Bill Moyers – Definitely in The Fight

I hadn’t seen Bill Moyers have a piece up on the Truthout site before even though he may have. He does now though. I’ve been reading through it and you gotta hand it to him he doesn’t miss much.

His topic of the day is about the proclivity for people to retain beliefs even in the presence of facts which completely disprove those beliefs. This remains true even when they have been informed of their error. This has been much written about of late. I’m not going to go back over the last couple of years and dig up the articles but the phenomena has had the treatment.

This piece is long so if you are so inclined to click the link have your coffee cup full and the pot warming or as is the practice of some denizens of Paradigm, have a six pack handy.

Moyers has refined the art of story telling so if you are enamoured of background you won’t be disappointed. I enclose here a few sections to whet your appetite.

These studies help to explain why America seems more and more unable to deal with reality. So many people inhabit a closed belief system on whose door they have hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign, that they pick and choose only those facts that will serve as building blocks for walling them off from uncomfortable truths. Any journalist whose reporting threatens that belief system gets sliced and diced by its apologists and polemicists (say, the fabulists at Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the yahoos of talk radio.) Remember when Limbaugh, for one, took journalists on for their reporting about torture at Abu Ghraib? He attempted to dismiss the cruelty inflicted on their captives by American soldiers as a little necessary “sport” for soldiers under stress, saying on air: “This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation … you [ever] heard of need to blow some steam off?” As so often happens, the Limbaugh line became a drumbeat in the nether reaches of the right-wing echo chamber. So, it was not surprising that in a nationwide survey conducted by The Chicago Tribune on First Amendment issues, half of the respondents said there should be some kind of press restraint on reporting about the prison abuse. According to Charles Madigan, the editor of the Tribune’s Perspective section, 50 or 60 percent of the respondents said they “would embrace government controls of some kind on free speech, particularly when it has sexual content or is heard as unpatriotic.”

No wonder many people still believe Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, as his birth certificate shows; or that he is a Muslim, when in fact he is a Christian; or that he is a socialist when day by day he shows an eager solicitude for corporate capitalism. Partisans in particular – and the audiences for Murdoch’s Fox News and talk radio – are particularly susceptible to such scurrilous disinformation. In a Harris survey last spring, 67 percent of Republicans said Obama is a socialist; 57 percent believed him to be a Muslim; 45 percent refused to believe he was born in America; and 24 percent said he “may be the antichrist.”

The bigger the smear, the more it sticks. And there is no shortage of smear artists. Last year, Forbes Magazine, obviously bent on mischief, allowed the right-wing fantasist Dinesh D’Souza to tar Obama with a toxic brew so odious it triggered memories of racist babble – a perverted combination of half-baked psychology, biology and sociology – that marked the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan. Seizing upon the anti-colonial views of Obama’s Kenyan father, who had deserted the family when the boy was two years old and whose absence from his life Obama meditated upon in his best-selling book “Dreams of My Father,” D’Souza wrote that, “Incredibly, the US is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son.”

This next little snippet I hadn’t seen referenced before so I found it interesting.

George Orwell had warned six decades ago that the corrosion of language goes hand in hand with the corruption of democracy. If he were around today, he would remind us that “like the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket,” this kind of propaganda engenders a “protective stupidity” almost impossible for facts to penetrate.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I might have commented on the stupidity of voters. In the above we see an apt description of the genesis of that stupidity. To be fair, I was once a victim of this ‘stick rattling’. Much to my embarrassment I voted for Reagan (once) and then Clinton but GWB sealed the deal making me swear off ever voting for a republican again.

This next section gives a bit of insight of how complex all of this has become. A person, a voter, would indeed have to work very hard to unearth all of the corruption that goes on. My notable, and sometimes commented upon, dark outlook isn’t helped a whole lot knowing the following things are all too common.

