Bill Moyers Responds to Media Probe of His ’Homo Hunting’ Past
When a news article looking back at how the FBI had investigated the love life of the oh-so-straight Jack Valenti broke in the Washington Post on Feb. 19, one intriguing fact that emerged was that respected writer and commentator Bill Moyers had participated in what now looks like a witch hunt to root out gay White House staffers, acting at the behest of then-FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and Johnson himself, who had been pressed by Hoover.
Valenti was also a Johnson aide, and later on became the longtime head of the MPAA, the body that assigns (arbitrarily, its critics have charged) ratings to motion pictures. Valenti also enjoyed a reputation as a ladies’ man, but a rumor of homosexuality was kick-started by a report that he liked to swim in the nude.
A Feb. 23 Slate article by Jack Shafer recapped the back story: fearing an October surprise in the form of election opponent Barry Goldwater exploiting the arrest of Johnson aide Walter Jenkins, who was taken in for engaging in oral sex with a retired Army officer in a YMCA restroom mere weeks before 1964’s presidential election, Johnson evidently gave the go-ahead for an investigation into the private lives of White House staffers.
Shafer reported that Goldwater was not eager to use the arrest to his advantage, telling reporters off the record, "What a way to win an election. Communists and cocksuckers."
Moreover, Moyers, who served as Johson’s press secretary, was also dispatched to investigate Goldwater’s people.
Shafer quoted from an article by Laurence H. Sulberman from 2005, in which Silberman recounted that, "Bill Moyers, was tasked to direct Hoover to do an investigation of Goldwater’s staff to find similar evidence of homosexual activity.
"Mr. Moyers’ memo to the FBI was in one of the files," Silberman’s article continued.
"When the press reported this, I received a call in my office from Mr. Moyers," the Silberman article went on.
"Several of my assistants were with me. He was outraged; he claimed that this was another example of the Bureau salting its files with phony CIA memos. I was taken aback.
"I offered to conduct an investigation, which if his contention was correct, would lead me to publicly exonerate him," the article added.
"There was a pause on the line and then he said, ’I was very young. How will I explain this to my children?’"
Wrote Schafer in the Slate article, "How will Moyers explain it to his children? By setting aside a chapter in his big, forthcoming Lyndon Johnson book."
Moyers, who had his own programs on PBS, worked in the news department of the CBS network for some years, and for a time was associated with NBC new programs, has gained a reputation as a critic of the media. For nineteen years he has served as the president of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy.
Moyers wrote Slate to say, "In his intemperate attack on my ’intolerable smugness,’ ’thuggery,’ and ’White House homo hunts’ published on Feb. 20, Jack Shafer breathlessly reported very old news as new, and in a wholly irresponsible way that distorted the record beyond recognition."
The earlier article incorporated previously published texts from other sources claiming that in addition to looking for gays in Johnson’s administration and among Goldwater’s camp, Moyers "planted" questions among reporters at White House press conferences, and had a role in the administration’s spying upon civilians--including Martin Luther King, Jr.
Moyers’ responde lambasted Shafer for not contacting Moyers directly and stated, "Had he done so, he would have found a much more complex--and interesting--story than the one he found so easy to judge."
Moyers then offered his own take on the matter, writing, "Recall, first of all, what a bizarre situation we in the Johnson White House had on our hands back in 1964.
"FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was sending us a constant stream of unsupported allegations from ’anonymous informants’ about people in the administration (and others) rumored to be gay.
"In those days, this was no small matter," Moyers continued.