How Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Moyers Helped Reinvent a Literary Genre: The Power of Myth

Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science,
it is killed. The living images become only remote facts of a distant time or
sky. Furthermore, it is never difficult to demonstrate that as science and history,
mythology is absurd. When a civilization begins to reinterpret its mythology
in this way, the life goes out of it, temples become museums, and the
link between the two perspectives becomes dissolved.

~ The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers (p. 2)

So we tell stories to try to come to terms with the world, to harmonize our
lives with reality

– Bill Moyers (Ibid. p. 249)

(This essay is excerpted from the Afterword of “Remember the Liberty!”)

Mythology: From Primitive Truths to Modern Deceit

There is considerable irony in the fact that twentieth century mythmakers
created the pseudo-story of an “accidental” attack on the USS Liberty, given the context of the history of where that attack occurred. The last tour of that now legendary ship, and its fate, occurred on the first day of the war – June 5, 1967 – when it sailed into the same ancient Mediterranean waters that had once been the scene of battles dating back at least three millennia, to the Argonauts as they sailed between Libya and Crete, as described in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Despite their being the foundation upon which Greek Mythology was based, there was immeasurably more truth contained in those ancient works than exists in the more modern version of that genre.

The term “mythology” today has a quite different meaning than it had
in classic literature, when it was most often used to write essential truths
about real events that had never been previously documented. It has now
been reinvented, and its new purpose is to be an integral part of foundations built upon lies, the cornerstone of the cover-up. That people such as author Joseph Campbell, with help from a latter-day student of his, Bill Moyers, whose previous work for Lyndon Johnson prepared him well for his new avocation, have devoted their lives to perfecting this new art is testament to “The Power of Myth.” The new kind of “mythology” created just for this purpose reached its zenith with the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. Moyers became the heir of the legendary mythmaker Campbell in the ensuing decades, and partly through his work, the term has now become synonymous with government-sanctioned deceit.

The Vilification of Morley Safer

Morley Safer

One example of an attempt by President Johnson and Bill Moyers to reframe real history, while vilifying an honest reporter occurred in 1965, when they called the president of CBS, Frank Stanton, to complain about a broadcast report by the late CBS reporter Morley Safer in an attempt to get Safer fired.

The report was an accurate account of the torching of the village of Cam Ne, destroying one hundred fifty houses, and Safer’s report noted that no Vietnamese soldiers had been Captured or killed and the only fatality was that of a ten-year-old boy. He also reported that the four prisoners taken were all men in their late sixties or early seventies, and that the five wounded were all older women.

Yet this honest reportage of an actual event set off a thunderous chain-reaction in the White House that was never reported until Morley Safer wrote about it in his memoirs twenty-five years afterwards, in 1990. President Johnson had become so furious with that report that, after calling Stanton the day following that report, he then summoned him to the White House so he could continue haranguing him about it.

Safer wrote in his memoirs that Johnson, with Moyers present to support him with “facts,” then threatened that, “unless CBS got rid of me [Safer] and ‘cleaned up its act,’ the White House would ‘go public’ with information about Safer’s [alleged, but non-existent] ‘Communist ties’. Johnson claimed that he and Moyers ‘had the goods’ on me as a result of an investigation launched by the FBI, the CIA, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.” This was an incredibly brazen and reckless assault on a television journalist whose only error was to assume that the public’s right to know the truth of what had occurred in one of the early combat operations in Vietnam was an appropriate subject; he never considered that doing so might be such an embarrassment to the president and commander-in-chief that would put his broadcasting career in jeopardy.

According to Safer’s account, Johnson – aided and abetted by Bill Moyers – spread the fallacious attack to all parts of the Executive branch, even to ambassadors such as Graham Martin, the last American ambassador to South Vietnam, that Safer “was a KGB agent.”

Decades later, as he wrote his 1990 memoirs, Safer stated that, as a result of Johnson’s and Moyer’s deceits, “To this day [Dean] Rusk believes the entire Cam Ne story was staged. He says that I convinced a Marine Corps unit to bring in some Vietnamese refugees to an abandoned village that the marines used for training exercises, that I then asked the marines to torch the village, and that, being susceptible, well-meaning young Americans, they obliged.”

