill, is the FBI should be focusing on those individuals for whom it has serious leads of criminal activity, serious leads on terrorism. But it’s taking those limited law enforcement dollars and squandering them.
MOYERS: Let me change the subject for a moment. You filed a suit in Pennsylvania to prevent students in that district from learning about intelligent design as an alternative to evolution.
MOYERS: What’s your understanding of intelligent design, and why are you opposed to it?
ROMERO: Well, our concern about this intelligent design approach, is that basically it’s nothing more than religious teaching dressed up in a lab coat.
MOYERS: Religious teaching?
ROMERO: Yes. That they’re teaching the students about where they came from, from a God. From a certain deity. From a certain world view. And that’s not the role that a school should play. That the schools should teach science, but it should not teach religious dogma. It should not teach religious belief. That’s what the parents ought to do.
MOYERS: A lot of people think you’re just butting in for something that isn’t concerned with American values. American values, open minds, looking at different alternatives, different theories. And here comes the ACLU saying, “No, you can not teach an alternative to evolution.”
ROMERO: Because teaching alternatives to evolution is about teaching religion in our public schools. And in a country as diverse as this one, and in a country where religious belief is such a core belief for so many Americans, you want to keep the government as far away as we can from involving itself in our most important and private institutions—
MOYERS: Parents down there would disagree with you.
ROMERO: Bill, one of the things that’s happening in the country right now is what unifies a country in some communities is not just unify around the flag or wave the flag, it’s also unify as Christians. And so what’s happened we’ve seen an explosion of questions around religious freedom and religious tolerance especially in some of the smaller communities where people in those communities are made to feel like pariahs unless they share the beliefs of the mainstream community in their—
MOYERS: Are you a Christian?
ROMERO: I grew up Catholic, Bill. I grew up in a parochial school in a household where we went to church every weekend, where I grew up with the nuns in the Catholic Church. I went to Sunday school. I taught catechism. I taught catechism to fourth graders. My mother—
MOYERS: Do you believe in God?
ROMERO: You know, I believe what I believe.
MOYERS: But you were taught about God.
ROMERO: It taught me good and right. It taught me evil and wrong. It gave me my moral compass.
And my mom, for her, the most important institution that’s still the most paramount institution in my mother’s life is not the ACLU. It’s her church. She reads in her church. She has bible study classes. She cares a lot about the work of her church in her local community.
MOYERS: So, if your mother said, “I want Tony to learn about intelligent design and evolution so he can make up his own mind,” you’d sue her?
ROMERO: And I would say to her, “Mom, the reason why you don’t want the school teaching about intelligent design is because your church and our church is the most important institution in our personal lives. And when you allow the government to come into your church and tell you what to teach and what not to teach, what to fund or not to fund, when they begin to pull the purse strings as now happening with the government’s faith-based initiatives, all of a sudden, your church has much less independence. And that institution that’s so critical to your personal life may be more influenced by the government than you want it to be.”
That’s the reason why we fight for this wall between church and state. It’s because this country’s religious beliefs are much too pluralistic. And you want to make sure that you keep the government as far away from some of the most important values and important institutions and important efforts of community members to express themselves who they are. And the government should not be involved with those institutions.
MOYERS: What is the dynamic in American life right now that you most fear?
ROMERO: I fear the use of fear and insecurity as the Sword of Damocles over the heads of the American people. I fundamentally believe — I’m an optimist, certainly you know that already by now, I’m an optimist. I belief that the American people are fair-minded people. They want to do the right thing when it comes to core values and core questions about how we define ourselves and who we are as a nation.
But our political leaders and especially our elected officials can sometimes use fear and war-mongering as a way to erode and to pull back those core values. And so when you use, for instance, the fear and insecurity around the September 11th attacks as a way to erode some of the most fundamental and precious values that have been in place for hundreds of years and the American people are clouded by the rhetoric of the government, by government that puts out the wrong information, by a government that hides information, by a government that seizes powers with impunity, by a government that refuses to hold itself accountable, that when we allow all that to happen, we don’t allow the American people to be at their best.
MOYERS: Anthony Romero, this controversy, this debate is going to go on for some time to come. And I know where you’ll be on it. Thank you for joining us on NOW.
ROMERO: My pleasure, Bill. Thank you very much.
BRANCACCIO: Connect to NOW online at pbs.org.
See who owns what in the media. Take a freedom of speech quiz. Track the history of U.S. civil liberties in war time. Connect to NOW online at pbs.org.
MOYERS: With this broadcast, I bid farewell to NOW. I am moving on and leaving this series in the very capable hands of David Brancaccio. I asked David to join me over a year ago because I wanted my successor to have grown up, as it were, in public broadcasting, an independent journalist, believing our job is to sift through the untidy realities, weigh the competing claims, and offer to you our considered approximation of what’s really going on. David brings to NOW interests and skills honed over his ten-year run as anchor of public radio’s popular series MARKETPLACE. He’s already made his mark on this broadcast, and when he returns three weeks from tonight, your loyalty to NOW will be rewarded.
