Bill Moyers on why facts matter

Bill Moyers, speaking a few weeks ago before a group of broadcasters on the importance of investigative journalism, had the following to say about the Freedom of Information Act and Wikileaks. The entire speech is worth a read, but I found this section to be of particular interest.

…Here’s a sidebar: I remember vividly the day President Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): July 4, 1966. He signed it “with a deep sense of pride,” declaring in almost lyrical language “that the United States is an open society in which the people’s right to know is cherished and guarded.” That’s what he said. The truth is, the president had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the signing ceremony. He hated the very idea of journalists rummaging in government closets, hated them challenging the authorized view of reality, hated them knowing what he didn’t want them to know. He dug in his heels and even threatened to pocket veto the bill after it reached the White House. Only the courage and political skill of a Congressman named John Moss got the bill passed at all and that was after a 12-year battle against his Congressional elders, who blinked every time the sun shined on the dark corners of power. They managed to cripple the bill Moss had drafted and, even then, only some last-minute calls to LBJ from a handful of influential newspaper editors overcame the president’s reluctance. He signed “the f—— thing,” as he called it and then, lo and behold, went out to claim credit for it.

It’s always a fight to find out what the government doesn’t want us to know. The official obsession with secrecy is all the more disturbing today because the war on terrorism is a war without limits, without a visible enemy or decisive encounters. We don’t know where the clandestine war is going on or how much it’s costing and whether it’s in the least effective. Even in Afghanistan, most of what we know comes from official, usually military, sources.

Thus, a relative handful of people have enormous power to keep us in the dark. And when those people are in league with their counterparts in powerful corporations, the public is hit with a double whammy. We’re usually told the issue is national security, but keeping us from finding out about the danger of accidents at chemical plants is not about national security; it’s about covering up an industry’s indiscretions and liabilities. Locking up the secrets of meetings with energy executives is not about national security; it’s about hiding confidential memos sent to the White House showing the influence of oil companies on policies of global warming We only learned about that memo from the Bush White House, by the way, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act.

Consider WikiLeaks, then, to be one big FOIA dump. Were some people in high places embarrassed? Perhaps. They did squeal, but I don’t think they were stuck.

And even so, we learned some important things from WikiLeaks. For example, as Reza Alsan writes in The Atlantic, the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, may not be as fanatical as we think he is; the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks portray him as “a moderate reformer who’d like to cut deals with the West, but can’t because hard-liners are calling the shots.” One of them even slapped Ahmadinejad across the face when, at a high-level meeting when he proposed that the government allow more personal and press freedom at the height of the 2009 public protests in Iran. Such information can help us evaluate the incessant demands of neoconservative warmongers – the very people who rode the circuit with news of “weapons of mass destruction” in an effort to build support for invading Iraq – that we use military force against Iran to eliminate its nuclear capacity…

Speaking of Iran, it looks like the kids there, emboldened by what’s happened in Egypt, are heading back to the streets. Here’s hoping that they’re successful in overturning the theocratic state this time, and that the pro-democracy wave which started in Tunisia continues to build as it makes its way across the globe… Who knows, maybe it will even make it to our shores.

This entry was posted in Media, Politics, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

7 Comments

  1. Elise Snozen
    Posted February 15, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    It makes me sad to see a post about Bill Moyers with no fucking comments. You people are terrible.

  2. dragon
    Posted February 15, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    As a patriotic American I wonder also why some of those people who look to comment so much suddenly disappear when those very important and serious topics come up. Also, too.

  3. dragon
    Posted February 15, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and also the troops fightin’ over there. Givin’ up their blood for our freedom.

  4. kjc
    Posted February 16, 2011 at 2:53 am | Permalink

    who cares about fucking comments. bill moyers has been speaking truth to power for forever. his legacy is unwritten. and of course he’s fucking right.

  5. Posted February 19, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    This was a great piece from Moyers – I have the entire speech saved in instapaper. Also, I can’t tell if Dragon is being serious or sarcastic…

  6. dragon
    Posted February 19, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    Shoot, I must have lived such a doggoned sheltered life as a normal, independent Ypsilantite American , schooled with only public education and a lowly state university degree, because obviously I haven’t learned enough to dismiss common sense.

  7. Nostalgiac
    Posted February 20, 2011 at 4:30 am | Permalink

    Some facts matter. Some don’t.
    What happened to posts about global warming? Those days sure were fun, when stuff like that was important.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect

Sidetrack ad Aubree’s ad BUY LOCAL... or shop at Amazon through this link Banner Initiative Melissa Detloff