For those of you who think you only know Bill Moyers as a PBS Figure or one of America’s great journalists, this 1967 broadcast, recorded a week after he stepped down as Press Secretary for the White house of Lyndon Johnson, offers some interesting insights into the often times confusing and other times frustrating inner-workings of the West Wing.
Wikipedia puts it this way:
He began his journalism career at 16 as a cub reporter at the Marshall News Messenger in Marshall in East Texas. In college, he studied journalism at the North Texas State College in Denton, Texas. In 1954, then-US Senator Lyndon B. Johnson employed him as a summer intern and eventually promoted him to manage Johnson’s personal mail. Soon after, Moyers transferred to the University of Texas at Austin, where he wrote for The Daily Texan newspaper. In 1956, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism. While in Austin, Moyers served as assistant news editor for KTBC radio and television stations, owned by Lady Bird Johnson, wife of then-Senator Johnson. During the academic year 1956–1957, he studied issues of church and state at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland as a Rotary International Fellow. In 1959, he completed a Master of Divinity degree at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Moyers served as Director of Information while attending SWBTS. He was also a Baptist pastor in Weir in Williamson County, near Austin.
Moyers was ordained in 1954. Moyers planned to enter a Doctor of Philosophy program in American Studies at the University of Texas. During Senator Johnson’s unsuccessful bid for the 1960 Democratic U.S. presidential nomination, Moyers served as a top aide, and in the general campaign he acted as liaison between Democratic vice-presidential candidate Johnson and the Democratic presidential nominee, U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy.
During the Kennedy Administration, Moyers was first appointed as associate director of public affairs for the newly created Peace Corps in 1961. He served as Deputy Director from 1962 to 1963. When Lyndon B. Johnson took office after the Kennedy assassination, Moyers became a special assistant to Johnson, serving from 1963 to 1967. Moyers is the last surviving person identifiable in the photograph taken of Johnson’s first inauguration on Air Force One. He played a key role in organizing and supervising the 1964 Great Society legislative task forces and was a principal architect of Johnson’s 1964 presidential campaign. Moyers acted as the President’s informal chief of staff from October 1964 until 1966. From July 1965 to February 1967, he also served as White House press secretary.
After the resignation of White House Chief of Staff Walter Jenkins because of a sexual misdemeanor in the run up to the 1964 election, President Lyndon B. Johnson, alarmed that the opposition was framing the issue as a security breach, ordered Moyers to request FBI name checks on 15 members of Goldwater’s staff to find “derogatory” material on their personal lives. Goldwater himself only referred to the Jenkins incident off the record. The Church Committee stated in 1975 that “Moyers has publicly recounted his role in the incident, and his account is confirmed by FBI documents.” In 2005, Laurence Silberman claimed that Moyers denied writing the memo in a 1975 phone call. Moyers said he had a different recollection of the telephone conversation.
Moyers also sought information from the FBI on the sexual preferences of White House staff members, most notably Jack Valenti. Moyers indicated his memory was unclear on why Johnson directed him to request such information, “but that he may have been simply looking for details of allegations first brought to the president by Hoover.”
Moyers approved (but had nothing to do with the production) of the infamous “Daisy Ad” against Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential campaign. Goldwater blamed him for it, and once said of Moyers, “Every time I see him, I get sick to my stomach and want to throw up.” The ad is considered the starting point of the modern-day harshly negative campaign ad.
Journalist Morley Safer in his 1990 book “Flashbacks” wrote that Moyers and President Johnson met with and “harangued” Safer’s boss, CBS president Frank Stanton, about Safer’s coverage of the Marines torching Cam Ne village in the Vietnam War. During the meeting, Safer alleges, Johnson threatened to expose Safer’s “communist ties”. This was a bluff, according to Safer. Safer says that Moyers was “if not a key player, certainly a key bystander” in the incident. Moyers stated that his hard-hitting coverage of conservative presidents Reagan and Bush were behind Safer’s 1990 allegations.
In The New York Times on April 3, 1966, Moyers offered this insight on his stint as press secretary to President Johnson: “I work for him despite his faults and he lets me work for him despite my deficiencies.” On October 17, 1967, he told an audience in Cambridge that Johnson saw the war in Vietnam as his major legacy and, as a result, was insisting on victory at all costs, even in the face of public opposition. Moyers felt such a continuation of the conflict would tear the country apart. “I never thought the situation could arise when I would wish for the defeat of LBJ, and that makes my current state of mind all the more painful to me,” he told them. “I would have to say now: It would depend on who his opponent is.”
The full details of his rift with Johnson have not been made public but may be discussed in a forthcoming memoir.
To hear what it was like at the time, here is that interview from Meet The Press from February 18, 1967.