Glenn Greenwald, Host:
Bill Moyers easily ranks as one of America’s greatest journalists. For decades, he has covered vital stories most others ignored, fearlessly defying orthodoxies and amplifying viewpoints that were excluded in most establishment venues. His coverage of the 2008 financial crisis provided the earliest look at how reckless and criminal was Wall Street’s conduct and how steadfast was the resolve of the subservient political class to shield it from accountability. His commentary on how the media suppresses dissenting views that fall outside of the bipartisan consensus — as exemplified by this recent interview with Tavis Smiley — makes him one of the most astute media critics in the nation. And his 2007 examination of the media’s role in selling the Iraq War — “Buying the War” — was the first and still-best examination of that largely ignored topic.
The Lifetime Emmy Award winner and former Press Secretary to LBJ — who resigned from that position out of dissatisfaction with the Vietnam War — has also been a prolific author. His latest book, The Conversation Continues, is his 13th, and it offers the best of Moyers’ work over the last several years. Featuring 47 interviews that aired on Bill Moyers Journal from 2007-2010 — along with substantial new commentary on each from the author — it is genuinely difficult to imagine a book that offers more intelligent and engaging discussion on such a wide array of critical political, financial and cultural issues. It is like an in-depth museum exhibit for almost every important social development over the last decade.
Reading this book is akin to sitting down to watch the very best of Moyers’ interviews over the last several years, while sitting next to the interviewer himself as he provides his own analysis of the interviews and the topics they cover. Having been on Moyers show several times, I can personally attest that there is nobody who conducts interviews as well as Moyers did. He prepares extensively for each, develops an expert-level understanding of every topic he covers, purposely seeks out the most difficult and controversial aspects of any issue, and has a truly unique ability to force his guests to think very hard and deeply even about topics they have spent their careers discussing. The format was deliberately designed to avoid the glib, scripted, trite chatter offered daily on cable news, and instead demanded thoughtful commentary. The result on Bill Moyers Journal was the most substantive, serious and engaging series of interviews found anywhere on television, and The Conversation Continues adds all new layers to those segments. Just as was true for each episode his PBS show, you literally feel yourself become smarter and more enriched with each chapter you read.
It’s impossible to do justice to the book by featuring only a few of the chapters; each one, including (perhaps especially) those relating to topics in which you think you may not have much interest, is truly thought-provoking. His 2008 interview with former Army Col. and Vietnam veteran Andrew Bacevich provides as powerful an indictment of America’s fully bipartisan posture of Endless War as one will find anywhere; Moyers’ insights about how actual exposure to war produces the most powerful reluctance to start them (as opposed to the blithe eagerness on the part of those who have never been in combat) is on-point and still very relevant. His conversation with the brilliant civil rights activist and poet Nikki Giovanni entails everything from how humans recover from a violent tragedy (such as the Virginia Tech shooting which her book examined) to the status of race in America in the Obama age. Controversial figures such as Jeremiah Wright and Howard Zinn are given a respectful though (as with everyone) adversarial platform to enable their true substance to emerge, supplanting the cheap cartoon caricatures which typically define them.
There is The Wire creator David Simon on the drug war, Jeremy Scahill on Blackwater, Robert Wright on God and evolution, the anthropologist Jane Goodall on animal behavior, and two criminologists on mass incarceration of America’s minorities and underclass. There is much more in this incredibly eclectic collection of some of Moyers’ best discussions, topped off by his own voice highlighting what he found most revealing. It was impossible for any engaged and intelligent person not to adore PBS show, and that is even more true of this book.
Please welcome Bill Moyers in the comments. As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and take other conversations to another thread. – bev