Bill Moyers responds to Jack Shafer's "intemperate attack."

Media criticism.
Feb. 24 2009 4:42 PM

Moyers Responds to Slate

Jack Shafer reported very old news as new and distorted the record beyond recognition.

Bill Moyers, managing editor of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS, sent the following e-mail to the editor after Jack Shafer's first piece on the topic was published but before the second was posted. Shafer replies  after the Moyers letter. 

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Stephens' article, however, unambiguously cites an FBI memo stating that Moyers requested FBI investigations of two suspected administration homosexuals. Until Moyers says or proves otherwise, I'll assume that he did request the investigations. All the rest of his letter is a nondenial denial.

I'm glad that Moyers' letter brings up Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., a politician more sinned against than sinning, in my opinion. That Johnson kept a dossier on Goldwater is reported in Michael Beschloss' book Reaching for Glory: Lyndon Johnson's Secret White House Tapes, 1964-1965. After the Jenkins arrest, Johnson worried that Hoover might get his hands on the contents of a safe in Jenkins' office that contained "potentially embarrassing FBI and other information on the private lives of LBJ, … administration appointees, Goldwater, [vice-presidential nominee William E.] Miller, and other political friends and enemies. …"

As part of the national security investigation of Jenkins, two FBI agents called on Goldwater at 6:30 in the morning at his Chicago hotel "to ask about his own relationship with Jenkins' and Jenkins's 'personal habit,' " Beschloss writes. Goldwater, who commanded Jenkins in the Air Force Reserve, was furious. Beschloss continues, "Goldwater complained that in the Jenkins investigation, Johnson was abusing the FBI 'for political purposes.' "

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Moyers can't be serious about dismissing my piece as "very old news." It's very new news when the Post reports documentary evidence that Moyers had the FBI investigate the sexual orientation of administration figures. The Post piece places Moyers and his career in a new context worthy of re-examination.

Which brings us to the Newsweek column ("LBJ and the FBI," March 10, 1975), which must be read to be believed. It's a classic case of damage control, coming as it did days after a congressional hearing in which a Justice Department official testified that Moyers, acting at LBJ's behest, had asked the FBI to investigate Goldwater campaign aides. (See the paid archives of the New York Timesfor the contemporaneous news story.)

The Newsweek column is as evasive and as self-serving as this letter from Moyers.

[Addendum: Shafer probes Moyers' memory.]

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Jack Shafer reads e-mail at slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Track my errors: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slateruns a "Press Box" correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the words Moyers and Shafer in the subject head of an e-mail message, and send it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com.