Bill Moyers told the Washington Post he couldn't remember whether he launched investigations into White House homosexuals. But when the paper's online cousin picked a fight over the issue, the memories came flooding back.
It's funny how a couple of Slate columns refresh the PBS host's memory. Jack Shafer wrote two pieces slamming Moyers after the WaPo's story came out. First he called Moyers a smug, manipulative hypocrite, citing past statements by CBS News' Morley Safer as support.
Then Shafer wrote a column pointing out that Moyers has, by his own account, been writing a book involving the very events he claims not to remember. And that he once said of his gay witch hunts, still fresh in his mind a decade later, "How will I explain this to my children?"
When Moyers wrote in to Slate to compain, he suddenly was able to harvest all sorts of details from a memory he described as "unclear after so many years" just six days earlier: The outing of Lyndon Johnson's chief of staff made Lady Bird Johnson cry; J. Edgar Hoover sent a constant stream of "tips" about purported gays; Johnson would ask Moyers to ask the White House FBI liaison to investigate some of Hoover's tips; Moyers did in fact ask the FBI to look into a "handful" of suspected gays on LBJ's behalf. He added:
No harm came to a single person from any of these allegations. Nobody lost a job, and not a single name was leaked to the press.
"No harm came to a single person" — period. Not, "so far as I can remember," or "at least that's what my tired old brain recalls" or any such hedges. Moyers' sudden clarity is remarkable!
There is a lesson in all this for the Washington Post's editors: Sustained online writing can elicit a bigger response from sources than a single, deeply reported print story.
As for Moyers' PBS viewers, they perhaps will come to think of Moyers as the sort of "Mastermind" Saturday Night Live once imagined Ronald Reagan to be: A clueless old man on the outside; a calculating schemer par excellence behind that facade (clip below).