Bill Moyers was one of the chief inheritors of the Edward R. Murrow tradition of "deep-think" journalism. Working alternately on CBS and PBS in the 1970s and early 1980s, and then almost exclusively on PBS. His achievements were principally in the areas of investigative documentary and long-form conversations with some of the world's leading thinkers. Moyers, who had been a print journalist, ordained Baptist minister, press secretary to President Lyndon Johnson, and newspaper publisher before coming to television in 1970, gained public and private foundation support for producing some of television's most incisive investigative documentaries. Each was delivered in the elegantly written and deceptively soft-spoken narrations that came, Moyers later said, out of the story-telling traditions of his East Texas upbringing. Where Edward R. Murrow had taken on Joseph McCarthy on See It Now and the agri-business industry in his famous Harvest of Shame documentary, Moyers examined the failings of constitutional democracy in his 1974 Essay on Watergate and exposed governmental illegalities and cover-up during the Iran Contra scandal. He looked at issues of race, class and gender, at the power media images held for a nation of "consumers," not citizens, and explored virtually every aspect of American political, economic and social life in his documentaries.
Equally influential were Moyers' World of Ideas series. Again, Edward R. Murrow had paved the way in his trans-Atlantic conversations with political leaders, thinkers and artist on his Small World program in the late 1950s, but Moyers used his soft, probing style to talk to a remarkable range of articulate intellectuals on his two foundation supported interview series on PBS. In discussions that ranged from an hour to, in the case of mythology scholar Joseph Campbell, six hours on the air, Moyers brought to television what he called the "conversation of democracy." He spoke with social critics like Noam Chomsky and Cornel West, writers like Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, Mexican poet and novelist Carlos Fuentes and American novelist Toni Morrison, and social analysts like philosopher Mortimer Adler and University of Chicago sociologist William Julius Wilson. Moyers engaged voices and ideas that had been seldom if ever heard on television, and transcribed versions of many of his series often became best selling books as well (Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, 1988; The Secret Government, 1988; A World of Ideas, 1989; A World of Ideas II, 1990, Healing the Mind, 1992). The Joseph Campbell book was on the New York Times best seller list for more than a year and sold 750,000 copies within the first four years of its publication.
Moyers' television work was as prolific as his publishing record. In all he produced over six hundred hours of programming (filmed and videotaped conversations and documentaries) between 1971 and 1989, which comes out to 33 hours of programming a year or the equivalent of more than half an hour of programming a week for eighteen years. Moyers broadcast another one hundred and twenty-five programs between 1989 and 1992 working with a series of producers--27 of them on the first two World of Ideas series alone. He formed his own company, Public Affairs Television, in 1986, and distributed many of his own shows.
By the early 1990s Bill Moyers had established himself as a significant figure of television talk, his power and influence providing him access to corridors of power and policy. Bill Moyers had by this time become one of the few broadcast journalists who might be said to approach the stature of Edward R. Murrow. If Murrow had founded broadcast journalism, Moyers had significantly extended its traditions.
Democratic presidential candidates were handed a dream audience of 1,000 "ready-for-action" labor, civil rights, peace and economic justice campaigners at the Take Back America conference organized in Washington last week by the Campaign for America's Future. And the 2004 contenders grabbed for it, delivering some of the better speeches of a campaign that remains rhetorically -- and directionally -- challenged. But it was a non-candidate who won the hearts and minds of the crowd with a "Cross of Gold" speech for the 21st century.
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Recalling the populism and old-school progressivism of the era in which William Jennings Bryan stirred the Democratic National Convention of 1896 to enter into the great struggle between privilege and democracy -- and to spontaneously nominate the young Nebraskan for president -- journalist and former presidential aide Bill Moyers delivered a call to arms against "government of, by and for the ruling corporate class."
Condemning "the unholy alliance between government and wealth" and the compassionate conservative spin that tries to make "the rape of America sound like a consensual date," Moyers charged that "rightwing wrecking crews" assembled by the Bush Administration and its Congressional allies were out to bankrupt government. Then, he said, they would privatize public services in order to enrich the corporate interests that fund campaigns and provide golden parachutes to pliable politicians. If unchecked, Moyers warned, the result of these machinations will be the dismantling of "every last brick of the social contract."
"I think this is a deliberate, intentional destruction of the United States of America," said Moyers, as he called for the progressives gathered in Washington last week -- and for their allies across the United States -- to organize not merely in defense of social and economic justice but in order to preserve democracy itself. Paraphrasing the words of Abraham Lincoln as the 16th president rallied the nation to battle against slavery, Moyers declared, "Our nation can no more survive as half democracy and half oligarchy than it could survive half slave and half free."
There was little doubt that the crowd of activists from across the country would have nominated Moyers by acclamation when he finished a remarkable address in which he challenged not just the policies of the Bush Administration but the failures of Democratic leaders in Congress to effectively challenge the president and his minions. In the face of what he described as "a radical assault" on American values by those who seek to redistribute wealth upward from the many poor to the few wealthy, Moyers said he could not understand "why the Democrats are afraid to be labeled class warriors in a war the other side started and is winning."
Several of the Democratic presidential contenders who addressed the crowd after Moyers picked up pieces of his argument. Former US Senator Carol Moseley Braun actually quoted William Jennings Bryan, while North Carolina Senator John Edwards and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry tried -- with about as much success as Al Gore in 2000 -- to sound populist. Former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt promised not to be "Bush-lite," and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean drew warm applause when he said the way for Democrats to get elected "is not to be like Republicans, but to stand up against them and fight." Ultimately, however, only the Rev. Al Sharpton and Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich came close to matching the fury and the passion of the crowd.
Kucinich, who earned nine standing ovations for his antiwar and anti-corporate free trade rhetoric, probably did more to advance his candidacy than any of the other contenders. But he never got to the place that Moyers reached with a speech that legal scholar Jamie Raskin described as "one of the most amazing and spellbinding" addresses he had ever heard. Author and activist Frances Moore Lappe said she was close to tears as she thanked Moyers for providing precisely the mixture of perspective and hope that progressives need as they prepare to challenge the right in 2004.
That, Moyers explained, was the point of his address, which was reflected on White House political czar Karl Rove's praise for Mark Hanna, the Ohio political boss who managed the presidency of conservative Republican William McKinley, the man who beat Bryan in 1896 and then -- with Hanna's help -- fashioned a White House that served the interests of the corporate trusts.
Comparing the excesses of Hanna and Rove, and McKinley and Bush, Moyers said "the social dislocations and the meanness of the 19th century " were being renewed by a new generation of politicians who, like their predecessors, seek to strangle the spirit of the American revolution "in the hard grip of the ruling class."
