December 10, 2004

I'm Outraged!

Sorry for the headline---a little inside joke.

My midmorning laugh for the day came from this hyperventilated piece:

"I was just in the editing room, working on the last piece," Bill Moyers says. "I thought: `I've done this so many times, and each one is as difficult as the last one.' Maybe finally I've broken the habit."

It hasn't been so much a habit for Moyers as a truth-telling mission during his three decades as a TV journalist. But come next week, he will sign off from "Now," the weekly PBS newsmagazine he began in 2002, as, at age 70, he retires from television.

"I'm going out telling the story that I think is the biggest story of our time: how the right-wing media has become a partisan propaganda arm of the Republican National Committee," says Moyers. "We have an ideological press that's interested in the election of Republicans, and a mainstream press that's interested in the bottom line. Therefore, we don't have a vigilant, independent press whose interest is the American people."

For that, his absence after the Dec. 17 "Now" will be all the more keenly felt: Moyers' interest has always been the American people.

A humanist who's at home with subjects ranging from the power of myth to media consolidation, from drug addiction to modern dance, from religion to environmental abuse, Moyers has produced hundreds of hours of diverse programming on issues that others shortchange, sidestep or simply fail to notice. And through it all, he has looked upon his audience not as targeted consumers, or as voters split along a Red State-Blue State divide, but as his fellow citizens.

He's a citizen-journalist with a robust background, this Texas native who, early on, earned a divinity degree (he's an ordained Baptist minister) then served as special assistant to President Johnson, and for several years was publisher of the Long Island newspaper Newsday.

In 1971, he came to public television as host of "This Week" and "Bill Moyers' Journal," and, next, joined CBS News to do similarly civic-minded programming.

Then in 1986 he and his wife, Judith Davidson Moyers, became their own bosses by forming Public Affairs Television, an independent shop that has not only produced documentaries such as "A Walk Through the 20th Century," "Healing and the Mind" and "A Gathering of Men with Robert Bly," but also paid for them through its own fund-raising efforts.

"Judith and I will take several months to catch our breath," says Moyers during a recent conversation at the soon-to-be-vacated office he rents at Thirteen/WNET's Manhattan headquarters. "Then I will think about the Last Act _ capital L, capital A _ of my life."

He does have one immediate project: a book he will write about his years with Johnson. But he has no TV ventures in mind.

With his days at "Now" ticking down, Moyers voices pride in that series, which, upon its premiere three years ago, he envisioned as "a flexible format for ideas and conversation, reportage and debate." Now reaching 2.4 million viewers weekly with its breaking-news currency and contemplative pace, "Now" will continue with his worthy co-host, David Brancaccio, taking over. (It airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. EST; check local listings.)

"It has gained traction," says Moyers _ if only by default, in an era where most TV journalism gravitates toward the sensational or trivial. "As the networks have raced to the bottom, it is very easy to stand out if you just do good journalism. We've been trying to do good journalism, and it filled a real void."

One example of typically good journalism on "Now" not long ago: an in-depth look at the record of President Bush's nominee for secretary of state, Condoleeza Rice, who in her current post as national security adviser "dreadfully misjudged the terrorist threat leading up to 9/11, and then misled America and the world about the case for invading Iraq," as Moyers concluded.

It was the sort of report unlikely to be found on most newscasts, and even less likely to endear a reporter to the powers-that-be, on whose good graces the media has grown all too reliant. But Moyers believes that challenging those in power is a journalist's duty _ and, consequently, his.

"What they're really objecting to is not my ideology," he says in his thoughtful, almost pastoral manner. "I'd be doing this if the Democrats were in power. It's not that I'm a liberal, it really isn't. It's the fact that I'm doing journalism that isn't determined by the establishment.

"You don't get rewarded in commercial broadcasting for trying to tell the truth about the institutions of power in this country," he goes on. "I think my peers in commercial television are talented and devoted journalists, but they've chosen to work in a corporate mainstream that trims their talent to fit the corporate nature of American life. And you do not get rewarded for telling the hard truths about America in a profit-seeking environment."

Through his own devices, Moyers has been the journalist he wanted to be, while honored for it with more than 30 Emmys and 10 Peabody awards.

"I've just been doing the kind of journalism that ought to be done, IF you had the opportunity to do it," he insists. "The fight has been to create that opportunity and that independence."

It's been a fight he fought well. But where will tomorrow's Bill Moyers come from?

"We have got to nurture the spirit of independent journalism in this country," he warns in reply, "or we'll not save capitalism from its own excesses, and we'll not save democracy from its own inertia."

What puts this all in perspective is that Moyers was the creator of probably the most notorious left-wing sleazy presidential attack ad in history: 1964's "Daisy" ad, which declared a vote for Goldwater was a vote for nuking innocent kids.

The following exchange was recorded the advertisement's sole airing on September 7, 1964:

Back in 1964, minutes after Daisy was broadcast, President Johnson phoned his press secretary, Bill Moyers, and yelled: "Jesus Christ! What in the world happened?"

Said Moyers: "You got your point across, that's what happened."

Somehow, the article forgets that. Must have been an oversight.

I'm outraged!

Posted by Steve at December 10, 2004 12:20 PM

According to Network Solutions, is still available if Allah is looking for a place to set up shop.

Posted by: Colossus at December 10, 2004 12:29 PM

I like that you had to qualify it as the 'most notorious LEFT WING sleazy' ad, because if you just said 'most sleazy ad' it would finish in 20th place behind 19 of Bush's ads from this last election.

Posted by: drew at December 10, 2004 02:30 PM

Drew: and what ads mights those be? Can't be the one with sound bite of Kerry explaining he "voted for the $87 billion before he voted against it" . . . Inquiring minds would like to know.

Posted by: LMC at December 10, 2004 02:54 PM

No, I would put it up with Jesse Helms' affirmative action "white hands" ad as the two worst sleazy of all time.

But what I like about the whole thing is the overwhelming sense of sanctimony that pours forth from folks like yourself at even the hint or suggestion that High Priest Bill Moyers could be anything but what he is: a fraud.

Posted by: Steve TLB at December 10, 2004 04:36 PM

I hear that NEWSWEEK has had i big smear against the swiftboat vets but what done one ever expect from a socialsit left-wing rag like NEWSWEEK i mean they are no different the the rest of the left-wing news media

Posted by: mad heron at December 13, 2004 10:35 AM
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