Charlie Rose, Bill Moyers, and Jeremiah Wright

I have a great deal of respect for Bill Moyers.  For two examples: His recent Journal installments over PBS – TV in the States devoted to the 40th anniversary of the Kerner Commission report (March 28) and his interview with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright (April 25) made superb contributions to the subjects of race, class, and religion in the United States of America. – As a friend wrote to remind me the other day, it was at the height of the attack on the Catholic Church by revolutionary Paris that none other than Robespierre had warned against atheism as "aristocratic."  He countered:


The idea of a Great Being who watches over oppressed innocence and punishes triumphant crime is essentially the idea of the people.  This is the sentiment of Europe and the world; it is the sentiment of the French people.  That notion is attached neither to priests nor to superstition nor to ceremonies; it is attached only to the idea of an incomprehensible Power, the terror of wrongdoers, the stay and comfort of virtue.  


This past Thursday (May 8), Bill Moyers was the guest for a full hour on PBS – TV’s Charlie Rose ShowIf you go to this particular webpage and use the video-replay function to scroll to the segment during Moyers’ discussion with Charlie Rose that takes place between roughly the 32:30- and the 38:30-marks, where Moyers talks about the "ability not to be beholden to mythology…not to be beholden to illusions," you will hear Moyers sum-up his fear that the U.S. governing system has reached a "very serious point of no-return" –


so many powerful interests have a stake in the dysfunction that they don’t want to fix what is the fundamental structural problem of democracy


– a point of view that indeed is rare on American television.


But enough of this. — Now to my point:


More than one-quarter of Charlie Rose’s hour-long interview with Bill Moyers was devoted to Jeremiah Wright – related topics. (With a little Louis Farrakhan tossed in — see from roughly the 25:20-mark on.)


Little of this was illuminating; and none of what pertained to Jeremiah Wright.

Worse, Moyers and Rose repeated what, following the original assassination-by-soundbites over ABC – TV’s Good Morning America back on March 13, instantly became the standard misprision of those who approach the subject of the Black Preacher, not with a mind open to what stands before them, but with prejudice about what they are supposed to find.  Since it was truly abysmal to find Bill Moyers sucked-up by the same whirlpool of scapegoatting and demonization, it’s worth it for every free individual to watch this unfold.


The Charlie Rose Show played five consecutive video-clips (18:30 -): One from Moyers’ April 25 interview with Jeremiah Wright; three from Wright’s question-and-answer session at the National Press Club on April 28; and the fifth and final one from Barack Obama’s news conference the following day, April 29, at which he officially denounced Wright.  (As if this Candidate is in any position to speak authoritatively about the Black Preacher!  And to instruct the rest of the world about whom they can and cannot trust!)


Let me provide complete transcripts of each of these five video-clips (with a bit extra inserted at the start of the Moyers interview – incidentally, The Charlie Rose Show had also played the exact same three video-clips from Wright’s National Press Club appearance on its April 29 program):



Moyers: You preached that sermon on the Sunday after 9-11 — almost 7 years ago. When people saw the sound bites from it this year, they were upset because you seemed to be blaming America. Did you somehow fail to communicate?

Wright: The persons who have heard the entire sermon understand the communication perfectly. What is not the failure to communicate is when something is taken like a sound bite for a political purpose and put constantly over and over again, looped in the face of the public. That’s not a failure to communicate. Those who are doing that are communicating exactly what they wanna do, which is to paint me as some sort of fanatic or as the learned journalist from the New York Times called me, a "wack-a-doodle." It’s to paint me as something. Something’s wrong with me. There’s nothing wrong with this country. There’s -its policies. We’re perfect. We-our hands are free. Our hands have no blood on them. That’s not a failure to communicate. The message that is being communicated by the sound bites is exactly what those pushing those sound bites want to communicate.


Wright at the NPC: You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic divisive principles.


Wright at the NPC: [W]hen Louis Farrakhan speaks it’s like E.F. Hutton speaks. All black America listens. Whether they agree with him or not, they listen.


Wright at the NPC: He did, as I said, what politicians do. This was a political event. He wasn’t announcing, "I’m saved, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost."  He was announcing, "I’m running for president of the United States."



Barack Obama, April 29: I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday.  You know, I have been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ since 1992. I have known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years. The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago. His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church.



These excerpts were followed by close to a ten-minute exchange between Moyers and Rose that opened (20:53 -):


Rose: He is speaking about what Wright said on Monday at the National Press Club. Your interview was on Friday. — How do you explain the difference? 


