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Me, Bill Moyers and Rachel Maddow

Photo by Peabody Awards | CC BY 2.0

Last week I had a revelation about American liberals and their obsession with the Russiagate story—a revelation that came, oddly enough, courtesy of Bill Moyers.

I have a curious history with Moyers.  In the summer of 1967, as a 17-year-old college dropout, I was hired to help plan an experimental branch of the State University of New York at Old Westbury.  All the other student planners were high-achieving academics; I was referred to as “Dropout in Residence.”  So I spent that magical, hash-scented summer of ’67 on the idyllic grounds of the campus-to-be, an impossibly beautiful estate filled with dazzling flower-gardens and stands of rare trees, as luminaries of all kinds dropped by for day-long hang-out sessions–people like WH Auden, Alan Watts, and Joan Baez (who sang to me, alone, for an hour, in front of a roaring fireplace—a once-in-a-lifetime solo concert that I completely ruined for myself by obsessively wondering if I had a shot with her). The other kids were all high-achieving academics; I was the token punk.

Bill Moyers—still famous, back then, as Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary–had been invited to spend a day with us by his close friend, the Old Westbury president, a JFK liberal and former Peace Corps head named Harris Wofford.  As ten or twelve of us sat around the mansion-house table after dinner, drinking sherry, Moyers advised us to keep our quasi-revolutionary project very hush-hush, lest the reactionaries “out there” try to shut us down.  In retrospect, it was probably very savvy advice–but I’d been waiting for an opening all night. “Why should we listen to you?” I cheap-shotted him.  “You were Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary.  You lied for that asshole, and look where it got us.” Not my finest rapier-thrust, I admit, but it was the best I could do at the moment.  Poor Wofford choked on his sherry, his gentle face aging ten years in the one second that followed my wise-guy query–but Moyers was pretty unfazed.  “Well, I would not agree with your characterization, but…” I forget what he said after that.  I was probably on a testosterone high, as well as highs from various other chemicals.  But I remember he kept his cool.

In the fifty years since then, Moyers has moved well to the left, and I’ve grown to have increasing respect for him.  In the corporate media landscape in which he operates, he’s shown genuine courage, prodding what my late mother called “good liberals” to a more daring worldview.  But until recently he seemed to be enveloped by the MSBNC/Democratic Party mindset on all things Russiagate.  So I was truly astonished last week when I heard that Moyers, on his Facebook page, had republished a piece I wrote for CounterPunch called MSNBC: A Trainload of Fools Bogged Down in a Magnetic Field.  (I won’t link to myself, because I’m pretty sure God punishes people for that.) The thrust of the piece was simply that MSNBC, and other media, were neglecting to report on all the evils around us in favor of nonstop Russia/Mueller yammering.

Bill Moyers co-signing that message?  Weird!  And believe me, his readers thought so, too.  Several of them were sure that his account had been hacked.  Others were profoundly hurt, on a personal level, that he had endorsed any putdown of Rachel Maddow, who has assumed high-priestess status among her viewers.  But a surprising number of Moyer’s Facebook friends were beginning to at least consider the idea that it was all, finally, too much–that America is in dire need of a media that examines its systemic evils, and not only Russians posting “Buff Bernie” memes on the Internet.

It made me realize that most of the people obsessed with Russiagate—including close friends and family—are not my enemies.  With dear old Buddhist Alan Watts in mind, I don’t want to spend precious Zen energy hating those people—or being hated by them.  So here is my sincere attempt to explain–to Bill Moyer’s disappointed Facebook friends, and to myself—why people like me object so strenuously to month after month of this nonstop Russiagate coverage.  And it comes in the form of a question.

What if we had one single week of breathless, in-depth stories about—oh, just to be completely zany, since we’re only spitballing here—how about one single week on American Hunger? It’s really not that crazy; CBS used to do that kind of thing all the time.  But let’s update it, MSNBC style.  Let’s convene a panel-full of snazzy experts, including (at least) one guy who radiates that cheesy, second-level “James Clapper” kind of gravitas (am I aiming too high?  How about third-rate “Malcolm  Nance” gravitas?)  And since we’re just spitballing, how about investing, let’s say, 1.5% of the Russiagate budget, and 1.5% of the Russiagate reporter man-hours, and channelling it all into the Breaking News bulletin that one of every five American kids will go to bed hungry tonight?  This very fucking night!  Let’s make sure that an earnest, attractive News Anchor presents that Breaking News Story to our viewers. Let’s have animated panel discussions with the usual motley crew—one of those interchangeable right-wing New York Times columnists, say, and a couple of (possibly) ex-CIA spooks, and what the hell, let’s invite Rob Reiner on, too, he’s passionate even if he doesn’t like, talk that good; and yes, what the hell, let’s invite Joy Behar, let’s invite anyone who can help illuminate the many dark corners of this heartbreaking story—anyone, really, who can help our weary, Mueller-battered minds absorb this one crucial fact: that for every five American kids named Brittany, the poor-white Brittanys in West Virginia and the cornrowed Brittanys of Gary, Indiana, at least one Brittany will lie in bed tonight desperate for food, but probably even more desperate for the world around her to make sense, for her parents to be able to nurture herbecause failing that, nothing makes sense to a kid. And nothing ever will.  Let’s talk about upcoming indictments for that crimefor that conspiracy.  Let’s cover every conceivable angle of The Brittany Dossier, let’s drag Adam Schiff in front of the camera yet again, but this time to announce that he’s dug up new dirt on the Brittany scandal.  “Breaking News: we can now report that Bill Clinton is being investigated for crimes against single mothers, felonies that were committed under the pretense of “ending welfare as we know it”—yes, let MSNBC be in the vanguard, the very first to report that “President Clinton was knowingly, and with malice aforethought, forcing single mothers into prostitution, meth-dealing, crack-dealing, and countless other crimes.”

You see where this could go. We could alternate fullblown Russiagate weeks with a Prison Reform week, a Reparations-for-Slavery week, a Week on War Profiteers—believe me, the Russiagate story ain’t going anywhere, Paul Manafort will still be there when we get back.

As for myself, I have absolutely no doubt that Donald Trump, having burned every halfway-sane lender in North America, smuggled tons of money out of Russia, and that he and Donald Junior–who has inherited his father’s venal idiocy, along with his large, pendulous breasts—have committed all manner of creepy felony in doing so.  I definitely believe that Donald Trump hired Moscow hookers to act out his pitiful erotic fantasies (urinating on beds?  Yeccch.)  What I don’t believe is that Mike Pence will be any better than Donald Trump.  What I don’t believe is that the FBI and CIA are benign stewards of American freedom.  But I’m willing to be proven wrong about any or all of this.  However it all plays out, here’s hoping that as the Bill Moyers of the world begin to question the media’s endless focus on Russiagate, and their reasons for ignoring America’s true injustices, some brave soul at the networks—maybe Rachel Maddow herself–will finally begin to listen.

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John Eskow is a writer and musician. He wrote or co-wrote the movies Air America, The Mask of Zorro, and Pink Cadillac, as well as the novel Smokestack Lightning. He is a contributor to Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence. He can be reached at: johneskow@yahoo.com

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