Jack Shafer on Bill Moyers’ “Intolerable Smugness”

First Slate’s Jack Shafer dropped this aggressive piece of media-criticism on Bill Moyers, calling into question the liberal lion’s role in exposing gays in Lyndon Johnson’s administration. Then, clearly smelling blood, Shafer followed up with this uppercut.



Both of Uncle Jack’s column’s deal with Moyers’ time as LBJ’s chief of staff and press secretary and his apparent task of ferreting out homosexuals in the administration. The Washington Post reported this story over the weekend, and Moyers gave a mild non-denial-denial that he may-might-maybe-sort-of recalls the time, but that it was probably at everyone’s favorite villain, J. Edgar Hoover’s request.

Shafer differs:

“To fully refresh Moyers’ memory, I direct his attention to a 2005 Journal op-ed by Laurence H. Silberman (cited in a Saturday Wall Street Journal editorial). Silberman, who was acting attorney general in 1975, read Hoover’s secret files before testifying before Congress. He writes:

… Bill Moyers, was tasked to direct Hoover to do an investigation of Goldwater’s staff to find similar evidence of homosexual activity. Mr. Moyers’ memo to the FBI was in one of the files.

When the press reported this, I received a call in my office from Mr. Moyers. Several of my assistants were with me. He was outraged; he claimed that this was another example of the Bureau salting its files with phony CIA memos. I was taken aback. I offered to conduct an investigation, which if his contention was correct, would lead me to publicly exonerate him. There was a pause on the line and then he said, “I was very young. How will I explain this to my children?”

How will Moyers explain it to his children? By setting aside a chapter in his big, forthcoming Lyndon Johnson book.”

I don’t dislike Moyers, and while Shafer clearly revels in his role as the fourth estate’s bona fide watch dog, I think Shafer is pretty spot on with this (despite his own tolerable smugness). I respect that people’s opinions change over a lifetime, but that’s not what Moyers told the Post. He said he was only following orders. Not true. As for Shafer, he may not be the most likeable guy with access to a Lexis-Nexis account, but he’s absolutely necessary.

UPDATE: Bill Moyers responds to Jack Shafer, and then Shafer responds back.


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