To break that grip, Moyers said, progressives of today must learn from the revolutionaries and reformers of old. Recalling the progressive movement that rose up in the first years of the 20th century to "restore the balance between wealth and commonwealth," and the successes of the New Dealers who turned progressive ideals into national policy, Moyers the crowd to "get back in the fight." "Hear me!" he cried. "Allow yourself the conceit to believe that the flame of democracy will never go out as long as there is one candle in your hand."
While others were campaigning last week, Moyers was tending the flame of democracy. In doing so, he unwittingly made himself the candle holder-in-chief for those who seek to spark a new progressive era.
Copyright © 2003 The Nation
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on Money, Politics and War
(From PBS' BILL MOYERS' NOW )
Earlier in this hour Jeff Madrick talked about how inequality is changing the country. Politics determines economic outcomes - campaign contributions give the edge to those who can afford the entrée. It goes even deeper. What's emerged full-blown is the military-industrial complex famously predicted and feared by President Eisenhower fifty years ago.
It's no longer possible to tell where the corporate world ends and government begins. The poster boy for this new elite is Richard Cheney. As the head of Halliburton, he made a fortune from the influence and access gained through his earlier service in government.
Then Halliburton Corporation gets favored and confidential treatment soon after Mr. Cheney becomes George Bush's vice president. This week the big construction company Bechtel receives a contract that could pay three quarters of a billion dollars for work in post-war Iraq. Bechtel gives lots of money to politicians, mostly to Republicans. On its board is George Schultz, who ran Bechtel before he became President Reagan's Secretary of State. One of Bechtel's Senior Vice Presidents is a former general who serves on the Defense Policy Board along with other hawks like Richard Perle and James Woolsey who wanted war with Iraq and got it. They advise the Pentagon and then turn around and make money out of their defense contacts.
These fellows are all honorable men, I am sure, but they call for war with all the ferocity of non-combatants and then turn around and feed on the corpse of war. Illegal? Not in our system. Unsavory? No matter how you slice it. But the main point is this. America's corporate and political elites now form a regime of their own, and they are privatizing democracy. All the benefits - the tax cuts, policies, and rewards - flow in one direction: up. And the people Jeff Madrick talked about, whose faith in the fairness of the American way of life is the bulwark of our country, are left outside looking in.
Bill Moyers on Neglected News 05.30.03 (From PBS' BILL MOYERS' NOW )
We close tonight with some items in the news. You no doubt saw this - Mr. Bush signing his tax cut. A big day for the President.
on Neglected News
But in fact, it's the richest Americans - the top one percent - who get the lion's share of the tax cuts. People like Secretary of the Treasury John Snow, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, multimillionaires all. Mr. Cheney actually cast the deciding tie-breaker vote in favor of the tax cut in the Senate...as this headline in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL says, some people could wind up paying virtually no tax at all.
Where's that money coming from to make the rich richer? Some of it's coming from the working poor. Remember that $400 per child tax credit that was in the tax bill?
We have now learned that at the very last minute, behind closed doors, the Republican leaders in Congress pulled a bait-and-switch. They eliminated from the bill that $400 child credit for families who make just above the minimum wage. They will use that money to pay for the cut on dividend taxes. Eleven million children in families with incomes roughly between ten thousand and twenty six thousand dollars a year won't be getting the check that was supposed to be in the mail this summer. Eleven million children punished for being poor, even as the rich are rewarded for being rich.
Nothing was said about cutting out the working poor from this tax credit as Mr. Bush signed his tax bill. Nor was anything said when the President closed the door to his office and quietly put his signature on another bill, this one raising the debt ceiling to its highest level in history. No sooner had this happened than it was revealed, by the FINANCIAL TIMES, a British newspaper by the way, that the White House withheld a Treasury Department study showing that the country faces chronic deficits totalling over $44 trillion dollars. They kept it in secret lest it throw the fear of God into Congress and the financial markets and cost them the tax cut for the rich.
This was enough to send us over to the debt clock just a few blocks from our offices in midtown New York. Standing there you can watch the country's future slip deeper and deeper into a black hole of red ink. At midday today the national debt was over 6 trillion dollars and climbing. It makes you wonder...exactly why are these rich guys smiling?
That's it for NOW. Thanks for
watching. I'm Bill Moyers.
Tell us what you think.
MEDIA MONSTER KILLER
Corporate Media, Coming of the Rapture, and the Culture of Fear: Coffee Talk with Bill Moyers
by Nick Welsh
Spend five minutes on the phone with Bill Moyers, dubbed by some "the conscience" of American journalism, and it's abundantly obvious that the man is troubled, and profoundly pissed off; though it's doubtful someone so imbued with good Southern manners would use such talk. Now 70, Moyers has spent most of the past 55 years hunting the truth behind his craft, a working journalist tracing the twisted paths of power for both newspapers and television. Embodying that rare combination of graciousness, dignity, and passion, Moyers has been audacious enough to tell "the truth behind the news," rather than to report the "he-said-she-said" ping-pong that often passes for news. And the truth about the news business - and democracy - as Moyers sees, could not be more grim.
The mainstream news media, Moyers laments, has taken a dive at a time when the power of the Republican Party has never been more absolute and more morally bankrupt. As a result, public discourse has been reduced to a scream-fest dominated by such unabashedly conservative media giants as Fox, Clear Channel, and Sinclair, who've become "echo chambers" for the Bush administration, if not outright propagandists. And when it comes to the realities of bare-knuckle politics, Moyers is hardly some pious sissy. For three years he worked closely with former President Lyndon Johnson, whose ferocity as a political infighter was exceeded only by his reputed Machiavellian genius. After his stint with Johnson, Moyers went to work for CBS; in 1986 he created his own independent production company, Public Affairs Television.
Via Public Affairs, Moyers explored not just the political but the spiritual dimension of American life, introducing the likes of anthropologist Joseph Campbell (The Power of Myth) and poet Robert Bly to the American public. Over the past three years, Moyers became best known for his searing weekly news series NOW - broadcast Friday nights on public television - which painstakingly dissected the worrisome cross-pollination between political and corporate power.
Late last December, Moyers pulled the plug on NOW. He had no time for anything else, he explained, and his five grandchildren weren't getting any younger. And at age 70, neither was he. Moyers is hardly retiring from life; rather he's launching what he called his "third act." On March 1, Moyers is set to appear at UCSB's Campbell Hall to kick off a fundraising campaign for the university's Arts & Lectures program - where he'll be interviewed by acclaimed Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye. Two weeks ago, he gave me a chunk of prime time on the phone, and the following is an abbreviated version of that conversation.
NICK WELSH: When you arrive in S.B., there could be 500 reporters from all over the world covering jury selection for the Michael Jackson trial. Any interest in a firsthand look; any gut reaction to seeing so much journalistic time, energy, and resources devoted to such a trial?
BILL MOYERS: First, I think the other 500 will handle the heavy responsibilities of reporting that trial. And second, I once said to a judge, "You know there's no justice in the world." And he said, "That's right. Get on with it." I have learned at this advanced stage in life not to grieve over what I cannot change and not to be disturbed about what doesn't bother me. It's unfortunate that so much attention could be given to the trial of a Michael Jackson as opposed to covering the truth behind the news. But there's no institution more immune to criticism than the media. I don't waste any time, energy, or grief over the reality of a world saturated with celebrity. I mean, the BBC - which I listen to every morning - led yesterday with the announcement that Prince Charles is going to marry Camilla what's-her-name. As did the New York Times. This is a startling announcement? I thought maybe the rapture had begun.
In your parting shots prior
to going off the air, you accused conservative news outlets like
Fox of being a propaganda arm of the administration - or at least
a vast echo chamber. These outlets are incredibly popular though,
bringing to mind Al Capone's famous line, "I'm just giving
the people what they want." So when you look at the ratings,
why shouldn't we conclude that Fox and O'Reilly are what the people
I don't dispute that. It's certainly what the people who watch that want. I've never challenged that. They're giving their ideological audience what that ideological audience wants. They bought into a belief system that can't be challenged by any evidence to the contrary.
If that's the case and that's
so bad, then why do you think the other media outlets - the ones
that don't buy into this approach - are having such a hard time
I think mainstream journalism has been driven to the lowest priority on the scale of values of the mega media companies that own them. Journalism and the news business don't always mix. And we now have big media companies that own the journalistic organs and that's not their top priority. When Michael Eisner says he doesn't want ABC news covering Disney activities you realize there's a chilling effect on corporate journalists that proscribes their boundaries. With a few honorable exceptions, you cannot count on the big media companies to put journalism above other values in their hierarchy of values. There was a study done a year ago in which one-third of the journalists who responded said they were asked to kill stories that were offensive to the clientele of their corporate bosses. So you have a very neutered mainstream media, and you have a powerful ideological megaphone in Fox News and talk radio for the right wing. So there's an imbalance today and the right wing has the dominant megaphone in America.
As feeble as you say mainstream
media is, it still reported many of the most notable failures
of the Bush administration: no weapons of mass destruction in
Iraq; no postwar planning for Iraq; new policies that condone
torture in Iraq; an all-out attack on environmental regulation;
tax policies that favored the rich and destabilized the dollar.
Still, Bush got elected. The first time around, he managed to
run as the compassionate conservative, but this time, the information
was out there for anyone to see
I never took him as a compassionate conservative. I'm a Texan. I saw what he had done to Texas and I knew he would do to the nation what he had done to Texas. And by God he's done it. He's turned the environment over to the polluters, he's turned the courts over to big business, and he's turned the schools over to the religious right. I was not fooled by his prevarications and his camouflage and his deceits.
But all that was out there
in plain view. How do you account for this?
There are always a lot of people who prefer the comfortable lie to the uncomfortable truth. In this case, a majority of voters knew exactly what you're saying, yet voted for him none the less. They did so for one of two reasons. First, Bush had America scared to death. And fear was the dominant issue in that campaign, not moral values. Second, many of Bush's supporters buy into the belief system that he and his allies have propounded. And in that belief system - which is supported by Fox News and talk radio - no evidence to the contrary can be permitted. Ideologues embrace a worldview that cannot be changed because they admit no evidence to the contrary. The Washington Post had a story about a study recently about how even if what people first hear turns out to be wrong, they still tend to believe it's true. That's because, if it fits their value system, they don't change it after they learn it's not true. It's a weird phenomenon. I'd also say conservatives have never been more politically dominant and more intellectually and morally bankrupt. Because of that they can keep their troops believing the Big Lie. The Big Lie is that the threat of Al Qaeda is greater to us than the threat of low wages, environmental pollution, the growing inequality in America, or the terrible failure of the Bush policies on schools. People just didn't want the uncomfortable truth to disturb the comfortable lie.
At the risk of twisting
your words, I thought I read somewhere that you said the reason
we went to war with Iraq had nothing to do with oil or fighting
terrorism or spreading democracy but because of Bush's religious
beliefs about accelerating the coming of the Rapture. Am I getting
You are twisting my words. I didn't say that about Bush. I said the the reasons Bush went to war were not the reasons he gave: There were no weapons of mass destruction and there were no ties between Saddam Hussein and the World Trade Center. I also said there are a lot of people - 15 percent of the Bush electorate are people who believe in the Rapture - who believe that Jesus is coming again and that that belief diminishes their interest in addressing issues like the environment. I have no idea whether Bush subscribes to that, and would not want to suggest that he does. But I do know for a fact there are millions of people who are part of the conservative constituency, who believe the end-times theology that turns Earth into a transit station to heaven, and who actually believe the Rapture cannot come until certain biblical prophecies are fulfilled.
For those secular people
not in touch with the Rapture index, could you explain what that's
all about? Is this some fringe group of nut balls or is this more
mainstream and we just don't know about it?
I do not look at them as nuts. They are perfectly sincere; they believe the Bible is literally true. I would never describe them as nuts. Some of them are my cousins.
But you are describing a
relatively extreme worldview and I'm trying to get a sense of
how many people hold it.
According to a Gallup poll, one-third of the American electorate believes the Bible is literally true. Among that one-third, there are millions who believe the prophecies in the Book of Revelation. And they believe in the Rapture index. The best-selling books in America today are the 12 volumes of the Left Behind series written by Christian fundamentalist and religious right-winger Timothy LaHaye [co-written with Jerry Jenkins]. These true believers believe that once Israel has occupied the rest of its biblical land, legions of the antichrist will attack, triggering a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon. Those Jews who have not converted will be burned and the Messiah will return for the Rapture. I'm not making this up. These people are sincere, serious, polite people who will tell you they feel called to help bring the Rapture on as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. That's one reason they've declared solidarity with Israel as a Jewish settlement and backed up their support with money and volunteers. They see war in the Middle East as not something to be feared but welcomed because it's part of the biblical prophecy.
You write a lot about the
right-wing media and right-wing Christianity. Is there a connection
there, and do you find it odd that the right-wing conservative
networks have led the charge in smutifying the airwaves and that
they led the T&A quotient?
It's so interesting that one of the chief critics of smut in television, Brent Bozell, who runs a right-wing media watch group [Media Research Center], is silent when it comes to the public standards of Rupert Murdoch's sleaze empire. They do have a double standard. They are silent about the fact that it's capitalism, and that it's the media tycoons who are polluting the public sphere.
To what extent do you feel
that the left has ignored that issue at their own peril? That
there is a genuine and sincere outrage over the pornification
of the airwaves and that it's not just right-wing Christians who
This is not a monolithic country, contrary to what people feel. This is not a left or a right country. The networks wouldn't be making money if there wasn't a large percentage of people who watch and appreciate that stuff.
The Christian right has
been around for a long time. But it seems it's gained new intensity.
Is this a function of the gay marriage issue or is there something
else that accounts for its current strength?
Not all Christians are the same. There are evangelical Christians who believe in stewardship of the environment and there are fundamentalist Christians who believe that the environment is just a passing phenomenon and we ought not to pay any attention to it. It is a great danger in America that we have allowed simplistic bumper-sticker notions to dominate what is a complex society with a lot of different views. I just read a letter from a guy in Indiana who home-schools his children and goes to church every Sunday and deplores what happens in popular culture but is a liberal when it comes to economics. I know there are a lot of people who are conservatives and Christians who do not share the Republican ideology.
Why don't we hear from them?
The mainstream media doesn't give a damn. It wants the most flamboyant outspoken sensational Pat Robertson it can get.
So is the only option for
them to get their own media outlets, kind of like Al Franken is
doing with Air America?
I don't think that will be possible. They don't have the money, for one thing, and secondly most of the outlets are taken up. If a group of [liberal] churches were to try to provide an alternative, it's too late. The stage has been bought, the arena's been filled.
Thanks for the grim picture.
Where do you get your news?
I use the Internet widely and I read 10-12 newspapers every week and 50 magazines every month. I scan them. You have to work hard to stay informed in this society. You can't take any one newspaper or any one magazine and expect to be informed. You have to work at it. Anybody who has the energy and the time and the will can be informed today. But you can't do it by listening to one broadcast or watching one cable channel or reading one newspaper. You really have to become your own editor today. I think that's both exhilarating and exhausting. It is also a necessity. You can't rely on the networks. You have to read the other side and listen to the other side. I spend as much time with conservative Web sites and conservative journals as I do with the New York Times, Washington Post, or the L.A. Times.
You worked for Lyndon Johnson,
who was destroyed by the antiwar movement despite being some sort
of Machiavellian genius. Bush on the other hand hasn't been fazed
by the antiwar movement, even though there were hundreds of thousands
of people protesting since long before we even went to war. What's
Bush got that LBJ didn't?
He's got a contained war for one thing, and a war without a draft, for another thing. Iraq is not Vietnam. We made the same mistakes we made in Vietnam. Their information and judgment is no better than ours was in Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson misinterpreted the events in the Gulf of Tonkin and too quickly committed the U.S. to escalating the war on the basis of inadequate information. That's what they did in Iraq. But for sheer scale and scope, Vietnam was far beyond what Iraq is. Unfortunately, it's been very destructive to the Iraqi people, but because of embedded journalism and terrorism, the public doesn't see or care about what's happened to Iraqi citizens. You had 55,000 Americans killed in Vietnam - 1,400 killed in Iraq. The sheer scale of the violence and the death and destruction in Vietnam - which was a well-covered war - brought home to Americans the immorality of that war. The ends did not justify the means. You've also got a more compliant press. Lyndon Johnson railed against journalists but he never tried to keep them from being in Vietnam. That was a war under a looking glass. And Iraq has been very carefully censored. And very carefully contained, and successfully kept largely off the radar screen.
Seymour Hersh talks of Vietnam
being a tactical war, Iraq being a strategic war - meaning that
the stakes are a lot higher than in Vietnam.
This war was sold to us as a means of containing terrorism and has actually created more terrorism. It's inflaming the Muslim world in a way that Vietnam didn't inflame the rest of the world. Let me put it this way: Iraq is a war with consequences for billions of people who don't live there. Vietnam was largely a war with terrible consequences for the people who fought and the people who lived there but it didn't have a great fallout for the rest of the world. It's dangerous to read any historical event into the present reality. But it is possible you can learn from the past, and that lesson is: Be damn sure of your information. A war is too terrible to undertake on a mere suspicion.
Do you see this mushrooming
beyond the scope of Vietnam?
I don't think anyone knows right now the extent to which downstream consequences of the policies in Iraq will create continuing alienation and vengeance on the part of the Muslim world. It's our policies that are driving so many people to hate us. Some of that's unjustified, some of it isn't. But you're asking questions that will take journalists 50 years from now to answer.
You're a Texan. LBJ was
a Texan. Bush is a Texan. There's all this myth about Texas. Does
that give any edge in understanding this guy? Or is Bush really
a Texan or just an East Coast Brahmin masquerading as a Texan?
He's Texanized American politics. I was never fooled by it, but if you go home to Texas today, it's a Christian empire. The state of Texas is a Christian nation. Conservative Christians dominate everything there. I don't know Bush. I've never met him. I don't know if he's a likable man or not. But I know if I met him I would ask him, "How can you grow up well-churched and well-loved and well-taught and be so utterly insensitive to other people's reality? How can you be so indifferent to people?" He's a privileged man who is the ally of people who are trying to undo the social contract in this country and to take us back to the pre-1932 period, when it was every man for himself and American economic strategy was to let the animal spirits of capitalism run and everyone take the consequences. I do not understand that. Except to say that if a son of privilege cannot see beyond his own prerogatives and is therefore unable to feel and see how life is for others, then that's a tragedy and a political travesty.
The road to hell is paved
with good intentions. Do you think it's possible that whatever
Bush's true intentions were in Iraq, they might lead to a free
I hope things go well in Iraq. Too many people have died and too much suffering has occurred and too much treasure spent for it not to. I do not think you should go to war based on a suspicion, as I said earlier; but having gone, I certainly don't want the people who have been beheading their own people to win. It remains to be seen if we wind up with a theocracy or not. But again, it is too early to predict the outcome of the forces that have been let loose in Iraq.
If you were a young man
coming up today, do you think you'd go into journalism again?
If you want to go cover Michael Jackson, I guess yes. But if you want to be a serious student and analyst of the world, if you want to do really good journalism and journalism that tells the truth as you see it, then broadcast journalism is not the place to go today. There are still good newspapers. If you're young today and you have a fire in your belly, you've got to follow it because it's that fire that will sustain you in moments of low wages, in the face of indifferent editors and hostile owners, and a public at large that doesn't care. But if it were me, I'd probably do the same thing over again.
Bill Moyers: In Conversation
with Naomi Shihab Nye,
Tuesday, March 1, 8 p.m.,
UCSB's Campbell Hall.
t r u t h o u t | Rebuttal
Bill Moyers | NOW
Moyers on O'Reilly
Wednesday, 4 December, 2002
In a recent column and broadcast Bill O'Reilly makes a number of assertions about me, in matters large and small, that are both undocumented and false. It's time to set the record straight.
First, on a rather trivial level, Mr. O'Reilly asserted that I refused to come to the phone when he called. He's not telling the truth. One of his staff called my assistant to ask if I would appear on Mr. O'Reilly's show, but I declined. I would never refuse a call from Mr. O'Reilly, although my ears are not quite tuned to his decibel level.
Mr. O'Reilly says I called him a warmonger. He is not telling the truth. Here's what happened: In the aftermath of 9/11 Mr. O'Reilly, from his battle station at Fox, was calling for the United States "to bomb the Afghan infrastructure to rubble, the airport, the power plants, the water facilities, the roads." He went on to describe Afghanistan as "a very primitive country" and to say "taking out their ability to exist day-to-day will not be hard. Remember the people of any country are ultimately responsible for the government they have. The Germans were responsible for Hitler, the Afghans are responsible for the Taliban. We should not target civilians but if they don't rise up against this criminal government, they starve, period."
I puzzled over Mr. O'Reilly's glib wish to make people endure "yet another round of intense pain" when the incredible suffering they were already enduring came from a totalitarian regime that kept them subjugated with terror and torture. It would be like punishing the inmates of Auschwitz and Buchenwald with further starvation and humiliation because they did not rise up against their Nazi guards. In the coming fight against terrorists, such a cruel disposition to visit pain on helpless people would make us like them and create sympathy and allies for their cause. In a speech soon thereafter I pointed out that "Afghanistan is a wasted land, full more of widows than warriors and that the people there have been so beaten down and run over and oppressed and exploited by the Taliban" that they couldn't possibly rise up against the theocratic thugs ruling them, as Mr. O'Reilly said they must or be savaged once again, this time by Americans. His passion, I noted, is equaled "only by his stubborn, ignorant denial of complexity." As the transcript of the speech shows, I did not call Mr. O'Reilly a warmonger. It didn't occur to me.
Mr. O'Reilly went on to inform the readers of his column that I own the videos to my programs which are funded by public television and that "[Moyers] sells the videocassettes, keeping the proceeds." Once again he is not telling the truth. Public television rarely funds my work - I raise the money myself, from independent sources - but when it does, as with the case of my weekly series NOW with Bill Moyers (Friday nights at 9 p.m. on Channel 13), PBS owns the distribution rights, the proceeds remain with public television, and my share is miniscule.
True to form, Mr. O'Reilly is also failing to tell the truth when he alleges that I received the duPont-Columbia Gold Baton Award in 2000 for my documentary on South Africa because the Schumann Foundation, which I head, "had been giving the Columbia Journalism Review big donation money." If Mr. O'Reilly had any interest in the facts, he could easily have ascertained that the Columbia Journalism Review doesn't select recipients of the duPont-Columbia Awards, and that the Schumann grant had been made four years earlier when the magazine faced a serious financial crisis and might well have disappeared. The Columbia Journalism Review's editor and dean when the grant was given were no longer around at the time of the Gold Baton Award. A little research would also have revealed that my work had received eight duPont-Columbia Awards before my association with the Schumann Foundation and before any Schumann grant to the Columbia Journalism Review. The magazine, I am pleased to report, survived the financial crisis and will no doubt survive Mr. O'Reilly's attacks.
As I say, Mr. O'Reilly could have ascertained all of this with just a little homework, but the facts would have cramped his style and the truth seems hardly his intent. He is not even original as a prevaricator. Most of his column is lifted from the work of another David Brock wannabe, Stephen Hayes, who poured out his spleen on me some months ago in that other bastion of Rupert Murdoch's journalistic ethics, The Weekly Standard. Although I refuted the lies and errors in that tirade, Mr. O'Reilly recycles Mr. Hayes' lies but not my refutation. And what's more, Mr. O'Reilly ignores what's on the record. The dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, Tom Goldstein, and the publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, David Laventhol, wrote The Weekly Standard to debunk "Stephen Hayes' ludicrous attempt to link the Columbia Journalism Review's praise of Bill Moyers to a grant from the Schumann Foundation." Employing his usual journalistic standards, Mr. O'Reilly never mentioned the letter.
What to make of this?
I report. You decide.
For more on the endless prevarications of Bill O'Reilly, read Al Franken's LIES AND THE LYING LIARS WHO TELL THEM ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
by Bill Moyers Founding Director, Public Affairs Television President, The Schumann Center for Media and Democracy Madison, Wisconsin Published on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
Thank you for inviting me tonight. I'm flattered to be speaking to a gathering as high-powered as this one that's come together with an objective as compelling as "media reform." I must confess, however, to a certain discomfort, shared with other journalists, about the very term "media." Ted Gup, who teaches journalism at Case Western Reserve, articulated my concerns better than I could when he wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education (November 23, 2001)
that the very concept of media is insulting to some of us within the press who find ourselves lumped in with so many disparate elements, as if everyone with a pen, a microphone, a camera, or just a loud voice were all one and the same. David Broder is not Matt Drudge. "Meet the Press" is not "Temptation Island." And I am not Jerry Springer. I do not speak for him. He does not speak for me. Yet 'the media" speaks for us all.
That's how I felt when I saw Oliver North reporting on Fox from Iraq, pressing our embattled troops to respond to his repetitive and belittling question, "Does Fox Rock? Does Fox Rock?" Oliver North and I may be in the same "media" but we are not part of the same message. Nonetheless, I accept that I work and all of us live in "medialand," and God knows we need some "media reform." I'm sure you know those two words are really an incomplete description of the job ahead. Taken alone, they suggest that you've assembled a convention of efficiency experts, tightening the bolts and boosting the output of the machinery of public enlightenment, or else a conclave of high-minded do-gooders applauding each other's sermons. But we need to be and we will be much more than that. Because what we're talking about is nothing less than rescuing a democracy that is so polarized it is in danger of being paralyzed and pulverized.
Alarming words, I know. But the realities we face should trigger alarms. Free and responsible government by popular consent just can't exist without an informed public. That's a cliché, I know, but I agree with the presidential candidate who once said that truisms are true and clichés mean what they say (an observation that no doubt helped to lose him the election.) It's a reality: democracy can't exist without an informed public. Here's an example: Only 13% of eligible young people cast ballots in the last presidential election. A recent National Youth Survey revealed that only half of the fifteen hundred young people polled believe that voting is important, and only 46% think they can make a difference in solving community problems. We're talking here about one quarter of the electorate. The Carnegie Corporation conducted a youth challenge quiz of l5-24 year-olds and asked them, "Why don't more young people vote or get involved?" Of the nearly two thousand respondents, the main answer was that they did not have enough information about issues and candidates. Let me rewind and say it again: democracy can't exist without an informed public. So I say without qualification that it's not simply the cause of journalism that's at stake today, but the cause of American liberty itself. As Tom Paine put it, "The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth." He was talking about the cause of a revolutionary America in 1776. But that revolution ran in good part on the energies of a rambunctious, though tiny press. Freedom and freedom of communications were birth-twins in the future United States. They grew up together, and neither has fared very well in the other's absence. Boom times for the one have been boom times for the other.
Yet today, despite plenty of lip service on every ritual occasion to freedom of the press radio and TV, three powerful forces are undermining that very freedom, damming the streams of significant public interest news that irrigate and nourish the flowering of self-determination. The first of these is the centuries-old reluctance of governments even elected governments to operate in the sunshine of disclosure and criticism. The second is more subtle and more recent. It's the tendency of media giants, operating on big-business principles, to exalt commercial values at the expense of democratic value. That is, to run what Edward R. Murrow forty-five years ago called broadcasting's "money-making machine" at full throttle. In so doing they are squeezing out the journalism that tries to get as close as possible to the verifiable truth; they are isolating serious coverage of public affairs into ever-dwindling "news holes" or far from prime- time; and they are gobbling up small and independent publications competing for the attention of the American people.
It's hardly a new or surprising story. But there are fresh and disturbing chapters.
In earlier times our governing bodies tried to squelch journalistic freedom with the blunt instruments of the law padlocks for the presses and jail cells for outspoken editors and writers. Over time, with spectacular wartime exceptions, the courts and the Constitution struck those weapons out of their hands. But they've found new ones now, in the name of "national security." The classifier's Top Secret stamp, used indiscriminately, is as potent a silencer as a writ of arrest. And beyond what is officially labeled "secret" there hovers a culture of sealed official lips, opened only to favored media insiders: of government by leak and innuendo and spin, of misnamed "public information" offices that churn out blizzards of releases filled with self-justifying exaggerations and, occasionally, just plain damned lies. Censorship without officially appointed censors.
Add to that the censorship-by-omission of consolidated media empires digesting the bones of swallowed independents, and you've got a major shrinkage of the crucial information that thinking citizens can act upon. People saw that coming as long as a century ago when the rise of chain newspaper ownerships, and then of concentration in the young radio industry, became apparent. And so in the zesty progressivism of early New Deal days, the Federal Communications Act of 1934 was passed (more on this later.) The aim of that cornerstone of broadcast policy, mentioned over 100 times in its pages, was to promote the "public interest, convenience and necessity." The clear intent was to prevent a monopoly of commercial values from overwhelming democratic values to assure that the official view of reality corporate or government was not the only view of reality that reached the people. Regulators and regulated, media and government were to keep a wary eye on each other, preserving those checks and balances that is the bulwark of our Constitutional order.
What would happen, however, if the contending giants of big government and big publishing and broadcasting ever joined hands? Ever saw eye to eye in putting the public's need for news second to free-market economics? That's exactly what's happening now under the ideological banner of "deregulation." Giant megamedia conglomerates that our founders could not possibly have envisioned are finding common cause with an imperial state in a betrothal certain to produce not the sons and daughters of liberty but the very kind of bastards that issued from the old arranged marriage of church and state.
Consider where we are today.
Never has there been an administration so disciplined in secrecy, so precisely in lockstep in keeping information from the people at large and in defiance of the Constitution from their representatives in Congress. Never has the so powerful a media oligopoly the word is Barry Diller's, not mine been so unabashed in reaching like Caesar for still more wealth and power. Never have hand and glove fitted together so comfortably to manipulate free political debate, sow contempt for the idea of government itself, and trivialize the people's need to know. When the journalist-historian Richard Reeves was once asked by a college student to define "real news", he answered: "The news you and I need to keep our freedoms." When journalism throws in with power that's the first news marched by censors to the guillotine. The greatest moments in the history of the press came not when journalists made common cause with the state but when they stood fearlessly independent of it.
Which brings me to the third powerful force beyond governmental secrecy and megamedia conglomerates that is shaping what Americans see, read, and hear. I am talking now about that quasi-official partisan press ideologically linked to an authoritarian administration that in turn is the ally and agent of the most powerful interests in the world. This convergence dominates the marketplace of political ideas today in a phenomenon unique in our history. You need not harbor the notion of a vast, right wing conspiracy to think this more collusion more than pure coincidence. Conspiracy is unnecessary when ideology hungers for power and its many adherents swarm of their own accord to the same pot of honey. Stretching from the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal to the faux news of Rupert Murdoch's empire to the nattering nabobs of know-nothing radio to a legion of think tanks paid for and bought by conglomerates the religious, partisan and corporate right have raised a mighty megaphone for sectarian, economic, and political forces that aim to transform the egalitarian and democratic ideals embodied in our founding documents. Authoritarianism. With no strong opposition party to challenge such triumphalist hegemony, it is left to journalism to be democracy's best friend. That is why so many journalists joined with you in questioning Michael Powell's bid blessed by the White House to permit further concentration of media ownership. If free and independent journalism committed to telling the truth without fear or favor is suffocated, the oxygen goes out of democracy. And there is a surer way to intimidate and then silence mainstream journalism than to be the boss.
If you doubt me, read Jane Kramer's chilling account in the current New Yorker of Silvio Berlusconi. The Prime Minister of Italy is its richest citizen. He is also its first media mogul. The list of media that he or his relatives or his proxies own, or directly or indirectly control, includes the state television networks and radio stations, three of Italy's four commercial television networks, two big publishing houses, two national newspapers, fifty magazines, the country's largest movie production-and-distribution company, and a chunk of its Internet services. Even now he is pressing upon parliament a law that would enable him to purchase more media properties, including the most influential paper in the country. Kramer quotes one critic who says that half the reporters in Italy work for Berlusconi, and the other half think they might have to. Small wonder he has managed to put the Italian State to work to guarantee his fortune or that his name is commonly attached to such unpleasant things as contempt for the law, conflict of interest, bribery, and money laundering. Nonetheless, "his power over what other Italians see, read, buy, and, above all, think, is overwhelming." The editor of The Economist, Bill Emmott, was asked recently why a British magazine was devoting so much space to an Italian Prime Minister. He replied that Berlusconi had betrayed the two things the magazine stood for: capitalism and democracy. Can it happen here? It can happen here. By the way, Berlusconi's close friend is Rupert Murdoch. On July 3lst this year, writes Jane Kramer, programming on nearly all the satellite hookups in Italy was switched automatically to Murdoch's Sky Italia
So the issues bringing us here tonight are bigger and far more critical than simply "media reform." That's why, before I go on, I want to ask you to look around you. I'm serious: Look to your left and now to your right. You are looking at your allies in one of the great ongoing struggles of the American experience the struggle for the soul of democracy, for government "of, by, and for the people."
It's a battle we can win only if we work together. We've seen that this year. Just a few months ago the FCC, heavily influenced by lobbyists for the newspaper, broadcasting and cable interests, prepared a relaxation of the rules governing ownership of media outlets that would allow still more diversity-killing mergers among media giants. The proceedings were conducted in virtual secrecy, and generally ignored by all the major media, who were of course interested parties. In June Chairman Powell and his two Republican colleagues on the FCC announced the revised regulations as a done deal.
But they didn't count on the voice of independent journalists and citizens like you. Because of coverage in independent outlets including PBS, which was the only broadcasting system that encouraged its journalists to report what was really happening and because citizens like you took quick action, this largely invisible issue burst out as a major political cause and ignited a crackling public debate. You exposed Powell's failure to conduct an open discussion of the rule changes save for a single hearing in Richmond, Virginia. Your efforts led to a real participatory discussion, with open meetings in Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Atlanta. Then the organizing that followed generated millions of letters and "filings"at the FCC opposing the change. Finally, the outcry mobilized unexpected support for bi-partisan legislation to reverse the new rules that cleared the Senate although House Majority Leader Tom De Lay still holds it prisoner in the House. But who would have thought six months ago that the cause would win support from such allies as Senator Trent Lott or Kay Bailey Hutchinson, from my own Texas. You have moved "media reform" to center-stage, where it may even now become a catalyst for a new era of democratic renewal.
We working journalists have something special to bring to this work. This weekend at your conference there will be plenty of good talk about the mechanics of reform. What laws are needed? What advocacy programs and strategies? How can we protect and extend the reach of those tools that give us some countervailing power against media monopoly instruments like the Internet, cable TV, community-based radio and public broadcasting systems, alternative journals of news and opinion.
But without passion, without a message that has a beating heart, these won't be enough. There's where journalism comes in. It isn't the only agent of freedom, obviously; in fact, journalism is a deeply human and therefore deeply flawed craft yours truly being a conspicuous example. But at times it has risen to great occasions, and at times it has made other freedoms possible. That's what the draftsmen of the First Amendment knew and it's what we can't afford to forget. So to remind us of what our free press has been at its best and can be again, I will call on the help of unseen presences, men and women of journalism's often checkered but sometimes courageous past.
Think with me for a moment on the reasons behind the establishment of press freedom. It wasn't ordained to protect hucksters, and it didn't drop like the gentle rain from heaven. It was fought and sacrificed for by unpretentious but feisty craftsmen who got their hands inky at their own hand presses and called themselves simply "printers." The very first American newspaper was a little three-page affair put out in Boston in September of 1690. Its name was Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick and its editor was Benjamin Harris, who said he simply wanted "to give an account of such considerable things as have come to my attention." The government shut it down after one issue just one issue! for the official reason that printer Ben Harris hadn't applied for the required government license to publish. But I wonder if some Massachusetts pooh-bah didn't take personally one of Harris's proclaimed motives for starting the paper "to cure the spirit of Lying much among us"?
No one seems to have objected when Harris and his paper disappeared that was the way things were. But some forty-odd years later when printer John Peter Zenger was jailed in New York for criticizing its royal governor, things were different. The colony brought Zenger to trial on a charge of "seditious libel," and since it didn't matter whether the libel was true or not, the case seemed open and shut. But the jury ignored the judge's charge and freed Zenger, not only because the governor was widely disliked, but because of the closing appeal of Zenger's lawyer, Andrew Hamilton. Just hear him! His client's case was:
Not the cause of the poor Printer, nor of New York alone, [but] the cause of Liberty, and. . . every Man who prefers Freedom to a Life of Slavery will bless and honour You, as Men who. . .by an impartial and uncorrupt Verdict, [will] have laid a Noble Foundation for securing to ourselves, our Posterity and our Neighbors, That, to which Nature and the Laws of our Country have given us a Right, -- the Liberty both of exposing and opposing arbitrary Powerby speaking and writing Truth.
Still a pretty good mission statement!
During the War for Independence itself most of the three dozen little weekly newspapers in the colonies took the Patriot side and mobilized resistance by giving space to anti-British letters, news of Parliament's latest outrages, and calls to action. But the clarion journalistic voice of the Revolution was the onetime editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine, Tom Paine, a penniless recent immigrant from England where he left a trail of failure as a businessman and husband. In 1776 just before enlisting in Washington's army he published Common Sense, a hard-hitting pamphlet that slashed through legalisms and doubts to make an uncompromising case for an independent and republican America. It's been called the first best seller, with as many as 100,000 copies bought by a small literate population. Paine followed it up with another convincing collection of essays written in the field and given another punchy title, The Crisis. Passed from hand to hand and reprinted in other papers, they spread the gospel of freedom to thousands of doubters. And why I bring Paine up here is because he had something we need to restore an unwavering concentration to reach ordinary people with the message that they mattered and could stand up for themselves. He couched his gospel of human rights and equality in a popular style that any working writer can envy. "As it is my design," he said, "to make those that can scarcely read understand, I shall therefore avoid every literary ornament and put it in language as plain as the alphabet."
That plain language spun off memorable one-liners that we're still quoting. "These are the times that try men's souls." "Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered." "What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly." "Virtue is not hereditary." And this: "Of more worth is one honest man to society and in the sight of God than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived." I don't know what Paine would have thought of political debate by bumper sticker and sound bite but he could have held his own in any modern campaign.
There were also editors who felt responsible to audiences that would dive deep. In 1787 and '88 the little New-York Independent Advertiser ran all eighty-five numbers of The Federalist , those serious essays in favor of ratifying the Constitution. They still shine as clear arguments, but they are, and they were, unforgiving in their demand for concentrated attention. Nonetheless, The Advertiser felt that it owed the best to its readers, and the readers knew that the issues of self-government deserved their best attention. I pray your goal of "media reform" includes a press as conscientious as the New-York Advertiser, as pungent as Common Sense, and as public-spirited as both. Because it takes those qualities to fight against the relentless pressure of authority and avarice. Remember, back in l79l, when the First Amendment was ratified, the idea of a free press seemed safely sheltered in law. It wasn't. Only seven years later, in the midst of a war scare with France, Congress passed and John Adams signed the infamous Sedition Act. The act made it a crime just listen to how broad a brush the government could swing to circulate opinions "tending to induce a belief" that lawmakers might have unconstitutional or repressive motives, or "directly or indirectly tending" to justify France or to "criminate," whatever that meant, the President or other Federal officials. No wonder that opponents called it a scheme to "excite a fervor against foreign aggression only to establish tyranny at home." John Ashcroft would have loved it.
