Bill Moyers interview with Glenn
Greenwald and Jay Rosen (excerpted)
Bill Moyer's Journal, February
Glenn Greenwald is a constitutional lawyer
turned journalist. His blog on Salon.com is one of the most influential
on the internet. He's written two best sellers: "How Would
a Patriot Act?" about President Bush and executive power,
and "A Tragic Legacy." His most recent book is "Great
Jay Rosen is a founder of the citizen journalism movement and
is a professor of journalism at New York University, as well as
a widely published writer and media critic. He created the popular
blog called PressThink, subtitled "Ghost of Democracy in
the Media Machine."
If you were to say to normal Americans that members of Congress
leave office and make millions of dollars doing nothing other
than essentially peddling influence to wealthy individuals who
can have their way with Congress, most people would consider that
to be corruption. Yet, to members of the media, who have spent
their lives in Washington, who are friends and colleagues of the
people who are engorging themselves on this corrupt system that
is just the way of life. It's like breathing air or drinking water.
It's not anything that's noteworthy, let alone controversial.
What doesn't get considered is that there could be anything radically
wrong with Washington, that the entire institution could be broken,
that there are new rules necessary. That idea, that the institutions
of Washington have failed and need to be changed, doesn't really
occur to the [mainstream] press, because they're one of those
institutions. And they're one of the ones that failed.
What the establishment expects is that people say what they need
to say to get elected. And then, once they're in power, the old
rules of Washington reassert themselves.
If you go back to the 1990s, what you saw is essentially a partnership
between the Republican Party, the right wing, and establishment
media. And this partnership was formed when they were essentially
engaged in their lynch mob over the Lewinsky affair.
And that partnership, those methods that were so successful then,
translated into the media being blindly supportive and reverent
of the Bush administration. And that partnership hasn't really
gone anywhere. And so, I think that Obama, being somewhat new
to Washington, and looking at Washington as this culture ready
to be changed, and leave behind its old ways - that's what he
really believes he can accomplish - may have been somewhat surprised
by how potent that process is, when it works together.
And it suffocated his message. It attached the most dreaded label
in Washington to what he was trying to do, which is conventional
liberalism, that this is just a standard package of liberal economic
policies: taxing and spending, and imposing burdens on the American
taxpayer. And that message resonated with the media, and therefore,
with the American public, and steamrolled the White House in a
way that I think demonstrated they weren't really prepared for
how vibrant that partnership [the Republican Party, the right
wing, and establishment media] remains.
If you look at what the media were saying about Obama favorably,
both around the time of his election and subsequent as well, they
kept insisting that he could continue Bush's counterterrorism
policies that were so controversial.
They were praising him for leaving in place all sorts of Bush
officials that the media wants to see as continuity, that he's
not threatening to their way of life and to their establishment.
That's how he wins praise from them [mainstream media], by showing
that he isn't going to change things fundamentally, and therefore,
isn't a threat to their system.
The more [Obama] threatens the Washington system, the more hostility
the press will feel towards him, and therefore, project to the
public about him. And that, can undermine his political popularity.
If you're a career Washington reporter, how do you know that your
knowledge is always going to be relevant throughout your career?
Well, if politics is just an inside game, then you're always on
top of it. If all of a sudden, a new dynamic enters it [Obama],
you may not have the knowledge you need to be the expert, to be
the authority. And I think there's a tendency for Washington journalists
to see everything converging towards the political game that they
are themselves masters of.
If Amy Goodman came on "Meet the Press," she would say
all sorts of things that not only challenge the people on the
program, but challenge what they have been saying over the years,
in a sense, discredit the narrative that's been building up for
a long time. And even though it's not wholly conscious, the idea
that there's a kind of building narrative that is more or less
accurate, that we tell you what's going on in Washington, is a
common assumption in the press.
Rush Limbaugh can depict himself as being this insurgent outsider,
but he supported the wars of the last eight years. He supported
the tax policies that Ronald Reagan essentially instituted as
conventional wisdom - that we need to lower taxes, reduce government
spending. All of the conventional clichés that the media
airs frequently, and doesn't need much time in order to explain,
are ones that Rush Limbaugh and the furthest fringes of the right
And so, to include them into our discussion is not very disruptive
at all, whereas if you had people on from the left who were advocating
things like the United States' responsibility for its unpopularity
in the world, the fact that we wage wars and bomb other countries
and invade and occupy other countries far more than any nation
on the planet - to include somebody like that would not only threaten
the vested interests of everybody who's participating in these
conversations, it would disrupt the entire narrative, it would
almost sound foreign, as though these views are un-serious views,
don't belong in mainstream, serious shows. Because these views
are never heard. They're stigmatized, they're demonized as being
things that don't really deserve a platform. And so, you can't
include advocates of these views in these shows.
