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One More Democratic Debate? Sure -- If Run By Some Good, Old Moderators
April 25, 2008  | By David Bianculli

Tonight on the PBS series Bill Moyers' Journal, the veteran journalist conducts the first TV interview with Jeremiah Wright since the recently retired reverend became embroiled in a controversy over some of his incendiary sermons, with Barack Obama caught in the crossfire. The questions posed by Moyers are certain to be one thing: substantive.


Regardless of your political leanings, or your opinion of Moyers, one thing you have to concede. Wright is talking to Moyers not because Moyers is the only TV journalist interested in interviewing him (Wright, right now, is one of the biggest journalistic "gets" around), but because Moyers will ask serious questions about Wright's faith, meanings and motives. (As they say, check your local listings.)

Moyers has done entire PBS series on faith and religion -- several of them outstanding -- so he's earned the right to challenge Wright to explain himself. But if you're measuring the intelligence of the man painted by most mainstream media outlets only in terms of fiery sound bites, one measure of that intelligence is where he went to discuss his ministry.

Some might say it's a case of Wright seeking out a "left-wing" platform to state his case. I see something else. I see Wright -- described by Obama the democratic candidate, in part, as someone "of a certain age" whose perspective is formed by volatile past experiences -- seeking out someone else with the same tenured perspective.

And maybe it's time for perspective, for experience, to play more of a part in this year's political debates.

Except for occasional primary-night appearances by Tom Brokaw, the broadcast networks have little use these days for those who helped build or maintain the reputations of their news divisions. But they're around, and active, and, in some news cycle instances, sorely missed.


Ted Koppel is laboring for cable's Discovery Channel, doing excellent work. Daniel Schorr, the only one of "Murrow's boys" still working, is cranking out pithy pieces for NPR's All Things Considered at age 90. Moyers is a PBS fixture again, and Dan Rather is toiling in the isolated but unfettered vineyards of HD Net.

The League of Women Voters may not be able to host a political debate this season -- with a woman as candidate, that may smack as much of perceived bias as the NAACP hosting one. But someone should step up, prior to the Indiana-North Carolina primaries next month, and give the most experienced journalists a chance to ask the questions.

Assemble a Mount Rushmore of veteran broadcast journalists, and see what happens. Mount Rushmore, in fact, has only four chiseled faces, but I can think of at least five for this hypothetical moderator table: Bill Moyers, Daniel Schorr, Ted Koppel, Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather.

Yes, they're all aging white men, posing questions to a woman, and an African-American, who aspire to be president. Isn't that a measure of change right there? And be honest: Wouldn't such a debate be must-see TV, for all the right reasons? And couldn't you guarantee 90 minutes of political discussion without a single mention of lapel pins?




Diane said:

Another great column, Dave. What an amazing idea! It's much too smart to actually come to pass, of course.

Comment posted on April 25, 2008 10:48 AM

Robert said:

Based on your advice I watched the Wright interview with Bill Moyers.

It was excellent. Wright comes across as so eloquent and intelligent. It's no wonder Obama considers him someone worth listening to.

Thank you.


Comment posted on April 28, 2008 11:16 AM

Rev. Wright preaches that the U.S. government invented AIDS to kill black people. This is a belief with the level of seriousness of a Holocaust denier or someone who thinks the moon landing was a CIA fake.

When a Holocaust denier is interviewed, that is the first question (c.f. Mel Gibson about his Dad), because when your subject states something so absurd, you can't take anything he/she says seriously until you have cleared out the crazy.

Moyers didn't ask that question about AIDS at all. The reason is clear even though you try to brush past it in your post - he is a liberal journalist trying to protect the most liberal politician to get this close to the presidency, probably ever.

Whatever other valuable information followed, the fact that Wright's most crazy and objectively wrong statements were left out of the interview invalidates the rest of it.

Wright made an excellent choice, but you failed your readers in directing them to this (forgive the term) whitewash.

Comment posted on April 28, 2008 5:12 PM

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