But shining the spotlight on political corruption is nothing compared to what can happen if you raise questions about corporate power in Washington, as my colleague Marty Koughan and I discovered when we produced a program for David Fanning and “Frontline” on pesticides and food. Marty had learned that industry was attempting behind closed doors to dilute the findings of the American Academy of Sciences study on the effects of pesticide residues on children. Before we finished the documentary, the industry somehow purloined a copy of our draft script – we still aren’t certain how – and mounted a sophisticated and expensive campaign to discredit our program before it aired. Television reviewers and editorial pages of key newspapers were flooded with propaganda. Some public television managers were so unnerved by the blitz of misleading information about a film they had not yet broadcast that they actually protested to PBS with letters that had been prepared by the industry.

Here’s what most perplexed us: the American Cancer Society – an organization that in no way figured in our story – sent to its 3,000 local chapters a “critique” of the unfinished documentary claiming, wrongly, that it exaggerated the dangers of pesticides in food. We were puzzled. Why was the American Cancer Society taking the unusual step of criticizing a documentary that it had not seen, that had not aired and that did not claim what the Society alleged? An enterprising reporter named Sheila Kaplan later looked into those questions for the journal Legal Times. It turns out that the Porter Novelli public relations firm, which had worked for several chemical companies, also did pro bono work for the American Cancer Society. Kaplan found that the firm was able to cash in some of the goodwill from that “charitable” work to persuade the compliant communications staff at the Society to distribute some harsh talking point about the documentary before it aired – talking points that had been supplied by, but not attributed to, Porter Novelli. Legal Times headlined the story “Porter Novelli Plays All Sides.” A familiar Washington game.

I can’t help but leave one more piece for you to ponder. And there are a whole lot of these in this article.

Here’s a sidebar: I remember vividly the day President Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): July 4, 1966. He signed it “with a deep sense of pride,” declaring in almost lyrical language “that the United States is an open society in which the people’s right to know is cherished and guarded.” That’s what he said. The truth is, the president had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the signing ceremony. He hated the very idea of journalists rummaging in government closets, hated them challenging the authorized view of reality, hated them knowing what he didn’t want them to know. He dug in his heels and even threatened to pocket veto the bill after it reached the White House. Only the courage and political skill of a Congressman named John Moss got the bill passed at all and that was after a 12-year battle against his Congressional elders, who blinked every time the sun shined on the dark corners of power. They managed to cripple the bill Moss had drafted and, even then, only some last-minute calls to LBJ from a handful of influential newspaper editors overcame the president’s reluctance. He signed “the f—— thing,” as he called it and then, lo and behold, went out to claim credit for it.

If a person were to choose an article to gain some insight into what goes on in the American political psyche this would be a good place to start. Click the link and read the last paragraph. It’ll be worth a few moments of your time.


10 thoughts on “Bill Moyers – Definitely in The Fight

  1. cmaukonen

    I am surprised that Moyers had not picked up on the reason for this. Their beliefs give these people comfort and security in an ever insecure and uncomfortable world. When the Facts threaten this security by disproving their beliefs, they are of course rejected out of course.

    And the more you press on them with facts, the more entrenched they will be come because the more fearful and insecure they become.

  2. My notable, and sometimes commented upon, dark outlook isn’t helped a whole lot knowing the following things are all too common.

    Well, yes, I sometimes say that you have a dark outlook, TPC. Guilty as charged. But I also sometimes say that it’s very much needed in these times. Because it is.

    This is a great find, and I thank you for sharing it. Moyers is highly respected by just about everybody, so to hear him share his feelings and concerns this way….well, it’s a huge wake-up call.

    1. Of the things I read in this piece the part with LBJ and the Freedom of Information Act was an eye opener.

      I could well have read this in the past and don’t remember but seeing it now casts a different light on things given the coldly calculated creeping corruption of Washington. Also, there is the Texas angle which changes the complexion of this. South Carolina, Texas and Arizona have seriously gone off the reservation. These three are hotbeds of radical rightwing politispeak. Texas holds it’s own in this triumvirate of crazies.

