PBS's Moyers Attacks Big Business on His Environmental Crusade

     “Support Environmentalists With a Rope.”

     On the October 11 “Moyers on America” show, titled “Is God Green?” Rocky Barker used these five words to sum up Republican sentiment towards environmentalists. Barker, environmental reporter for the Idaho Statesman, quoted the bumper sticker, which he had seen in a bar, and said conservatives were “only mildly joking.” And the bias didn’t stop there.

     “Is God Green?” was advertised as an hour-long Bill Moyers documentary on the growing political importance of conservative evangelical environmentalists. But it wasn’t long before the show degenerated into an attack on big business.

     Moyers started the show with a segment focusing on the Vineyard Boise Church in Southwest Idaho. The congregation, led by Tri Robinson, is embracing environmentalism by planting trees and spreading the message of conservation. Though Robinson was hesitant at first to spread his message of Christian environmentalism, he never indicated that his fear was the product of pressure from big business.

     However, Moyers quickly shifted the program to a segment set in West Virginia where some citizens, like Allen Johnson, claim “that churches are in the pockets of the coal company.” Moyers focused on some local anger directed toward Massey Energy Company (NYSE: MEE) and its President and CEO. Don L. Blankenship.

     Moyers never mentioned some key facts included in a Feb. 13, 2006, Wall Street Journal article. He left out that Massey employs 4,300 West Virginians. Moyers also ignored Blankenship’s true background – despite his current wealth he was raised by a single mother in a house with no indoor plumbing.

     Moyers might not like that Blankenship helped elect the only Republican on West Virginia’s state Supreme Court and lower the state’s food tax from 6 percent to 5 percent. A lower food tax provides few benefits for someone as wealthy as Blankenship, but may greatly impact a low-income citizen’s grocery bill.

     In the February Wall Street Journal article, Blankenship spoke about eliminating tax burdens and making West Virginia a better place to do business. He said, “It's something that hundreds of thousands of West Virginians would like to do: Fight back against a government that is causing them to have less opportunity than they would like to have… I have a willingness to spend enough money to make the changes that need to be made.”

     Blankenship’s only appearance on the program was a clip from early in his career. He stated, “Unions, communities, people, everybody’s going to have to learn to accept that in the United States you have a capitalist society, and that capitalism, from a business viewpoint, is survival of the most productive.” 

     Those comments were undermined by sandwiching them between two comments from Carmelita Brown, a homeowner in West Virginia. Brown believes that “coal companies is [sic] the ones that’s destroying the earth.” She also attacked Blankenship saying that by building his house on top of a hill he was declaring himself God.

     Moyers didn’t temper Brown’s comments with facts. Instead he went on to say that Blankenship’s money gave him an unfair advantage in the political arena. “The people here don’t have that kind of clout.”

     Brown and other Mingo County residents are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Massey Energy and its subsidiary, Rawl Sales and Processing. The lawsuit charges the company with negligence by allowing toxic slurry to leach into groundwater.

     Though Moyers claimed independent scientists have tested the water in Mingo County, where Massey Energy has coalmines, none appeared on the show. Locals were quoted in place of scientific experts.  Billy Sammons, retired deputy sheriff with no mentioned scientific credentials, said the unidentified scientists found “arsenic, manganese, lead, barium, selenium, aluminum and stuff like that.”

     Carmelita Brown argued the water is undrinkable. She kept a log which compared water quality and the state of her health over time. It was unclear why Brown continued to drink the water despite her conviction that it was contaminated.

     When he did restore the show’s focus to evangelical environmentalists, Moyers downplayed the views of Christians who have chosen not to speak out on behalf of the environment.

     One of Moyers’ guests was Dr. Calvin Beisner, a professor of historical theology and social ethics at the Knox Theological Seminary, in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Beisner said he believes “global warming and global cooling…as they occur, cyclically throughout geologic history, are indeed the expression of God’s will.” As Moyers concluded his interview with Beisner, he mocked the professor, “But as you said in the beginning of this interview, you’re a saved man. Your heaven awaits you. Whatever happens here on earth.” Moyers added, “I didn’t mean to make light of that.”

     Moyers also insinuated that Evangelicals were being used by the Republican leadership. He said “Ronald Reagan never called himself an evangelical, but he understood … the role they could play in his political future.”

     Speaking of George W. Bush he added, “…the Christian Right would prove to be a powerful coalition supporting the president as he set about to dismantle environmental protection laws, including those that govern the emissions that contribute to global warming. … Imagine the shock at the White House when the solid rock of Evangelical support started to crack over global warming.”

     One of the most extreme evangelical environmentalists appearing on the show still called himself “pro-Bush.” Moyers even singled out former President George H. W. Bush as an anti-environmentalist. “It is time we worried not only about endangered species, but about endangered jobs,” said Bush in a brief clip. Despite Moyers’ commentary that he was attacking “those who wanted to protect endangered species,” Bush’s quote clearly stated that he was concerned about both issues.

     Moyers didn’t keep his views on climate change a secret either. As he concluded the show he quoted the Rev. Pat Robertson saying the hot weather is “making a convert out of me…The icebergs are melting and there is a buildup of carbon dioxide. We really need to address the burning of fossil fuels.” Moyers expressed his obvious excitement with a smile and a quip, “Miracles still happen.”