J. Edgar Moyers
The TV moralist's government record.
One of the darker periods of modern American history was J. Edgar Hoover's long reign over the FBI, as we have learned since he died in 1972. So it is more than a historical footnote to discover new records showing that prominent public television broadcaster Bill Moyers participated in Hoover's exploits.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Washington Post has obtained a few of the former FBI director's secret files. According to a Thursday front-page story, Hoover was "consumed" with exposing a (nonexistent) relationship between a gay photographer and Jack Valenti, the late film industry lobbyist who was then an aide to Lyndon Johnson. Hoover's M.O. was to amass incriminating personal information as political blackmail.
But as the Post reports in passing, the dossier also reveals that Mr. Moyers -- then a special assistant to LBJ -- requested in 1964 that Hoover's G-men "investigate two other administration figures who were 'suspected as having homosexual tendencies.'"
This isn't the first time Mr. Moyers's name has come up in connection with Hoover's abuse of office. When Laurence Silberman, now a federal appeals judge, was acting Attorney General in 1975, he was obliged to read Hoover's secret files in their entirety in preparation for testimony before Congress -- and as far as we know remains one of the only living officials to have done so. "It was the single worst experience of my long governmental service," he wrote in these pages in 2005.
Amid "bits of dirt on figures such as Martin Luther King," Judge Silberman found a 1964 memo from Mr. Moyers directing Hoover's agents to investigate Barry Goldwater's campaign staff for evidence of homosexual activity. A few weeks before, an LBJ aide named Walter Jenkins had been arrested in a men's bathroom, and Mr. Silberman wrote that Mr. Moyers and his boss evidently wanted leverage in the event Goldwater tried to use the liaison against them. (He didn't, as it happened.)
When that episode became public after Mr. Silberman testified, an irate Mr. Moyers called him and, with typical delicacy, accused him of falling for forged CIA memos. Mr. Silberman offered to study the matter and, should Mr. Moyers's allegations pan out, he would publicly exonerate him. "There was a pause on the line and then he said, 'I was very young. How will I explain this to my children?' And then he rang off."
Memories are short in Washington, and Mr. Moyers has gone on to promote himself as a political moralist, routinely sermonizing about what he claims are abuses of power by his ideological enemies. Since 9/11, he has been particularly intense in criticizing President Bush for his antiterror policies, such as warrantless wiretapping against al Qaeda.
Yet the historical record suggests that when Mr. Moyers was in a position of actual power, he was complicit in FBI dirt-digging against U.S. citizens solely for political purposes. As Judge Silberman put it in 2005, "I have always thought that the most heinous act in which a democratic government can engage is to use its law enforcement machinery for political ends."
Mr. Moyers told us through a spokeswoman that he "never heard of the Valenti matter until this story and had nothing to add to it." He also pointed to a 1975 Newsweek article in which he wrote that he learned of the LBJ-Hoover relationship in "the quickly fading days of my innocence." In the Nixon days, this was called a nondenial denial.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
From today's Wall Street Journal editorial page: