Bill Moyers – for many years an advocate on television for liberal causes — recently gave North Carolina a lesson in how to disguise bias and distortions as news, and we should pay attention to how he did it.
Moyers & Company, his outfit, recently put out a TV/online program called “North Carolina: Battleground State.” It was another liberal hit job – propaganda pretending to be journalism. It offers stories by people who might at first glance seem to be merely concerned citizens, but who usually turn out to be activists pushing an agenda. So let’s look at some of the people who appear in “Battleground State.”
One is William Barber, head of the state NAACP, pictured leading the “Moral Monday” protests. In a glaring omission, the program portrays Barber as a moralistic crusader while neglecting to mention the over $1 million in taxpayer funds secured by Barber’s non-profit over the years. And it goes on when the program doesn’t even question how someone in clerical garb justifies the angry rhetoric, such as leading the crowds in chants: “We fight! We fight! We fight!”
But what is it they fight for? We at Civitas looked into the groups behind the protests. Our inquiry led us to dub the events “Money Mondays.” A coalition of liberal groups called Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) became the coordinating umbrella organization for the protests. A Civitas study showed that HKonJ-affiliated groups have received more than $100 million in direct state grants in recent years. “Battleground State” ignores the question of whether taxpayer funding compromised the groups’ integrity as the arbitrators of what is “moral.“
Another of Moyers’ mouthpieces is New Yorker writer Jane Mayer. Her 2011 piece on businessman and philanthropist Art Pope*, we noted at the time, was “a mere hit piece, similar to her earlier piece on Koch Industries. This isn’t reporting. It’s an attempt to distort facts to fit one’s reality.”
For instance, the main thesis of her piece was that conservatives used money to buy the 2010 election. But she failed to note Democrats outspent Republicans $16 million to $14 million that year. And that does not count “Get Out The Vote” activities by the numerous groups on the left.
In the Moyers video, she continued her attacks on Pope, now the governor’s budget director. Mayer says of Pope’s involvement in campaigns, “It’s as if somebody had looked at the map in every single district and figured out what it would take to get Republican control.” If, as Mayer and Moyers contend, North Carolina is for sale, why did it not go to the highest bidder?
We often disagree with NC Democrats, but we think they’re smart enough to … look at the map in every single district and figure out what it would take to get Democratic control. In 2010, they even had the advantage of running in districts they had drawn up. They just lost. The truth is the people of North Carolina were ready for a change.
Other “Battleground State” actors try the same spin. Take Sue Sturgis. Moyer calls her a journalist, but she is really a flack for the leftist Institute for Southern Studies (ISS). Along with Mayer, Sturgis tries to pass off an ISS charge that Pope family money was the real cause of Democrats’ defeat in 2010.
That claim , however, purposefully exaggerates Pope’s influence by counting every dollar spent by groups he or his family supported, and attributing the total solely to him, rather than acknowledging that many others contributed. While his donations may have been better spent, in the end they were just a small percentage of the over $30 million spent on both sides in the 2010 election.
More missing facts: Democrats and the state’s vast web of liberal groups also did their best to triumph in 2010. They just failed to win over enough voters. After all, Democrats everywhere were battered by the specter of Obamacare. To top it off, as Moyers and Sturgis admit, key NC Democrats were embroiled in scandals, even as the state’s economy tanked.
The not-so-hidden assumption in all this: North Carolina voters are too dumb to sift through candidates’ ads and speeches to make up their own minds. The real slander is against Tar Heel voters, for Moyers and his minions assume we are rubes who are easily duped by anything we see on TV. (No one tries to explain why liberals can’t fool us just as easily.)
Turning to the “Battleground” attacks on Republicans in 2013, inconvenient facts keep cropping up. Sturgis moans, “One of the things that particularly upset people is we saw cuts to long-term unemployment assistance.”
Whoops! In November, statistics showed that, since the 2012 election, North Carolina’s unemployment rate had dropped two full percentage points. And a bank economist produced a study showing that the trimming of long-term unemployment benefits may have pushed people to go back to work.
Other Moyers interview subjects also seem aghast at realities. The video noted that Gov. Pat McCrory had gotten heat for suggesting the state evaluate how effective college programs are in preparing students for careers. Or, as he put it, the evaluation ‘is not based upon how many butts in the seats, but how many of those butts can get jobs.”
Moyers interviewed Molly McDonough, a women and gender studies major at North Carolina State University, who just happened to be an arrested Moral Monday protester and a member of the Student Power Union. She seemed distraught by McCrory’s comments, saying, “I can’t remember the exact quote, but he said, it was something weird. It was like all the butts in the seats need a job.”
