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PBS's Televangelist:
February 18, 2002 9:26 AM   Subscribe

PBS's Televangelist: "Moyers's difficulty conversing with people on the right seems to have impaired his ability to report their opinions fairly, particularly on issues of race. "The right gets away with blaming liberals for their efforts to help the poor, but what the right is really objecting to is the fact that the poor are primarily black," he told Alterman. "The man who sits in the White House today [George H.W. Bush] opposed the Civil Rights Act. So did Ronald Reagan. This crowd is really fighting a retroactive civil rights war to prevent the people they dislike because of their color from achieving success in American life."" (via medianews)
posted by owillis (43 comments total)

 
the fact that the poor are primarily black....

I believe I read somewhere that the majority of people(something like 70%) of people living under the poverty line in America are white. Perhaps Moyers is objecting to that because it dosen't allow him to play Great White Savior to the poor struggling black masses and forces him to confront that the causes of poverty are manifold and complicated.

For the record, I agree that the Republicans' record on civil rights in the past 30 years is abysmal, just noting that poverty, labor troubles and the widening gap between rich and poor are far more complicated issues that either parties feel good bromides can solve.
posted by jonmc at 10:03 AM on February 18, 2002


It probably should be noted (for whatever it's worth) that the quote included in the main post was from 1991, and Moyers was talking about Bush I, not Bush II (admittedly, it does say "George H.W. Bush").
posted by pardonyou? at 10:33 AM on February 18, 2002


... the majority of people (something like 70%) of people living under the poverty line in America are white.

That doesn't mean it isn't true that "the poor are primarily black". Do the math.
posted by jpoulos at 11:12 AM on February 18, 2002


Er...nevermind. Yes it does. I read it wrong and thought it said "the black are primarily poor". Sorry.
posted by jpoulos at 11:14 AM on February 18, 2002


In other news... (Black and Rich)
posted by dagny at 11:27 AM on February 18, 2002


Maybe someone can pull up some hard numbers on this:

What's the average income for a white male?
What's the average income for a white female?
What's the average income for a black male?
What's the average income for a black female?

Then, what % of the black population is living below the poverty line versus what % of the white population?
posted by jragon at 11:56 AM on February 18, 2002


dagny, that was an interesting article. I find it interesting that I live in a relatively new subdivision in Farmington Hills, a suburb of Detroit, where the houses started selling at $250K, and are now going for over $300K. If I had to break out the racial demographics, I'd say our sub is about 40% white, 40% black, and 20% Indian (not Native American) and Middle-Eastern. I've always wondered if there is a more integrated subdivision in the state, if not the country. Although I see it first-hand every day, one would assume that the class to which my neighbors belong -- the black middle class -- doesn't even exist.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:59 AM on February 18, 2002


Moyers' blatant biases irritate me, even though I share some of them. I watched an interview with Tim Russert in which Moyers basically said that he was old and fed up and was going to let it all hang out. Nevertheless, he is the only journalist on TV I know of who is talking about some very important issues, like NAFTA's Chapter 11 for example, so I'll continue watching NOW for now.
posted by homunculus at 12:08 PM on February 18, 2002


The black middle class gets very little play in the media, preferring to portray some version of the "hood" life that less and less ceases to reflect reality. I think its funny how Hollywood is surprised when movies and films portraying the black middle class (How Stella Got Her Groove Back, My Wife & Kids) do well - as opposed the cliched "gritty urban drama".

Even though I lean left, I find PBS' biases annoying. A taxpayer funded (even partially) medium should show the full spectrum of that population.
posted by owillis at 12:16 PM on February 18, 2002


I meant "when tv and films"
posted by owillis at 12:17 PM on February 18, 2002


Even though I lean left, I find PBS' biases annoying. A taxpayer funded (even partially) medium should show the full spectrum of that population.

You mean like Wall Street Week? Man, those myriads of pro-labor shows hogging the primetime hours on PBS are really inundating that one. This lame BBC comedy rerun was brought to you by in part by Mobil and ADM, which explains all those hard hitting documentaries on Big Oil and Industrial Farming that are constantly being aired.

owillis, you lean left...

for a California Republican. But that's about it.
posted by y2karl at 1:05 PM on February 18, 2002


Although the article notes this in passing, I think it needs to be specifically mentioned in this thread for context: Bill Moyers was President Johnson's press secretary. He was the Ari Fleischer of the Great Society's architect.
posted by aaron at 1:10 PM on February 18, 2002


for a California Republican. But that's about it.

You still don't know me y2karl...
posted by owillis at 1:21 PM on February 18, 2002


It sounds to me like he's saying what he believes. I wish more people that leaned left would, and would stop feeling the need to be so neutral. The stat quoted sounds wrong to me. I thought Bush senior didn't believe in "trickle down" economics.

If I were to infer a point from what he's saying, and, mind you, I don't even know if this is true - could he have meant that a majority of black people during the early eighties had low incomes, and that the taxation structure was somehow inherently racist?
posted by xammerboy at 1:31 PM on February 18, 2002


Y2karl: Scientists at Brookhaven National Labs are working day and night creating a device precise enough to measure the almost infintesimal tilt to the left our own Owillis exhibits. Current rules of measure are just not up to the task.
posted by Doug at 2:19 PM on February 18, 2002


The black middle class gets very little play in the media...

As far as I can tell all current TV shows with a majority African American cast actually portray them as upper middle class: The Hughley's, One on One, The Parkers, My Wife And Kids, Bernie Mac, and the very excellent Girlfriends produced by Kelsey Grammar. I would throw in Soul Train and a bunch of soap operas as well.

Oz would be the only counter example of a fictional show I can think of. You were probably thinking of infotainment like the nightly news and "reality tv" like Cops which continue to perpetuate the same tired stereotypes maybe due to reputation lag, maybe due to rascism.

Studio films tend to follow those old stereotypes. Maybe it's about who the target audience is, a typical movie in general release skews more broadly than a television show.
posted by euphorb at 2:33 PM on February 18, 2002


According to the 2000 US Census:

White male: $31, 213
Black male : $21, 662
Hispanic male: $19,833

White female: $16, 805
Black Female: $16, 801
Hispanic female: $12,255

11.3 percent of the nation's population lives in poverty
9.4 percent of that number are white
22.1 percent are black
21.2 are hispanic
(The poverty "threshold" varies greatly bu age and number of dependents, from $8,959 to $33,291 if you have nine or more children.)
Make of that what you will. I can't remember the source, but the fastest growing homeless population in the country was white families.

Also, the Heritage Foundation (mentioned in the artice) are big supporters of the Hernstein and Murray book The Bell Curve, which did an ugly little dance around hereditability and intelligence and race. One of the studies they used was authored by Philip Rushton, who believed that penis size was correlated with intelligence, i.e. bigger=dumber. Insert your favorite stereotype here.

posted by kittyloop at 3:28 PM on February 18, 2002


kittyloop, nice bit of slander at the end. Nobel prize winner Watson has said some things that cause people to consider him a racist. But, I assume you still believe that DNA is real.
posted by Real9 at 3:42 PM on February 18, 2002


One of the studies they used was authored by Philip Rushton, who believed that penis size was correlated with intelligence, i.e. bigger=dumber.

I interviewed Rushton at an American Renaissance Convention in Virginia a couple of years ago, for a public access TV show. These guys are genuine kooks, but everyone should be aware of the horseshit they're peddling.
posted by Ty Webb at 3:54 PM on February 18, 2002


I only read the first half of The Bell Curve but that puts me ahead of most of its critics. My recollection is that the vast majority of the book is based on the federally funded National Longitudinal Study of Youth.

As for horseshit peddling, what say we leave that to public broadcasting. (only attempting to return the thread from its hijack)
posted by Real9 at 4:24 PM on February 18, 2002


I think there's a big difference between Watson and Rushton. Rushton's theories consistently center around biological determinism, linking blacks genetically to crime and the spread of AIDS. Though I think Watson might want to be a little more solid in his research before trotting out the bikini-clad girls. As for the Bell Curve, here's a fairly exhaustive examination of the book by Robert Sternberg. And Murray wrote the book under a grant from the Manhattan Institute (founded by William Casey) one of whose founding board members was the president of the Heritage Foundation. And he used data from the Pioneer Foundation, whose record on race issues isn't exactly stellar. I'm not about to put on my tinfoil hat and run for the hills, but I've never been too certain of the implications behind the far right's (or 80's republicans) embracing of this kind of data.

I'm not trying to hijack the thread, but I think this speaks to the quote that owillis pulled for his post
posted by kittyloop at 5:05 PM on February 18, 2002


One of the things that drives me crazy about African-americans and our culture, is the fact that African-americans do better on intelligence tests if they DON'T know it's an intelligence test. They think they'll do bad, so they do.

Also, although most people below the poverty line are white, most people in America are white. What matters is what percent of each race is below the poverty line.

I have the sneaky feeling that someone already said something like that, but I don't know where. Eh, I'll just post, you guys can correct me at will.
posted by stoneegg21 at 5:09 PM on February 18, 2002


...creating a device precise enough to measure the almost infintesimal tilt to the left our own Owillis exhibits

What do I gotta do? Go to a Free Mumia rally? Vote Green? Argh! :)

One of the things that drives me crazy about African-americans and our culture, is the fact that African-americans do better on intelligence tests if they DON'T know it's an intelligence test. They think they'll do bad, so they do

Wow, I love the fact that you think there's some sort of African-American hivemind that we all belong to. I'll be sure to report your findings to the collective at our next lunar connection. Sheesh.
posted by owillis at 6:11 PM on February 18, 2002


euphorb: While I would agree with you on TV, I was taking into account programs on real networks and not the relative "ghetto" of WB/UPN. And like Fox did, I'm sure when WB/UPN starts to hit the market they want - the black led shows will drop to a similar level as ABC/CBS/NBC.
posted by owillis at 6:14 PM on February 18, 2002


African-americans do better on intelligence tests if they DON'T know it's an intelligence test

This could be bullshit (you don't provide a cite) and/or meaningless (do other groups do any better or worse on intelligence tests with foreknowledge of the test's purpose?) I'll consider it both until I see evidence to the contrary.

Oh yeah, I think Bill Moyers is a pompous bore. I enjoy reading/listening to ideologues of all stripes with well honed arguments. Moyers is a self-righteous moralizer who would certainly deny it. Perhaps I repeat myself. Perhaps I'm just biased against his atrocious drawl.
posted by mlinksva at 6:45 PM on February 18, 2002


It seems obvious that Moyers meant to say something like "the poor are disproportionately black" which has been pointed out already.

Are there really soap operas with mostly Black actors?
posted by sudama at 6:59 PM on February 18, 2002


Never mind what I thought about the intelligence tests. Apparently I hallucinated that. I don't know what happened.

Owillis-no, of course it wasn't everyone. I just thought I remembered that their tests scores tended to be worse when they knew it was an intelligence test than when they didn't, but for the white college students, this wasn't as much as an effect. Of course, now that it's turned out to be a hallucination, it doesn't really matter.
posted by stoneegg21 at 7:42 PM on February 18, 2002


owillis: y2karl may not know you. But he's right in thinking that you don't actually watch PBS, even if you talk about its biases. Think: McLaughlin Group, Wall St. Week, Think Tank, American Interests, a fawning, hagiographic Reagan bio, etc. It was the home of William Buckley's Firing Line, for cryin' out loud.
posted by raysmj at 7:48 PM on February 18, 2002


I'll be sure to report your findings to the collective at our next lunar connection.

Put a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip and step on board the mothership...

Wow, this thread has blossomed since I left the house!

All tangents aside, the main issue that I think this post points up is that there are major economic issues facing America that affect all us average joes and janes, black or white, working or middle class.
The traditional knee-jerk responses of the left as typified by Moyers and those of the right amount to nothing more than business as usual.
It's time we realized that neither party's platforms(which have only changed microscopically over the past 30 years) will guide us out of the mess we're in. Nor will most "radical" solutions. A wise man once said " An Anarchist is basically a liberal in a leather jacket.
Do I have the answer? No. If I did, I'd be thanking the Nobel Academy instead of sitting here in my thrift store chair typing on a beer-stained keyboard. But if this thread motivates bright people to think beyond the bill of goods we've been offered by the usual political players, then terrific.
posted by jonmc at 7:49 PM on February 18, 2002


Perhaps I'm just biased against his atrocious drawl.

Yep. Attitudes like that sure help left-leaning candidates and ideas in the South.
posted by raysmj at 7:53 PM on February 18, 2002


y2karl may not know you...

Yes, but I'm talking about something like NOW that is ideally a news program. It should show both sides of the issue sans agenda. If I wan't biased news, I can turn to Fox and hear about all them lib-ruls ruining our nation.

Are there really soap operas with mostly Black actors?

There used to be one called Generations or something. I watched, but mostly for the ladies...
posted by owillis at 8:01 PM on February 18, 2002


"Moyers's difficulty conversing with people on the right"
Doesn't everyone have trouble conversing with people on the right?
posted by onegoodmove at 8:35 PM on February 18, 2002


onegoodmove
posted by jonmc at 8:37 PM on February 18, 2002


more fodder for the economic power of black consumers "perception vs. reality" discussion via a study from Arbitron, the radio ratings company...(requires PDF download)
posted by nobody_knose at 9:12 PM on February 18, 2002


oh....they use frames, so if the link doesn't work, go to http://arbitron.com/radio_stations/studies1.htm and scroll down the list to find the "Arbitron Black Consumer Study" download
posted by nobody_knose at 9:14 PM on February 18, 2002


PBS is supposed to cover the non-commercial and educational side of life. That's why it is funded by wealthy individals and corporations- viewers like you! Is the influence of someone like Moyers really comparable to the influence of a Richard Mellon Scaife?"
posted by sheauga at 9:23 PM on February 18, 2002


What do I gotta do? Go to a Free Mumia rally? Vote Green? Argh! :)

And as if we expect you to march in lockstep with any mythical African-American hivemind, Mr. John Q. Contrarian Seinfeld fan--we're all individuals here--it's just that your views at times seem a little more than to the right of, say, the Democratic Leadership Council and that's poaching on liberal Republican turf from my view of things. It's like those stroke victims with visual aphasias who walk at a slant: your perpendicular is not mine. And I'm not exactly a raging commie.
posted by y2karl at 9:27 PM on February 18, 2002


"Even though I lean left, I find PBS' biases annoying. A taxpayer funded (even partially) medium should show the full spectrum of that population."

I don't see how PBS can be said to be left-leaning. I can't think of a single left-leaning show that is on all PBS channels on a weekly basis, but I can't say the reverse.

Even Frontline shows no real partisanship, ripping into both The Iran Contra Scandal and Clinton's shady fundraising and selling of executive priviledge.

The point of the matter is that PBS allows a lot of diverse viewpoints, and that is the way it should be. It could never be as as partisan as Fox News, after all...
posted by insomnia_lj at 9:56 PM on February 18, 2002


it's just that your views at times seem a little more than to the right of, say, the Democratic Leadership Council

Actually I pretty much line up with the DLC (hell, I'm a member - I get Blueprint and everything). I like to believe I'm socially liberal/libertarian and fiscally moderate/conservative. I tend to think of it as "the vast middle" where a good portion of America stands, I just tend to lean towards the tree-hugger (it's a joke, kids) pov on things.
posted by owillis at 10:00 PM on February 18, 2002


Of course compared to most of Mefi, this makes me a ragin' conservative. :)
posted by owillis at 10:02 PM on February 18, 2002


Click your heels, owillis, y2karl, lockstep, march! Onward towards Chapter 11 with PBS and its fellow travelers.
"The rising tide of the global economy will create many economic winners, but it will not lift all boats. … [It will] spawn conflicts at home and abroad, ensuring an even wider gap between regional winners and losers than exists today…. [Globalization's] evolution will be rocky, marked by chronic financial volatility and a widening economic divide. Regions, countries, and groups feeling left behind will face deepening economic stagnation, political instability, and cultural alienation. They will foster political, ethnic, ideological, and religious extremism, along with the violence that often accompanies it." (Global Trends 2015, United States Central Intelligence Agency, 2000)
posted by sheauga at 10:03 PM on February 18, 2002


Stoneegg21, O-Dub: I give you "stereotype vulnerability. (1, 2)

In more than a dozen experiments over the past four years, Steele and his colleagues were able to depress the performance of high-achieving African American men and women of all races by subtly implying that well-known stereotypes about those groups intellectual abilities might apply to the test they were about to take. The cues were often indirect. Students were told that the test they were about to take can measure ability or they were asked to mark down their races before the test began. In control groups where similar students were given no reason to suspect that the demeaning stereotypes would apply to their performance, African Americans performed as well as whites on very challenging tests.

Even students who do not consciously embrace the stereotypes experience vulnerability. Steele found that minority students often redouble their efforts during a test in order to disprove stereotypes but then end up working too quickly or inefficiently. He explained that performing in domains where prevailing stereotypes indicate that one may be part of an inferior group carries the risk that any faltering of performance will confirm the stereotype as a self-characteristic.

This dynamic, Steele added, may lead students from stereotyped groups to alternate between trying to do the scholastic task and thinking about what their performance means. Their performance can be disrupted by interfering anxiety, reticence to respond and distracting thoughts. The stakes will be higher for African American and other minority students because a poor performance on a standardized test has a more devastating meaning for these students.

Steele found that everyone is susceptible to stereotype vulnerability: in one experiment, white males unaccustomed to being intellectually stigmatized were told that Asians achieved higher scores than Americans on a mathematics test they were asked to take. This group achieved lower scores than a control group of white males who were not told anything about previous test results. Steele and a colleague, Steve Spencer at Hope College in Michigan, have also run eight experiments showing that stereotype vulnerability can negatively affect women who believe a given math test shows gender differences. As numerous studies have demonstrated, standardized tests such as the SAT consistently underpredict the performance of women in college. The stereotype vulnerability research suggests that the inherent gender bias of the SAT is made worse by female test-takers awareness of that bias.

Professor Steele noted that his findings undercore the danger of relying too heavily on standardized test results in college admissions or otherwise. The research findings make very clear the danger of all practices including the National Merit Scholarship Seminfinalist selection process and the NCAA s initial athletic eligibility rules that base high stakes decisions on standardized test scores.

posted by allaboutgeorge at 12:23 AM on February 19, 2002


Thanks for the info George, though I think the results more say that if you introduce doubt - anyone will do poorly versus the silly maxim that standardized tests are somehow biased.
posted by owillis at 12:01 PM on February 19, 2002


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