Bill Moyers launches his new PBS series with a methodical, devastating, pull-no-punches recap of mainstream journalism's collective failure to challenge the Bush administration in the run-up to the Iraq war, thus marrying two of the long-time liberal advocate's favorite themes -- the lackey-ism of big media and failings of modern conservatism.

Bill Moyers launches his new PBS series with a methodical, devastating, pull-no-punches recap of mainstream journalism’s collective failure to challenge the Bush administration in the run-up to the Iraq war, thus marrying two of the long-time liberal advocate’s favorite themes — the lackey-ism of big media and failings of modern conservatism. Critics on the right will doubtless howl about providing Moyers this forum, but the intelligence that infuses his work and persuasiveness of his arguments have surely been missed as public TV has cowered against charges of liberal bias.

Moyers doesn’t soft-peddle his take on the situation, summing it up near the end of this pointed project by noting that four years after the war began, “The press has yet to come to terms with its role in enabling the Bush administration to go to war on false pretenses.”

Administration defenders would dispute the latter half of that point, but if nothing else, Moyers puts the lie to the assertion that everyone assumed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, meticulously documenting a series of prewar articles by the Knight Ridder newspapers with headlines like “No Sign of Iraq Threat” and “Terrorism Experts Say they Don’t See Iraq Link.”

Nevertheless, conservative pundits repeatedly sounded the drumbeat for war, and Iraqi defectors carefully leaked horror stories to both headline-hungry news outlets and a Bush administration that would then confirm those accounts — creating, as Moyers puts it, “a circular, self-confirming leak.”

At the same time, those who dared question the case for war were, as Moyers says, “denounced by the partisan press and largely ignored by the mainstream press” — scrutinized by what former CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson calls the “patriotism police” and buffeted by what Dan Rather dubs “a very effective slam machine.”

Phil Donahue cites the role this corrosive atmosphere played in the cancellation of his MSNBC series, complete with a memo that admitted the left-leaning host presented “a difficult public face for NBC” at a time when “our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.” Dissent, Donahue notes sardonically, was “not good for business.”

Although Rather and CBS News’ Bob Simon are among those who participate, the laundry list of luminaries who Moyers says would not be interviewed is more striking. They include former New York Times reporter Judith Miller as well as Times columnists Thomas Friedman and William Safire, Fox News Channel CEO Roger Ailes and such pundits as William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer, who frequently serve as talking heads in friendlier venues.

In the final analysis, it’s hard to dispute that journalists not only bought the war, to paraphrase Moyers’ title, but either through acts of omission or commission, helped the administration sell it.

Moyers’ regular “Journal” will make its debut April 27, promising to cover a wide spectrum of topics. Not everyone will embrace his positions, but in a media environment filled with well-sucked thumbs but precious little true introspection, for public television to allocate one hour a week to this sort of provocative, high-IQ TV hardly sounds like too much to ask.

Bill Moyers Journal: Buying the War

PBS, Wed. April 25, 9 P.M.

Production

Produced by Public Affairs Television and presented by Thirteen/WNET New York. Executive producers, Felice Firestone, Judy Doctoroff O'Neill; producer, Kathleen Hughes.

Crew

Writers, Bill Moyers, Hughes; editor, Alison Amron; executive editors, Bill Moyers, Judith Davidson Moyers. Running time: 90 MIN.

Cast

Host: Bill Moyers

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