Well, the governor’s comment was not great oratory, but his point is plain. In a competitive job market, it is unwise and even immoral for the state to encourage young people to spend time and money sitting in classroom seats only to end up in a job serving coffee and scones – if they can find a job at all. This point has also been made by many in higher education, maybe in a little less salty language.
The Moyers piece also conveniently leaves out the fact that President Obama’s Department of Education is undertaking a massive project to rate America’s universities in order to better inform families and also to prioritize federal grant money. Among the rating criteria? According to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a primary criterion is whether or not the school prepares students for a good job. Sounds a lot like what McCrory said, but when coming from the Obama administration, to liberals it isn’t “weird.”
In addition, the Moyers program joins the Monday protests in decrying state Medicaid budget “cuts.” This is liberalspeak for attempts to slow down increases in spending. In fact, the new state budget allots an additional $434 million to pay for increasing Medicaid costs. This is on top of the $308 million already set aside in the 2013 budget year to cover cost overruns. And though the state has tried to steer clear of the Obamacare mess, $50 million was appropriated for new enrollees as a result of various Affordable Care Act provisions. Far from cutting Medicaid, the legislature is spending hundreds of millions of dollars just trying to keep up with exploding costs.
It seems that the “Battleground State” also tries to confuse the issue by discussing another health program. Dr. Charles van der Horst, a professor at the UNC School of Medicine, criticizes a state budget “cut” for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. “The Art Pope budget cuts $8 million from ADAP,” Moyers intones. First, note his ignorance of government in NC. Pope prepares McCrory’s budget, but the General Assembly does what it wants with the governor’s proposal.
More important, the program overall will actually have added money for drugs in the current fiscal year. As a legislative fiscal brief revealed, “Due to increased federal receipts for this program, ADAP pharmaceutical purchases are projected to be $5 million more in FY 2013-14 than in the FY 2012-13 budget.” [Italics added.] And more people will get the drugs.
Is Dr. van der Horst an impartial expert? No, he got himself arrested at the Monday protests. He also has a long record of donating political money (over $30,000) to President Obama and Democrats.
You get the pattern by now. Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat, complained about the end of public campaign financing in judicial races. She didn’t explain why the government should regulate who can support which candidates.
An appearance was made by Ari Berman, described by Moyers as a journalist. Moyers failed to mention Berman writes for The Nation, probably the most left-wing magazine in the U.S. Here’s a typical bit of misdirection from Berman: He says that the new voter law cuts a week off early voting. Strangely, he neglects to mention the same law mandates that election boards keep early voting open the same number of total hours as in the past.
Or consider this: Berman notes that North Carolina was where the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) started, as if we’re still mired in that troubled era. SNCC was founded in 1960, however. North Carolina has changed a lot since then.
Indeed, the program spends much time talking about the civil rights heroes of the past, implicitly comparing them to the mostly white, secure and middle-class protesters of today. The comparison is sad but revealing. The original civil rights protesters faced real injustice – and danger. Today’s protesters complain about exaggerated or imaginary problems. If they go to jail, they usually are out in time to have a late supper with friends. In court they’ll argue and try to beat the rap. The worst? Perhaps seeing the public records of their arrests online, a dire fate they share with just about every person arrested for a petty crime nowadays.
We won’t burden you with examining all the other distortions, evasions and downright falsehoods the program purveys. But we want to point out that “Battleground State” has precious little from the other side. True, I get a few minutes (quickly followed by rebuttals.) Yet overall the video has far too little to balance Moyers’ left-wing narrative. In a state of nearly 10 million people, couldn’t he have found a couple more people who aren’t Moral Monday protestors, partisan politicians, liberal activists or writers with an ideological ax to grind?
But perhaps he didn’t try very hard. This may not be surprising for a man whose career was founded less on journalism than on his service as a zealous aide to Democratic President Lyndon Johnson. Since then Moyers has been an unabashed advocate for progressive causes. Such is his right, but advocacy isn’t journalism.
That’s why “Battleground State” can’t even be counted as journalism. Moyers and the liberal activists and sympathizers on the program create a one-sided, misleading portrayal of North Carolina. A robust discussion of the real issues of 2014 would benefit everyone. It’s too bad “Battleground State” can only muster up clichés and falsehoods in service of the liberal agenda.
*The John William Pope Foundation is a major supporter of the Civitas Institute.