A former Bill Moyers staffer explains the technical magic used to make incoherent academic leftists sound profound
Ivy Exile used to be a Democrat true believer. He graduated from Brown and worked for several years for Bill Moyers on PBS. He eventually became disenchanted with progressivism and, especially, with the discourse surrounding modern progressivism. Nothing illustrates this more than his most recent Substack post about the magic that went into making increasingly incoherent academics sound profound for airtime on Bill Moyers’ show.
(Note: I don’t know Ivy Exile’s sex. I’m using “he” because, in the world of traditional grammar, “he” is the default when in doubt. When it comes to grammar, I’m a traditionalist.)
Image: Bill Moyers.
Most recently, Ivy Exile exposed how the technical staff on Bill Moyer’s show had to put in more effort with every passing year to make academics sound intelligent. What was once a given during the 1970s, was now possible only with intense editing:
Uncut conversations were eye-opening; it was astonishing how often our esteemed guests hemmed and hawed and got basic facts embarrassingly wrong. And how many came off batshit crazy: one, later an anchor on MSNBC, speculated that Captain Sully’s Miracle on the Hudson—visible from our west side offices—had been God blessing the Obamas.
Drafting the Moyers Blog and promotional listings, I’d sit in with producers and video editors to consult on coalescing broadcasts. They were like wizards, casting away awkwardness and errors to sculpt artful vignettes of the most compelling bits of conversations that often stretched well over an hour or more.
So many of the most rousing clips came from when guests were at their most factually inaccurate, and editors deftly dipped in and out to pull and seamlessly reassemble the very best parts. It was wondrous alchemy, and a privilege to work with super-talented creatives, but the reality of our academic pundits remained the same.
In other words, as Ivy Exile points out, the real world was nothing like Aaron Sorkin. Those who were Democrats and watched The West Wing, remember being dazzled by the tightly written, rapidly voiced arguments for what was a traditional liberal democrat worldview. Watching The West Wing, you were transported to the reincarnation of what John F. Kennedy’s administration (or a Robert Kennedy administration) could have been. This was intellectual liberalism on steroids.
But that was Hollywood, Sorkin was a scriptwriter, and the words came from actors. In the real world, says Ivy Elite, leftist intellectual discourse was broken:
By no means were Bill Moyers and team operating with any less than the highest of ethics or best of intentions—from their perspective, we were clarifying what our distinguished guests were truly saying. The problem was that the intellectual scene our show channeled was dwindling, but my colleagues so badly wanted things to be better that it was all too easy to paper over the accelerating collapse of discourse.
(Incidentally, Ivy Exile makes it clear that he has nothing but respect for Moyers himself.)
What we are seeing on television with carefully curated talking heads giving seemingly intelligent voice to radical ideas is an ideological Potemkin village. The leftists no longer bother building wood and nails illusions to hide the homelessness, drug addiction, filth, and crime that have become normative in Democrat-run cities. Instead, they figured out that the best way to disguise their policies is to polish up their words, creating an intellectual fantasy—and, as Ivy Exile notes, the fantasy works:
Viewers, or at least those motivated enough to weigh in, frequently testified that their social-democratic faith had been wavering until they’d seen whichever inspiring interview affirming what they’d always believed.
Even Potemkin villages, whether physical or ideological, eventually collapse under the weight of reality. As always, we must hope that this collapse occurs for ordinary Americans before the leftists manage to destroy our constitutional republic completely.