PBS Star Bill Moyers Says Rev. Wright 'Assassinated by Soundbites'

PBS omnipresence Bill Moyers appeared on Tuesday’s edition of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, and delivered a long-winded defense of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who he said was "assassinated by soundbites." Moyers regurgitated the original, discredited Obama line, that out of 200,000 minutes from the pulpit, "His whole life, his whole ministry, his whole career was being summed up in sound bites that added up to no more than 20 seconds endlessly played through the media grinder of our national press." Wright was just making a few errors, like most of us do, he argued: "All of us have made absurd statements. I know that Rev. Wright, whom I had never met before this, was no doubt, had misspoken and made some erratic statements and all that. Most of us do." [audio available here]

When it came to accusing the government of inventing AIDS as a tool of black genocide, Moyers acknowledged it was "black paranoia," but claimed he didn’t ask Wright about it because he "ran out of time." The interview lasted almost an hour, and Wright has made clear some of the interview was edited out.

Stewart began by plugging the new book "Moyers on Democracy," which he called a "wonderful collection of speeches," including the screeds from hard-left "media reform" conferences against the evil conservatives who complain about left-wing propaganda on PBS. When Stewart blithely asked why he would put together this set of speeches, Moyers boasted: "Because over the years I have developed what I hope is a more consistent and coherent understanding of democracy than I can communicate in sound bites on television." That led to the discussion of Wright. [Transcript by MRC's Melissa Lopez.]

STEWART: Really? So television is sound-bite obsessed media.

MOYERS: Some of it most definitely is, don’t you think? Look what happened to Jeremiah Wright. He was assassinated by sound bites.

STEWART: Right, and he was on your program, and did you find him to be thoughtful, certainly not the caricature? What was your thought?

MOYERS: So many people have written me to say, how do you explain that a man who was so reasonable on Friday night on our broadcast was at the National Press Club on Monday so angry. I said I'm not a psychologist. I don't know. But I do know that he was angry about the fact that over 36 years as the pastor of this church in Chicago, he had preached 205,711 minutes at the 11 o'clock service. And his whole life, his whole ministry, his whole career was being summed up in sound bites that added up to no more than 20 seconds, endlessly played through the media grinder of our national press. He was angry about that. I think he was angry, Jon, because he was worried that he might be the one who would bring Obama down, and that was really agitating him considerably. And then he, of course, he'd been thrust on to a national stage, into a role -- Here's a man who for 36 years ago could have become a scholar, was called to this little church in... 87 members in Chicago. Grew it to 6,000. Never organized a Moral Majority, had never organized a Christian Coalition. He sought no role on the national stage. And then because of the convergence of history he was suddenly thrust on to the....

STEWART: As though he were sort of a powerful leader of a movement.

MOYERS: I don't think he was familiar with it. I think he was thrown back... he was like a man who goes out and picks up the morning newspaper and gets hit by a cyclone!

Conveniently forgotten by these Obama defenders is the fact that Rev. Wright served on the Obama campaign’s Values Action Team, which might not guarantee you a prominent role on the national stage, but it belies the idea that Wright wasn’t seeking any national attention.

Stewart deserves a little credit for suggesting Wright said things that are beyond the pale, and even wondered if he’s been too hard in mocking conservartive religious leaders without reading their "body of work," as Wright’s critics are charged:

STEWART: Did he have any idea what he said could be seen, even though small things could be taken out of context? Even when you put them into context, they still seem pretty tough to swallow for a lot of people. Did you have any sense that he had the knowledge that, yeah, I've got some ideas that are slightly out of the mainstream of what you would imagine.

MOYERS: He did, out of the mainstream of what most of us see. Like you I'm no apologist for the defender of the people who appear on my show, you would be out speaking for Douglas Feith today, right?

[The former Pentagon official was interviewed by Stewart on Monday night.]

STEWART: That was something.

MOYERS: All of us have made absurd statements. I know that Rev. Wright, whom I had never met before this, was no doubt -- had misspoken and made some erratic statements and all that. Most of us do. But on the whole if you look at all of the speeches, what about HIV, about the -- I didn’t -- I ran out of time, as you do, and I didn't get to ask him, do you really believe that the government generated HIV among the black community? He buys into the paranoia that the black community feels because of the Tuskegee Institute, where black men with syphilis were allowed to die while thinking they were being treated, because they wanted to have a scientific study. He bought into that paranoia. That's not a pastor's job. A pastor should be the gatekeeper of misinformation. So he made some mistakes but then suddenly thrust on the stage, he was unable to deal with it.

STEWART: Do you think on the left the people treat the right wing pastors unfairly then by the same standard? I've many times pulled [Pat] Robertson and his statements after 9/11 and those things. I wonder, 'Man, if I really look at his body of work, will I go, hey, there's a really reasonable guy who said a couple of things.' Or is that because he has moved it into being a political movement, is it more fair to tar that movement?

MOYERS: I think the difference this time is that you did have a man running for president who was sitting in that church off and on for 20 years. I think the press gave John McCain a free pass and he actually reached out and embraced the delusional theology of John Hagee and the press said that's politics. The difference is, of course, that the press, that Barack Obama was a member of this church. Now I think, I saw sophistication in the American voter in recent weeks that impresses me, because I think....

STEWART: You're not watching West Virginia, are you?

MOYERS: Well, that's a different story. But in Indiana and North Carolina, they made a distinction, a new nuanced distinction that the man running for president who sat in the pew is not the man, is different from the man in the pulpit who is not running for president. And that guilt by association was not going to work in this case. Not for everybody, of course.

It’s an emerging campaign theme that the electorate proves its sophistication by voting for Obama, just as it proves it’s not somehow racist by voting for Obama. The constant Moyers theme is that the fate of democracy and the fate of the Democrats are almost exactly the same thing. When conservatives win elections, democracy is in grave danger. Nuance is lost. Sophistication is missing. Only when liberals win are the voters impressive.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis