Open Mic

News of a TV Legend Ending Show Raises Real Issues About Journalism and Why It's So Important (No, I'm Not Talking About Oprah)

Chuck Ross Posted November 22, 2009 at 1:27 PM

Tags: Billk Moyers, journalism, journalism matters, retiring

If you're at all interested in why journalism matters in a free society---and you should be--I want to recommend a book to you.

The book is "Moyers on Democracy" by Bill Moyers.

Perhaps the best description I've ever heard of Moyers was by the late Studs Terkel, himself a first-class chronicler of all things Americana: "Bill Moyers has been my North Star, in his eloquence, his quiet passion and courage, and in the way he presents me and millions of others with the ideals of our nation, from our past to our present to our uncertain future. Always he offers the gifts of thoughtfulness and of hope."

Moyers has done thousands of hours of TV programming, many of them focusing on various aspects of the humaniites, such as his famous interviews wtih Joseph Campbell about the Power of Mythology that first ran on Moyers' home for many years, PBS.

Moyers announced on Friday, Nov. 20th, that he'll be retiring from regularly weekly reporting on TV come April of 2010. Noting that he's 75-years-old, he says it's time. And no one can begrudge him his decision.  

So it's a good time for us to note that nothing Moyers has done has been more important than his work as a journalist investigating the doings of govenment.

In 2007, when Moyers was criticized for an edition of his "Bill Moyers Journal" that some did not think had paid attention to both sides of an issue discussed on the program, Moyers responded, "The journalist's job is not to achieve some mythical state of equilibrium between two opposing opinions out of some misshapen respect —sometimes, alas, reverence—for the prevailing consensus among the powers-that-be. The journalist's job is to seek out and offer the public the best thinking on an issue, event, or story."

Hear. Hear.

Journalism matters is also the name of a speech Moyers delivered at a conference about education during the summer of 2007. It's one of the speehes reprinted in "Moyers on Democracy."

In the speech, Moyers said, "The job of trying to tell the truth about people whose job it is to hide the truth is almost as complicated as trying to hide it in the first place. One of my mentors told me that 'news is what people want to keep hidden; everything else is publicity.' " 

Moyers, who once worked as press secretary for fellow Texan Lyndon Johnson when Johnson was President of the United States, has long been target of the right. 

And he's holds no quarter in firing back when he thinks the right is wrong.

Again, from his speech about journalism mattering:

"Nowadays journalists who try to dig up what's hidden still bring down on themselves the opprobrium of government and corporations. But they must also face the wrath of right-wing media whose worldview is to see a liberal lurking behind every fact. Journalism is under withering  fire these days from idealogues--those true believers who have closed their minds to all contrary evidence and hung a sign on the door with the words: DO NOT DISTURB. Any journalist whose reportinig dares to challenge the party line becomes a candidate for Guantanamo. Rush Limbaugh, notably, railed against journalists for their reporting on the torture at Abu Ghraib, which he dismissed as a little sport for soldiers under stress. He told his audience: "This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation...You ever heard of people [who] need to blow off some steam?" The Limbaugh line became a drumbeat in the right-wing echo chamber from which many millions of Americans now get their news. So I wasn't surprised to read that nationwide survey by the Chicago Tribune in which half of the respondents said there should have been some kind of press restraint on reporting about the prison abuse and just as many said they 'would embrace government controls of some kind on free speech, especially if it is found unpatriotic.' "

Moyers then paused and said, "Imagine: free speech as sedition."

Then he looked out at the educators and demanded: "Tell your students. Silence is sedition."#