Moreover, he wrote that Rusk stated that it was “common knowledge at
the White House” that Safer had ties directly to the Soviet Union’s intelligence apparatus (i.e. the KGB) and that he had a particularly bad reputation as a “questionable character.” Finally, his characterization of Moyers’ involvement with the bugging of Martin Luther King Jr.’s private life and numerous other instances of Johnson’s and J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal acts was summarized as being “ … not only a good soldier but a gleeful retainer feeding the appetites of Lyndon Johnson … Moyers, the sometimes overly pious public defender of liberal virtue, the First Amendment, and the rights of minorities, playing the role of Iago.”

That the two of them would literally make up such heinous lies about Morley Safer, one of the most incorruptible, likeable and credible broadcast journalists in the history of television news broadcasting, for the purpose of attempting to destroy his career, is one more piece of evidence that must be factored into the story we are assembling. It was all done because
Safer had accurately reported a story about the wanton destruction of an entire Vietnamese village – an act that Johnson, paradoxically, had been exhorting his highest-level military officials to do, along with his constant refrain, to “Kill More Viet Cong!” – and that real truths could not stand, so lies had to be invented to replace the truth.

It was a pattern that was used over and over again in the Johnson White House throughout his defiled presidency, though only a few instances of it were ever reported, due to exactly this kind of feared reaction by most other journalists. In this specific case, the truth according to Morley Safer took over twenty years to be revealed, and by then, it – like so many similar vignettes we have discovered and repeated here – became just another piece of ancient history, disconnected from all the rest and treated as just another anecdote of a bygone time.

Though a lot of the darker stories were kept secret throughout his reign, in fact, by 1965, press reporters who were assigned to cover the White House had become so accustomed to Johnson’s propensity for speaking words that had no basis in fact, that they created a new term to describe it: “Credibility gap” was coined to describe the intrinsic worthlessness of President Johnson’s words.

Lyndon B. Johnson was distrusted by practically everyone who really knew him even before he had acquired the magical and near-universal imprimatur of public respect that is automatically conferred to whomever holds the office of the president of the United States. That trust only lasts until the new president destroys his own credibility through incompetence or having a tin ear to what the public really wants.

Some people who knew him for decades had called him “Lying Lyndon” or “Bullshit Johnson;” to them, he was a former high school bully and college leader of his own secret society that eventually ruled the campus. As documented in my “Mastermind” book, his own grandmother, realizing his lack of moral compass and empathy for others, declared that he would end up in prison; others claimed that if he were not in the White House he would be in an insane asylum.

His followers in those early years were not much different than the sycophantic aides he used and abused in later years; the only real difference was their age and the pay scales they were able to secure in exchange for continually “swallowing their scruples.”

The Devolution of Modern “Mythology”

The modern form of the mythology genre, not about ancient truths, but of the newest, most politically salable lies, was born from the basest human characteristics: avarice, brutishness, cunning, deceit, evasiveness, fraud, guile – and twice through the rest of the alphabet to, finally – Zionistic Zealotry.

After the attack, as the crew of the Liberty completed their last tasks aboard their listing, shot up, burned out hulk of a once-proud vessel, they again sailed back through the same ancient waters that had been the scene of original Greek and Roman, and eventually Shakespearian mythology: those ancient stories that described pure, life vivifying and ageless truths. Little did the crew know that, on the other side of those ancient waters, their story was already being changed, not as classic literature but to the hackneyed, secretive, illusive kind that modern mythmakers concoct to cover up the darkest secrets; this modern form of pettifoggery would pollute the real, truly historic, Liberty story for the ensuing fifty years.

It was those combined attributes that were employed to first keep the entire episode secret, and allowed more time to gather all the necessary resources to immediately “rewrite history,” and then put into place all of the longer-term strategies to ensure that the same efforts would be sustained over many years to follow. That this strategy worked, for five decades now
and counting, is the very evidence which proves the point: It was no “accident” that other developments would occur to facilitate the process.

It began with germinating the seeds of deceit into planted lies and then the growth of mythologies, from people who were trained well in all of those specialized skills, some of whom have been identified throughout the latter chapters. The harvested fruits of the planted lies have since been published, for example, in the later books authored by Michael Oren and Ahron J. Cristol and others, then memorialized into the “official record” at the State Department in a crowning act of political chicanery; it was the exact opposite position of their own predecessors within the Department of State, from the Secretary of State Rusk, on down through his direct Assistant Secretaries and throughout the rest of the organization, including the ambassadors assigned to practically every country other than Israel.

Were Orwell and Huxley Omniscient Prognosticators — Or Merely Among the First Involuntary LSD Test Subjects?

Perfected and popularized for the exigencies of modern times, the twentieth century appellation of the terms “mythology,” or “myth,” describes attempts to rewrite true history into more palatable versions, all as explained by such oracles as George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. Myths no longer serve the purpose of explaining ancient history in ways that
were once used as proxy for testaments from eyewitnesses, or citations to previous veritable tomes – as Homer and his literary descendants were forced to do, by the circumstances of ancient civilizations, due to the absence of written words in historical documents (regardless of whether Homer himself was actually another part of the myths).

The modernized term “mythology” usually represents what is being, or has been, reported as fact, after being intentionally “spun” to portray covertly orchestrated events into “feel-good” stories for a public addicted to comforting, sanguine stories. They are prescribed for people who need quick fixes to assuage painful memories, just as most other modern inventions were created for purposes other than satisfying basic human needs.

This metamorphosis in terminology was accomplished in the wake of Orwell’s and Huxley’s works, in the middle of the twentieth century; both described the new term thoroughly. That the phenomenon was perfected a decade or so later, during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson – just as the term “credibility gap” concurrently became part of the American
lexicon – was no coincidence. Likewise, the term “political correctness” similarly became popularized during the same period, for essentially the same reasons. Another term for the new definition might be called “propagandized news,” or what George Orwell described as the venal product of the “Ministry of Truth.”

When considered in the context of the famous statement of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, it is clear how this metamorphosis came about: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it… the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Coming as it did in the immediate aftermath of World War II, Orwell undoubtedly learned a thing or two about irony from Goebbels. In a reverse twist of the same phenomenon, another illustration of that is how the legendary CIA “Black Sorcerer” and “Dirty Trickster” Sidney Gottlieb might have benefited from those works, especially of Huxley, which were intended to warn the masses of how methodologies such as psychological manipulation and Pavlovian conditioning could profoundly change society, and not for the better.

Gottlieb turned the warning around, by exploiting them in his depraved plotting to develop lethal poisons and drug experiments in mind control; he became famous for his LSD research, a product that was then tested, unfortunately, by being forcefully administered to unwitting subjects, whose clinical experiences were most unfavorable, often even fatal. After becoming CIA director, Allen Dulles promoted Gottlieb to the head of Project MKULTRA, which conducted psychiatric research and development of “techniques that would crush the human psyche to the point that it would admit anything.”

There were undoubtedly many others at Langley, some of which will be noted below, who were similarly involved in these nefarious schemes (another of the other notable madmen employed there, James Jesus Angleton, also comes to mind).

Shades of Operation Mockingbird

As soon as the CIA was formed, in 1947, Frank Wisner established Operation Mockingbird, which was the first attempt to influence the domestic and foreign media. As Allen Dulles began directing the nefarious research assigned to the “Black Sorcerer” noted above, in the early 1950s just after he became the Director of the CIA, he had also directed Wisner to aggressively expand the program and led it to become one of the several illegal acts of that agency which most undermined the Constitution of the United States.

Its very purpose was to illegally compromise the responsibility of the press – print and broadcast media – to critically report to the American people on government’s activities, as a means to control wayward politicians in order to ensure they did not misuse their power.

Specifically, the First Amendment to the Constitution “frees” the press to ferret out cases of political malfeasance but that freedom carries with it the responsibility to remain the people’s watchdog, which cannot be done if they are enticed to support the government’s attempts to circumvent that duty.

To say that this effort succeeded “beyond expectations” is a tremendous understatement, because even now, in the supposed absence of such a covert program, it is clearly still carrying out that original mission. The phrase “estates of the realm” originated in the Middle Ages to denote the hierarchy of social orders for the clergy (first estate), the nobility (second estate), and commoners (third estate). The 18th Century politician Edmund Burke, who, in reference to the three “estates” of British government, likened them to the American government’s three branches, or “estates” – legislative, judicial and executive – and thus the term “Fourth Estate” evolved to refer to the implicit role of the news media.

The intrinsic reason for protecting journalism – especially newsprint, though the term was later naturally extended to broadcast news organizations – was their duty to expose governmental misconduct. It is difficult to argue that the term “journalism,” therefore the “Fourth Estate” has any pertinence anymore to those original precepts, given the fact that the undermining of them by governmental actions has been among its “greatest” accomplishments.

Burke is also quoted for having said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” which is a pertinent maxim that applies to the narrative that follows below. The First Amendment to the Constitution embodies the “freedom” of the press, but it has been
eroded over time as a result of the insidious attempts of various agencies, and specific people, to compromise the press. Operation Mockingbird was arguably the biggest, boldest, most brazen effort ever done to destroy that role.

When Frank Wisner succeeded Allen W. Dulles as head of the Plans Division in the early 1950s, Wisner was intent on establishing direct contacts between the agency and the “Fourth Estate” – the American press – specifically to the journalists and book publishers who would willingly assist the CIA to communicate their view on any national or international political or military issue in a favorable light. The principal responsibility of both the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) and the Plans Division was the conduct of secret political operations, in contrast to the other agency functions of gathering intelligence and the analysis of that intelligence.

In 1951, Wisner revitalized Operation Mockingbird, to create new avenues to conduct more directly the sellout of American media and the resulting perfidy of the Constitution itself. “‘Wisner recruited Philip Graham (Washington Post) to run the project within the industry,” according to Deborah Davis, in Katharine the Great: “By the early 1950s, Wisner ‘owned’ respected members of The New York Times, Newsweek, CBS and other communications vehicles.” These journalists sometimes wrote articles that were unofficially commissioned by Cord Meyer, based on leaked classified information from the CIA.

By 1953 the CIA, through Wisner and Graham, had established direct linkages with at least 25 major newspapers and wire agencies. To make Operation Mockingbird work effectively, Wisner realized that he could not rely only on journalists and publishers like Arthur Hays Sulzberger of the New York Times, who shared the Georgetown crowd’s liberal view of the world.

He therefore set out to recruit conservatives like William Paley (CBS), C. D. Jackson and Henry Luce (of Time and Life magazines). According to Alex Constantine (Mockingbird: The Subversion of the Free Press by the CIA), in the 1950s, “Some 3,000 salaried and contract CIA employees were eventually engaged in propaganda efforts.”

Lyndon Johnson’s Prescience — Ahead of the CIA’s Skullduggery

One of the most important journalists under the control of Operation Mockingbird was Joseph Alsop, whose articles appeared in over three hundred different newspapers. Other journalists willing to promote the views of the Central Intelligence Agency included Joseph’s brother, Stewart Alsop (New York Herald Tribune), Ben Bradlee (Newsweek), James Reston (The New York Times), Walter Pincus (Washington Post), Herb Gold (Miami News) and Charles Bartlett (Chattanooga Times).

In a remarkable irony, many of the same columnists targeted by Wisner and his men were already in the pocket of Lyndon B. Johnson – most notably Joseph Alsop – and information in Hoover’s “Official and Confidential” files, which was readily shared with Johnson on request and gave him an additional special entrée to these journalists.

5 thoughts on “How Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Moyers Helped Reinvent a Literary Genre: The Power of Myth

    1. He was known to exploit the “weaknesses” of any man, or woman, and, yes, a number of men who accommodated whatever he wished were homosexuals, prominently including Walter Jenkins and Jack Valenti.


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