Lawrence Wilkerson, who worked for Colin Powell, when he retired
from the government, said that the people in power: Cheney, Bush
and Rumsfeld especially, were, in his view, radicals. That the
radicals were the people actually running the government.
And this idea that the people in power were kind of outside the
sphere of normal government, never made its way into the establishment
press at all. The idea that Wilkerson could have been right, that
the real radicals were running the federal government, never really
penetrated [the mainstream media] narrative at all.
I think that the ideology of the press is not so much liberal
or conservative. They think themselves the keepers of realism,
of savviness. I think the real religion of the American press
is savviness. And in their view, it isn't savvy to say you're
going to mobilize the anger and frustration of the American people
and bring that power to Washington to change it.
That's not how politics works. The way politics works is you say
things like that to get elected, and then, once you're in, you
make your accommodations, you show that you want to hew to the
center. You demonstrate that you're bipartisan. You pick people
who are familiar.
And it's those eternal laws of politics that journalists feel
they know better than us. And they expect politics to kind of
run down these rails that they've laid down, because then we have
to turn to them for the inside story. And this is what they want
It isn't so much that the media is liberal or conservative in
terms of how those terms are defined conventionally in our political
spectrum. What ends up happening is that ideas that are threatening
to the media and to the political elite end up being attached
to the label of liberalism or leftist ideology.
The one thing Obama needs to show, is that he's not beholden to
the far left of his party, or that he's willing to scorn the leftists
and the liberals in his party. That's when he generates the most
praise [from the Washington press corps].
In the eyes of [the mainstream media], the liberalism or the leftist
ideology that they're scorning are not things about policy making
per se, or even approaches to foreign policy. It's the idea that
the prevailing consensus among our political elite is corrupted
and needs to be radically changed. What they are most afraid of
is having the anger of the American people start to affect what
happens within their system. What they want more than anything
else, is to exclude those external influences.
Journalists, deep down, don't believe that action really works.
But the real excitement of democratic politics is that something
new can come into the world, because we decided it. Because there
was an election. Because there's a new crowd in town. But journalists
don't see it.
If Obama were able to succeed and to show that the rules have
changed, and to keep people mobilized, after a while - this is
the good thing about journalists - after a while, they have to
report a different reality. But at first, their assumption is
going to be same old game, same old people, and same old laws
The narrative that we aren't getting is that the political class
cannot solve the problems it created, and that some outside force
is needed. People from outside, ideas from outside, as well as
the anger and sort of mobilized feeling of Americans themselves.
Even if you talk to journalists, they will tell you that they
have in some sense, lost the monopoly that they previously exerted
on our political discourse. There are alternative voices now.
The internet enables people to construct their own platforms and
to attract like-minded people.
So that now there are gathering places of hundreds of thousands,
if not more, citizens, who are just as angry, just as dissatisfied
and just as intent on circumventing these institutions, shaming
them into changing, in order to force the change that they themselves
so vigorously resist.
When the story coming out of Washington, when the story on the
talk shows isn't actually true, or isn't accurate to what we know,
many more people are aware of that now. Many more facts can be
added to the story. What we haven't seen yet is national politics
adjusting to bring these mobilized outsiders in more.
The idea of street demonstrations is probably the most stigmatized
idea in our political process. There were huge marches prior to
the Iraq war, against the war. There were hundreds of thousands
of people, millions of people throughout Europe marching in the
streets against the war.
And yet, the [mainstream] media virtually excluded those demonstrations
from the narrative, because they're threatening, and because they're
considered to be the act of unserious radicals and people who
are on the fringe, and I think that in some sense, that's reflective
of the fact that that level of agitation is probably the most
threatening to the people who have a vested interest in having
the system continue unchanged.
Obama is a disruptive force to Washington because he did speak
to people's disgust with our political system. And he still has
the power to mobilize that. And his words, expressing that feeling
have more potency than maybe even he realized. But he is naturally,
a compromiser, and I think he's going to be pulled between playing
a savvy inside game and trying to mobilize anger from outside
of Washington. He's going to seesaw between these two things.
The opinion-making elites and the political elites are generally
insulated from the level of anxiety and economic threat that millions
of Americans are facing in the most extreme fashion since the
Great Depression. At the same time, the citizenry has been trained
to believe that they're impotent when it comes to demanding action
from the political class.
It's extraordinary that nine out of ten Americans, prior to the
election believed that the country was radically off course. They
lost complete faith in our political institutions, our media institutions.
Virtually everything is held in such low esteem.
There needs to be a sense that street demonstrations or other
forms of true social disruption can threaten the people who have
an interest in preserving how things are. Until that happens,
lip service will be paid to the idea that these are significant
problems that our political leaders care about, and that change
What's going to have to happen, is Obama's supporters, on whom
he relies for his political power, are going to have to be the
ones holding him accountable, by being angry and dissatisfied
when he seems to be off the course that he promised he would stay