bill moyers on the state of journalism… and more

Bill Moyers delivered a very good speech on the state of journalism in America a few days ago and its really worth reading. While he does a great job of talking about the threat of media consolidation, the rise of the citizen journalist through blogging, the secrecy of the Bush administration, and much more, Ive decided to quote a section of his speech that concerns evangelical Christianity. I hope you like it.

One of the biggest changes in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. How do we fathom and explain the mindset of violent exhibitionists and extremists who blow to smithereens hundreds of children and teachers of Middle School Number One in Beslan, Russia? Or the radical utopianism of martyrs who crash hijacked planes into the World Trade Center? How do we explain the possibility that a close election in November could turn on several million good and decent citizens who believe in the Rapture Index? Thats what I saidthe Rapture Index; Google it and you will understand why the best-selling books in America today are the 12 volumes of the “Left Behind” series that have earned multi-millions of dollars for their co-authors, who, earlier this year, completed a triumphant tour of the Bible Belt whose buckle holds in place George W. Bushs armor of the Lord. These true believers subscribe to a fantastical theology concocted in the l9th century by a couple of immigrant preachers who took disparate passages from the Bible and wove them into a narrative millions of people believe to be literally true.

According to this narrative, Jesus will return to earth only when certain conditions are met: when Israel has been established as a state; when Israel then occupies the rest of its biblical lands; when the third temple has been rebuilt on the site now occupied by the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosques; and, then, when legions of the Antichrist attack Israel. This will trigger a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon during which all the Jews who have not converted will be burned. Then the Messiah returns to earth. The Rapture occurs once the big battle begins. True believers will be lifted out of their clothes and transported to heaven where, seated next to the right hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts and frogs during the several years of tribulation which follow.”

Im not making this up. Weve reported on these people for our weekly broadcast on PBS, following some of them from Texas to the West Bank. They are sincere, serious and polite as they tell you that they feel called to help bring the Rapture on as fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Thats why they have declared solidarity with Israel and the Jewish settlements and backed up their support with money and volunteers. Its why they have staged confrontations at the old temple site in Jerusalem. Its why the invasion of Iraq for them was a warm-up act, predicted in the 9th chapter of the Book of Revelations where four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released to slay the third part of men. As the British writer George Monbiot has pointed out, for these people, the Middle East is not a foreign policy issue, its a biblical scenario, a matter of personal belief. A war with Islam in the Middle East is not something to be feared but welcomed; if theres a conflagration there, they come out winners on the far side of tribulation, inside the pearly gates, in celestial splendor, supping on ambrosia to the accompaniment of harps plucked by angels.

One estimate puts these people at about 15 percent of the electorate. Most are likely to vote Republican; they are part of the core of George W. Bushs base support. He knows who they are and what they want. When the president asked Ariel Sharon to pull his tanks out of Jenin in 2002, more than one hundred thousand angry Christian fundamentalists barraged the White House with e-mails, and Mr. Bush never mentioned the matter again. Not coincidentally, the administration recently put itself solidly behind Ariel Sharons expansions of settlements on the West Banks. In George Monbiots analysis, the president stands to lose fewer votes by encouraging Israeli expansion into the West Bank than he stands to lose by restraining it. He would be mad to listen to these people, but he would also be mad not to. No wonder Karl Rove walks around the West Wing whistling Onward Christian Soldiers. He knows how many votes he is likely to get from these pious folk who believe that the Rapture Index now stands at 144just one point below the critical threshold at which point the prophecy is fulfilled, the whole thing blows, the sky is filled with floating naked bodies, and the true believers wind up at the right hand of God. With no regret for those left behind.

I know, I know: You think I am bonkers. You think Ann Coulter is right to aim her bony knee at my groin and that OReilly should get a Peabody for barfing all over me for saying theres more to American politics than meets the Foxy eye. But this is just the point: Journalists who try to tell these stories, connect these dots, and examine these links are demeaned, disparaged and dismissed. This is the very kind of story that illustrates the challenge journalists face in a world driven by ideologies that are stoutly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. Ideologuesreligious, political, or editorial ideologuesembrace a world view that cannot be changed because they admit no evidence to the contrary. And Don Quixote on Rocinante tilting at windmills had an easier time of it than a journalist on a laptop tilting with facts at the worlds fundamentalist belief systems.

Moyers, for those of you who dont know, has announced that he will be retiring in three months time, just after the upcoming elections. He will be sorely missed. (Maybe we could convince him to start leaving commments here at MM.com.)

And heres one final quote from the Moyers speech. Im not ashamed to say that it brought a tear to my eye.

But Francisco Ortiz Franco thought it mattered. The crusading reporter co-founded a weekly magazine in Tijuana whose motto is Free like the Wind. He was relentless in exposing the incestuous connections between wealthy elites in Baja, Calif. and its most corrupt law enforcement agencies and with the most violent of drug cartels. Several months ago, Francisco Ortiz Franco died sitting at the wheel of his car outside a local clinicshot four times while his two children, aged eight and l0, looked on from the back seat. As his blood was being hosed off the pavement, more than l00 of his fellow Mexican reporters and editors marched quietly through the streets, holding their pens defiantly high in the air. They believe journalism matters.

Hopefully, all the young reporters in his audience took note.

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