  3. emmazahn

    I registered with WordPress just so I could thank you for pointing me to this speech. For many, many years Frontline was my Tuesday television programming. Because of its coverage of the 1993 WTC bombing the growing terrorist threat, I knew who was responsible for 9/11 when the second plane hit. There was doubt about the first; it could have been an accident but the second left no room to doubt that it was terrorism.

    To me, one of the most memorable documentaries was their tribute to John O’Neill, The Man Who Knew. I assume O’Neill was their go to guy for all things Al Queda. His death in the WTC on 9/11 was tragic. Imagine how helpful what he knew could have been in the aftermath.

    Anyway, thanks again for the pointer.


    It has been awhile since I posted a link with code. Hope it worked.

    1. BTW, I also knew when the second plane hit that it was an act of terrorism. But oddly enough, when I said so aloud to my coworkers at the time, they all looked at me as if I was crazy.

      And then, about ten minutes later, they all jumped up at once and started calling their families, making plans to get home ASAP.

      What an awful, awful morning that was.

      1. EmmaZahn

        Thanks for the welcome, Lis.

        I guess I need to work on my comments.

        I credit Frontline for me knowing who the terrorists were once it was obviously terrorism.

        Frontline has provided PBS with really excellent programming for a quarter century.

        I hope they continue to do so.

  4. cmaukonen

    George Carlin said it best I think.

    “You can’t be afraid of words that speak the truth. I don’t
    like words that hide the truth. I don’t like words that
    conceal reality. I don’t like euphemisms or euphemistic
    language. And American english is loaded with euphemisms.
    Because Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with
    reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they
    invent a kind of a soft language to protect themselves from
    it. And it gets worse with every generation. For some reason
    it just keeps getting worse.

    I’ll give you an example of that. There’s a condition in
    combat. Most people know about it. It’s when a fighting
    person’s nervous system has been stressed to it’s absolute
    peak and maximum, can’t take any more input. The nervous
    system has either snapped or is about to snap. In the first
    world war that condition was called shell shock. Simple,
    honest, direct language. Two syllables. Shell shock. Almost
    sounds like the guns themselves. That was 70 years ago. Then
    a whole generation went by. And the second world war came
    along and the very same combat condition was called battle
    fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say.
    Doesn’t seem to be as hard to say. Fatigue is a nicer word
    than shock. Shell shock…battle fatigue.

    Then we had the war in Korea in 1950. Madison Avenue was
    riding high by that time. And the very same combat condition
    was called Operational Exhaustion. Hey we’re up to 8
    syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely
    out of the phrase now. It’s totally sterile now. Operational
    Exhaustion: sounds like something that might happen to your
    car. Then of course came the war in Vietnam, which has only
    been over for about 16 or 17 years. And thanks to the lies
    and deceit surrounding that war, I guess it’s no surprise
    that the very same condition was called Post-Traumatic
    Stress Disorder. Still 8 syllables, but we’ve added a
    hyphen. And the pain is completely buried under jargon.
    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I bet you, if we’d still
    been calling it shell shock, some of those Vietnam veterans
    might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I
    bet you that.

    But it didn’t happen. And one of the reasons is because we
    were using that soft language, that language that takes out
    the life out of life. And it is a function of time it does
    keep getting worse.

    Give you another example. Sometime during my life toilet
    paper became bathroom tissue. I wasn’t notified of this. No
    one asked me if I agreed with it. It just happened. Toilet
    paper became bathroom tissue. Sneakers became running shoes.
    False teeth became dental appliances. Medicine became
    medication. Information became directory assistance. The
    dump became the land fill. Car crashes became automobile
    accidents. Partly cloudy became partly sunny. Motels became
    motor lodges. House trailers became mobile homes. Used cars
    became previously owned transportation. Room service became
    guest room dining. Constipation became occasional

    When I was a little kid if I got sick they wanted me to go
    to a hospital and see the doctor. Now they want me to go to
    a health maintenance organization. Or a wellness center to
    consult a health care delivery professional. Poor people
    used to live in slums. Now the economically disadvantaged
    occupy sub-standard housing in the inner cities. And they’re
    broke! They’re broke. They don’t have a negative cash flow
    position. They’re f–kin’ broke! Because a lot of them were
    fired. You know, fired. Management wanted to curtail
    redundancies in the human resources area. So many people are
    no longer viable members of the work force. Smug, greedy
    well-fed white people have invented a language to conceal
    their sins. It’s as simple as that. The CIA doesn’t kill
    people anymore, they neutralize people, or they depopulate the area. The government doesn’t
    lie, it engages in disinformation. The pentagon actually
    measures radiation in something they call sunshine units.
    Israeli murderers are called commandos. Arab commandos are
    called terrorists. Contra killers are called freedom
    fighters. Well if crime fighters fight crime and fire
    fighters fight fire what do freedom fighters fight? They
    never mention that part of it to us, do they?

    And some of this stuff is just silly. We know that. Like
    when the airlines tell us to pre-board. What the hell is
    pre-board? What does that mean? To get on before you get on?

    They say they’re going to pre-board those passengers in need
    of special assistance …cripples! Simple honest direct
    language. There’s no shame attached to the word cripple I
    can find in any dictionary. In fact it’s a word used in
    Bible translations. “Jesus healed the cripples.” Doesn’t
    take seven words to describe that condition. But we don’t
    have cripples in this country anymore. We have the
    physically challenged. Is that a grotesque enough evasion
    for you? How about differently-abled? I’ve heard them called
    that. Differently-abled! You can’t even call these people
    handicapped anymore. They say: “We’re not handicapped, we’re
    handy capable!” These poor people have been bullsh-tted by
    the system into believing that if you change the name of the
    condition somehow you’ll change the condition. Well hey
    cousin … doesn’t happen!

    We have no more deaf people in this country. Hearing
    impaired. No more blind people. Partially sighted or
    visually impaired. No more stupid people, everyone has a
    learning disorder. Or he’s minimally exceptional. How would
    you like to told that about your child? ‘He’s minimally
    exceptional.’ Psychologists have actually started calling
    ugly people those with severe appearance deficits. It’s
    getting so bad that any day now I expect to hear a rape
    victim referred to as an unwilling sperm recipient!

    And we have no more old people in this country. No more old
    people. We shipped them all away and we brought in these
    senior citizens. Isn’t that a typically American twentieth
    century phrase? Bloodless. Lifeless. No pulse in one of
    them. A senior citizen. But I’ve accepted that one. I’ve
    come to terms with it. I know it’s here to stay. We’ll never
    get rid of it. But the one I do resist, the one I keep
    resisting, is when they look at an old guy and say, “Look at
    him Dan, he’s ninety years young.” Imagine the fear of aging
    that reveals. To not even be able to use the word old to
    describe someone. To have to use an antonym.

    And fear of aging is natural. It’s universal, isn’t it? We
    all have that. No one wants to get old. No one wants to die.
    But we do. So we con ourselves. I started conning myself
    when I got in my forties. I’d look in the mirror and say,
    “Well…I guess I’m getting …older.” Older sounds a little
    better than old, doesn’t it? Sounds like it might even last
    a little longer. I’m getting old. And it’s okay. Because
    thanks to our fear of death in this country I won’t have to
    die. I’ll pass away. Or I’ll expire, like a magazine
    subscription. If it happens in the hospital they’ll call it
    a terminal episode. The insurance company will refer to it
    as negative patient care outcome. And if it’s the result of
    malpractice they’ll say it was a therapeutic misadventure.
    I’m telling ya, some of this language makes me want to
    vomit. Well, maybe not vomit …makes me want to engage in
    an involuntary personal protein spill.” George Carlin – On

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