BRANCACCIO: The roadmap established over the last three years is in place. Stay tuned for tough investigations into stories too often ignored by the rest of the news media — stories about things that matter, such as job security, education, environment, national security and what happens when relatively few big companies filter the information we get for our democracy.
In January, we’ll hear from a senior Food and Drug Administration insider who says when it comes to the safety of medicines like Vioxx, government watchdogs are working for the drug companies and not the public. Dr. David Graham says the human toll is intolerable.
GRAHAM: 100,000 people in the United States — that’s 50 people a day for five years — had heart attacks. One by one, in the silence and the loneliness of their homes, their own workplaces, wherever it is, it could’ve been done the street from where you live, it could have been down the street from where I live. And it basically just continued to happen while FDA continued to say, “This drug is perfectly safe.”
BRANCACCIO: Also in the new year: it’s called “common sense” environmental policy, but does it make sense that dangerously high levels of mercury are still getting into the fish we eat? Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has been fighting mercury contamination on the national stage.
KENNEDY: Environmentalists are dismissed as tree huggers, as pagans who worship trees and sacrifice people, or as radicals. But there is nothing radical about clean air and clean water for our children or a healthy food supply.
BRANCACCIO: And one more thing about NOW in 2005. The country is full of people with wisdom to share about making the world a better place. It’s a diverse set of voices and it’s our sworn duty to keep them coming to your television.
Bill, as we say in the old country you’re a mensch and a maestro, at a time when journalism needs more of both. What’s a newsroom without the sound of Bill Moyers coming across the latest injustice, saying, “If Americans really knew what was happening, they’d be on the streets.”
MOYERS: What a good run we’ve had, you and I. But when David returns with the new NOW three weeks from tonight, I’ll be out there, a viewer like you. First I want to thank the many people here who have worked so hard these three years to get us to this point. If that camera could pull back for a really wide shot you would find me standing on their shoulders. We’ll run the credits at the end a little more slowly so that you can see just who they are.
Over my three decades in broadcast journalism I’ve never fooled myself about how it works. I am sure God made reporters and producers before she made little green apples. I stand in awe of researchers who know that news is what powerful people want to keep hidden; everything else is publicity. Editors you never see work miracles that show up on the screen. I’ve known camera and sound crews as careful as surgeons, as tough as Marines, as brave as astronauts, and I’ve known directors and stage managers as witty and wise as Shakespeare.
Public television executives have to be made of strong stuff, too. The brass at PBS — Pat Mitchell, John Wilson, and Coby Atlas in particular — came up with the idea for this broadcast, and then stood up for it against fierce attacks from partisan ideologues who can’t bear to have their version of reality measured against evidence to the contrary. My colleagues at our flagship station here in New York, from Bill Baker on down, formed a firewall of fellowship around us on day one and have never wavered. Nor have those foundations whose funds guarantee our independence or my sole corporate underwriter for 13 years now, Mutual of America Life Insurance Company. Even when the controversies we kicked up caused them headaches, my friends at Mutual never flinched, in no small part because they, too, believe saving capitalism from its excesses and democracy from inertia is in the spirit of America.
In particular, I want you to know of two remarkable women who, if this were a just world, would be credited as the heart and soul of NOW. Judy Doctoroff joined me seventeen years ago soon after graduating from Yale and worked her way up to majordomo. It fell to her three years ago to gather the team that would get us on the air in just six weeks. No one has worked at my side longer, or made a greater difference. Except, of course, Judith Davidson Moyers, the president of our company, the source of many of our best ideas, the executive producer of some of our most successful series, and co-editor of all we do, including NOW.
That’s her a few years ago, on location in a freezing rain, as we filmed a series on poetry.
She and I have made a long voyage since our marriage 50 years ago this weekend, sometimes in waters so wicked they almost took us down. But as Charlotte Bronte said of her Alfred, “We intended to be married this way almost from the first; we never meant to be spliced in the humdrum way of other people.” She and I still have time left to discover what we don’t yet know about each other, and that comes next.
Finally, my thanks to you, for being there time and again, for coming back even after we’ve let you down. I treasure your letters and e-mail and will take many of them with me as I would a family album — even the angry harangues usually from kissin’ cousins.
I’ve learned from you not to claim too much for my craft, but not to claim too little, either. You keep reminding me that the quality of journalism and the quality of democracy go hand in hand. Or as a character says in one of Tom Stoppard’s plays, “People do terrible things to each other, but it’s worse in the places where everybody is kept in the dark.”
So this is it for me, but fortunately, not for NOW. David returns in three weeks.
I’m Bill Moyers. Thank you and farewell.
This transcript was entered on May 18, 2015.