Bill Moyers Gay Hypocrisy Scandal

I’ve followed the discussion about the Bill Moyers “scandal” (see, for example, today’s (WSJ piece “Bill Moyers’s Name Is Linked to J. Edgar Hoover’s Abuse of Office”) out of the corner of my eye for the last couple of days  and am having trouble seeing what the big deal is.

Basically, as I understand it:

  • Back in 1964, then-30-year-old Moyers was an aide to President Lyndon Johnson who carried out orders to assist in some vague way an investigation by then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover about allegations that Motion Picture Association president Jack Valenti was a homosexual.
  • Decades later, as a PBS talking head, Moyers is a preening lefty who has “gone on to promote himself as a political moralist, routinely sermonizing about what he claims are abuses of power by his ideological enemies.”
  • This constitutes hypocrisy.

Am I missing some key point?

Because, if not, this doesn’t strike me as a particularly big deal.  People’s attitudes change between the time they’re 30 and 70.  They learn from their own mistakes and their other life experiences.  Furthermore, once-respectable views and attitudes become discredited.

In 1964, people trusted government much more than they would a decade latter, owing to Vietnam and Watergate.   So, “trust me, I’m the FBI director and know what’s good for the country” becomes “abuse of power.”

On the issue of homosexuality in particular, I often turn to a single, anecdotal example of how times have changed.   In 1967, lefty folk singer Arlo Guthrie, son of lefty folk icon Woody, released the Thanksgiving classic “Alice’s Restaurant.”  It contained the line, “And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they’re both faggots and they won’t take either of them.”  Within maybe a decade, nobody respectable would use the word “faggot” in public in this manner.  (Although, as frequently happens, the epithet eventually came back into vogue as shock language acceptable for use by people in the targeted group.)

It seems perfectly plausible that young Bill Moyers did something that seemed perfectly reasonable at the time that he’d condemn if it were happening in 2009.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Maggie Mama says:

    Rick Moran at American Thinker has an interesting piece on this, Dr. JJ.

  2. Our Paul says:

    Stand up and a muted round of applause for Dr. Joyner.

    Applause given for he correctly identifies the distressing tendency of the hard right ideologues to engage in character assassination rather than dialogue or reflection.

    Applause muted for his characterization of Moyers as a “preening lefty”. Certainly a more charitable appellation could have been used.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Certainly a more charitable appellation could have been used.

    It’s pretty accurate, though. He’s sanctimonious and holier than thou, pontificating from on high as an elder statesman. And he’s left-of-center.

  4. ken says:

    I am amused by the reference to Alice’s Restaurant as a Thanksgiving classic.

    Have I been missing out all these years on enjoying a film along with my turkey and pumpkin pie?

  5. Bill Moyer’s problem is glass houses and all that, given his propensity to throw stones in the name of morality at so many others.

  6. James Joyner says:

    I am amused by the reference to Alice’s Restaurant as a Thanksgiving classic.

    Have I been missing out all these years on enjoying a film along with my turkey and pumpkin pie?

    The song, not the subsequent film. I don’t know if it’s still done but classic rock stations used to play it all the time around Thanksgiving.

  7. Joe R. says:

    I don’t know if it’s still done but classic rock stations used to play it all the time around Thanksgiving.

    Yes, it is still done. I think it’s more of an east coast thing though. I don’t remember it being done when I grew up in the south, but it’s still done in Philadelphia.

  8. James Joyner says:

    I don’t remember it being done when I grew up in the south, but it’s still done in Philadelphia.

    They were doing it in Texas (at least the El Paso station I listened to) in the late 1970s and in Alabama in the 1980s.

  9. Pat Curley says:

    Moyers is such a sanctimonious jerk that it’s fun seeing him accused of hypocrisy, which is usually a crime only conservatives are accused of.

  10. Next thing you know, people will start saying Reagan was a pro-union and a democrat earlier in his life.

  11. Dantheman says:

    I might add that every year Arlo Guthrie does a concert at one of the small Philly stages shortly before Thanksgiving, which is billed as Alice’s Restaurant season (here’s the 2008 listing.

  12. retire05 says:

    Of course, Moyers is allowed redemption. Just like Robert Byrd has been allowed redemption although he was a KKK Grand Klegle.

    You see, it is only conservatives that are never allowed redemption. Redemption requires a (D) behind your name.

  13. Our Paul says:

    Dr. Joyner in his reply in the thread to my mild censure to the use of “preening lefty” to characterize Bill Moyer had this to say (my italics):

    “It’s pretty accurate, though. He’s sanctimonious and holier than thou, pontificating from on high as an elder statesman. And he’s left-of-center.( February 22, 2009 | 10:58 am)”

    Gasp, if he is left of center, he assuredly is not seeking Dr. Joyner’s approbation. And thus we should not be surprised that Bill Moyer is not only sanctimonious, but has a tendency to pontificating from on high as an elder statesman.

    I will take comfort in this statement by Dr. Joyner:

    People’s attitudes change between the time they’re 30 and 70. They learn from their own mistakes and their other life experiences. Furthermore, once-respectable views and attitudes become discredited.

    Thus, there is hope for both Dr. Joyner and Charles Austin. Unfortunately I have crashed by the age of 70, and thus my current respectable views stand little chance of becoming discredited in my life span…

    As for Alice’s Restaurant, by that lefty folk singer Arlo Guthrie, son of lefty folk icon Woody, its fame is not so much to do with Thanksgiving, but as a satiric anti Viet Nam war protest song. To quote the fountain head of knowledge referenced by James:

    The song goes on to describe Guthrie’s being called up for the draft, and the surreal bureaucracy at the New York City induction center at 1 Whitehall Street. Because of Guthrie’s criminal record for littering, he is first sent to the Group W Bench (where convicts wait) then outright rejected as unfit for military service. The ironic punchline of the story’s denouement is that, in the words of Guthrie, “I’m sittin here on the Group W bench ’cause you want to know if I’m moral enough to join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after bein’ a litterbug?”

    “Alice’s Restaurant” is regularly played on Thanksgiving by many classic rock radio stations and has become a tradition.[2] It is not often otherwise aired, due to its length.

    And thus I must close, as I thumb through my rag tag Latin dictionary with this thought: Is there something sinister in labeling those who disagree with you as being lefty?

  14. James Joyner says:

    Is there something sinister in labeling those who disagree with you as being lefty?

    Moyers’ left-leaning politics is, presumably, the reason he’s currently coming under fire from the right for doing something that probably anyone in his position would have done unthinkingly in 1964.

    I like both Guthries. The fact that a lefty of such provenance would use the word “faggot” cheerfully in 1967 is a powerful statement of how fast our attitudes have changed.

    And, yes, even upon first hearing as a young teenager in the late 1970s, well after the Vietnam War had ceased to be a hot topic, I grasped that it was an anti-war protest song and making fun of the draft bureaucracy.

  15. Derrick says:

    Of course, Moyers is allowed redemption. Just like Robert Byrd has been allowed redemption although he was a KKK Grand Klegle.

    You see, it is only conservatives that are never allowed redemption. Redemption requires a (D) behind your name.

    You forgot to include conservatives (and not Republicans mind you) who took stands against MLK day and the Civil Rights Voting Act like John McCain who can now claim that they aren’t bigots.