Moyers: Over 2,000 people wrote me and asked that same question: "How can a man who is so reasonable in conversation on Friday be so angry in public on Monday?"


Unfortunately for these two gentlemen, none of the three video-clips from Jeremiah Wright’s April 28 National Press Club appearance contradicts or is in any way incompatible with the entirety of Jeremiah Wright’s April 25 interview with Bill Moyers — or in any other venue at any other time.


Instead, once again, and even though the three video-clips of Jeremiah Wright did not reflect on him in any way other than positively (and remember that at the NPC event, Wright wasn’t going to take any BS from anybody), both Rose and Moyers viewed them negatively (i.e., through an identical lens), and thus viewed them no differently than do the rest of the political class and establishment media (i.e., in strict accordance with the establishment’s you-can’t-say-that prejudices).


Moyers referred to Jeremiah Wright’s case as the "politics of personal destruction," as if Jeremiah Wright were responsible for bringing upon himself this scapegoatting and demonization, culminating in Barack Obama’s final break with him.


This very well may be the lesson that Bill Moyers draws from the Wright – Obama saga in 2008.  But it reverses cause and effect: In 2008, Wright has been made the object of scapegoatting and demonization; Wright has not subjected himself to this process.  A process in which Bill Moyers and Charlie Rose also participated during the May 8 show.  A process that we can observe in their finding something offensive and unacceptable in the otherwise perfectly sensible soundbites The Charlie Rose Show replayed from Jeremiah Wright’s National Press Club appearance.


In short: Do beware the terrible simplifiers.


In the final analysis, I place 100-times more trust in the accuracy of the lens through which Mumia Abu-Jamal views the whole Jeremiah Wright episode("Who’s Uncle Is Really Crazy?"):

  I don’t know about you, but I’ve not heard one statement that isn’t categorically, historically, and absolutely true.  As my good country buddy, Bro. Willie might ask, "What the problem is?"
  Obama’s response, served up to placate the fascistic right, sounded like an apology: "I reject outright statements  by Reverend Wright that are at issue."
  The problem isn’t that Rev. Wright was crazy, but that he spoke the cold, sober truth.  That’s the problem.
  The U.S. nationalists demand that anyone who states such truths be "denounced."
  When will a candidate emerge who will denounce imperialism, and the endless ruinous wars against much of the Third World, for the profit of corporations here?
  If this election is any measure, no time soon.
  Who’s uncle is really crazy?  Uncle Jeremiah or Uncle Sam?

Notice the source of this commentary: A black man on death row in the state of Pennsylvania for a crime committed by somebody 27 years ago. Yet, in dramatic contrast with the legions of Americans from the political class and the establishment media, it’s not this commentary that rants and raves. —


You know the United States of America is in really big trouble when the people who occupy positions of authority, and who keep-the-gates-to and police its "public" sphere, are so captive to a particular system of false beliefs that they are unable to hear two sentences from this Black Preacher without prejudging them beyond the pale, while somebody on death row can express thoughts that not only put the gatekeepers to shame, but show us who the real prisoners are.

"A Conversation with Bill Moyers," The Charlie Rose Show, PBS – TV, May 8, 2008
Interview with Rev. Jeremiah Wright
, Bill Moyers’ Journal, PBS – TV, April 25, 2008
Black Churches, Black Theology, and American History
," Bill Moyers’ Journal, PBS – TV, April 25, 2008
The African American Religious Experience
" (Rev. Jeremiah Wright at the National Press Club in Washington, DC), CSPAN II, April 28, 2008
Barack Obama’s April 29 Remarks on Jeremiah Wright, International Herald Tribune

"Reverend Jeremiah Wright: Religious Freedom Versus State Religion, Ethics, Politics and Strategy," James Petras, Dissident Voice, April 20, 2008

"Who’s Uncle Is Really Crazy?" Mumia Abu-Jamal, From Death Row, May 5, 2008

"Audacity and Hopelessness," ZCom, March 16, 2008
"Rev. Jeremiah Wright for President," ZCom, March 17, 2008 
"Audacity and Hopelessness II," ZCom, March 30, 2008
"‘The Day of Jerusalem’s Fall’," ZCom, April 4, 2008 
"A Theology of Oppression," ZCom, April 29, 2008
"Charlie Rose, Bill Moyers, and Jeremiah Wright," ZCom, May 10, 2008

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