The intolerable smugness of Bill Moyers.

Media criticism.
Feb. 23 2009 6:05 PM

The Intolerable Smugness of Bill Moyers

He just can't help himself.

This article was published on Feb. 20. A software bug has given it a false publication date.

(Continued from Page 1)

Now compare Moyers' willingness to script Johnson news conferences with the sanctimonious interview he gave to Buzzflash in October 2003. He observes that modern journalists "who don't serve a partisan purpose and who try to be disinterested observers find themselves whipsawed between these corporate and ideological forces" and goes on to complain about the White House press corps, saying:

I think these forces have unbalanced the relationship between this White House and the press. Frankly, even if we had tried it in LBJ's time, we wouldn't have gotten away with the kind of press conference President Bush conducted on the eve of the invasion of Iraq—the one that even the President admitted was wholly scripted, with reporters raising their hands and posing so as to appear spontaneous.

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Where does the guy who planted questions at LBJ news conferences, who told Nancy Dickerson that previous press secretaries had done it, and who told her that planting questions was necessary get the moxie to accuse the Bush press corps of participating in a scripted news conference?

The scripted news conference he's harping about is the one from March 6, 2003, in which Bush snubbed a reporter who was trying to get his attention by saying:

We'll be there in a minute. King, John King. This is a scripted—(laughter.)

Does this mean the Bush news conference was "scripted"? Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer claimed absolutely not in a March 7, 2003, briefing. Fleischer said that Bush had called upon questioners from a "suggestion" list he had prepared. The president preferred this method because it results in a "more orderly news conference," added Fleischer. The scripted comment was just another Bush joke gone flat. (If you have a Nexis account, see the nicely done March 8, 2003, Newsday news story "Not Scripted, but Listed: Checklist of reporters helps Bush work news conference" by Ken Fireman.)

Bush isn't the only president to have relied on the list approach. Barack Obama favors it, too, something that Chicago Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin was complaining about in early January, before the Obama inauguration and well before his first news conference (Feb. 9). As you may recall, Obama made no effort to conceal his reliance on a list as he called on reporters.

I await Moyers' "expose" of the Obama administration's blatantly scripted news conferences.

[Addendum: Don't miss the  follow-up for more on Moyers' smugness.]

[Addendum 3: Shafer probes Moyers' memory.]

******

Oh, never mind. A Feb. 11, 2009, Wall Street Journal editorial already claimed this scoop. "We doubt that President Bush, who was notorious for being parsimonious with follow-ups, would have gotten away with prescreening his interlocutors," the Journal editorial states. Many thanks to Slate's John Dickerson, son of Nancy, for pointing me both to the Deakin passages and to his mother's book. Send Moyers news to 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 Slate runs a "Press Box" correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the word Moyers content in the subject head of an e-mail message, and send it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com.

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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