But here's what happened. At least a dozen editors refused to be frightened and went defiantly to prison, some under state prosecutions. One of them, Matthew Lyon, who also held a seat in the House of Representatives, languished for four months in an unheated cell during a Vermont winter. But such was the spirit of liberty abroad in the land that admirers chipped in to pay his thousand-dollar fine, and when he emerged his district re-elected him by a landslide. Luckily, the Sedition Act had a built-in expiration date of 1801, at which time President Jefferson who hated it from the first pardoned those remaining under indictment. So the story has an upbeat ending, and so can ours, but it will take the kind of courage that those early printers and their readers showed.
Courage is a timeless quality and surfaces when the government is tempted to hit the bottle of censorship again during national emergencies, real or manufactured. As so many of you will recall, in 1971, during the Vietnam War, the Nixon administration resurrected the doctrine of "prior restraint" from the crypt and tried to ban the publication of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times and the Washington Post even though the documents themselves were a classified history of events during four earlier Presidencies. Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of the Times, and Katherine Graham of the Post were both warned by their lawyers that they and their top managers could face criminal prosecution under espionage laws if they printed the material that Daniel Ellsberg had leaked and, by the way, offered without success to the three major television networks. Or at the least, punitive lawsuits or whatever political reprisals a furious Nixon team could devise. But after internal debates and the threats of some of their best-known editors to resign rather than fold under pressure both owners gave the green light and were vindicated by the Supreme Court. Score a round for democracy.
Bi-partisan fairness requires me to note that the Carter administration, in 1979, tried to prevent the Progressive magazine, published right here in Madison, from running an article called "How to Make an H-Bomb." The grounds were a supposed threat to "national security." But Howard Morland had compiled the piece entirely from sources open to the public, mainly to show that much of the classification system was Wizard of Oz smoke and mirrors. The courts again rejected the government's claim, but it's noteworthy that the journalism of defiance by that time had retreated to a small left-wing publication like the Progressive.
In all three of those cases, confronted with a clear and present danger of punishment, none of the owners flinched. Can we think of a single executive of today's big media conglomerates showing the kind of resistance that Sulzberger, Graham, and Erwin Knoll did? Certainly not Michael Eisner. He said he didn't even want ABC News reporting on its parent company, Disney. Certainly not General Electric/NBC's Robert Wright. He took Phil Donahue off MNBC because the network didn't want to offend conservatives with a liberal sensibility during the invasion of Iraq. Instead, NBC brought to its cable channel one Michael Savage whose diatribes on radio had described non-white countries as "turd-world nations" and who characterized gay men and women as part of "the grand plan to cut down on the white race." I am not sure what it says that the GE/NBC executives calculated that while Donahue was offensive to conservatives, Savage was not.
And then there's Leslie Moonves, the chairman of CBS. In the very week that the once-Tiffany Network was celebrating its 75th anniversary and taking kudos for its glory days when it was unafraid to broadcast "The Harvest of Shame" and "The Selling of the Pentagon" the network's famous eye blinked. Pressured by a vociferous and relentless right wing campaign and bullied by the Republican National Committee and at a time when its parent company has billions resting on whether the White House, Congress, and the FCC will allow it to own even more stations than currently permissible CBS caved in and pulled the miniseries about Ronald Reagan that conservatives thought insufficiently worshipful. The chief honcho at CBS, Les Moonves, says taste, not politics, dictated his decision. But earlier this year, explaining why CBS intended to air a series about Adolf Hitler, Moonves sang a different tune: "If you want to play it safe and put on milquetoast then you get criticized. There are times when as a broadcaster when you take chances." This obviously wasn't one of those times. Granted, made-for-television movies about living figures are about as vital as the wax figures at Madame Tussaud's and even less authentic granted that the canonizers of Ronald Reagan hadn't even seen the film before they set to howling; granted, on the surface it's a silly tempest in a teapot; still, when a once-great network falls obsequiously to the ground at the feet of a partisan mob over a cheesy mini-series that practically no one would have taken seriously as history, you have to wonder if the slight tremor that just ran through the First Amendment could be the harbinger of greater earthquakes to come, when the stakes are really high. And you have to wonder what concessions the media tycoons-cum-supplicants are making when no one is looking.
So what must we devise to make the media safe for individuals stubborn about protecting freedom and serving the truth? And what do we all educators, administrators, legislators and agitators need to do to restore the disappearing diversity of media opinions? America had plenty of that in the early days when the republic and the press were growing up together. It took no great amount of capital and credit just a few hundred dollars to start a paper, especially with a little political sponsorship and help. There were well over a thousand of them by 1840, mostly small-town weeklies. And they weren't objective by any stretch. Here's William Cobbett, another Anglo-American hell-raiser like Paine, shouting his creed in the opening number of his 1790s paper, Porcupine's Gazette. "Peter Porcupine," Cobbett's self-bestowed nickname, declared:
Professions of impartiality I shall make none. They are always useless, and are besides perfect nonsense, when used by a newsmonger; for, he that does not relate news as he finds it, is something worse than partial; and . . . he that does not exercise his own judgment, either in admitting or rejecting what is sent him, is a poor passive tool, and not an editor.
In Cobbett's day you could flaunt your partisan banners as you cut and thrust, and not inflict serious damage on open public discussion because there were plenty of competitors. It didn't matter if the local gazette presented the day's events entirely through a Democratic lens. There was always an alternate Whig or Republican choice handy there were, in other words, choices. As Alexis de Tocqueville noted, these many blooming journals kept even rural Americans amazingly well informed. They also made it possible for Americans to exercise one of their most democratic habits that of forming associations to carry out civic enterprises. And they operated against the dreaded tyranny of the majority by letting lonely thinkers know that they had allies elsewhere. Here's how de Tocqueville put it in his own words:
It often happens in democratic countries that many men who have the desire or directed toward that light, and those wandering spirits who had long sought each other the need to associate cannot do it, because all being very small and lost in the crowd, they do not see each other and do not know where to find each other. Up comes a newspaper that exposes to their view the sentiment or the idea that had been presented to each of them simultaneously but separately. All are immediately in the shadows finally meet each other and unite.
No wandering spirit could fail to find a voice in print. And so in that pre-Civil War explosion of humanitarian reform movements, it was a diverse press that put the yeast in freedom's ferment. Of course there were plenty of papers that spoke for Indian-haters, immigrant-bashers, bigots, jingoes and land-grabbers proclaiming America's Manifest Destiny to dominate North America. But one way or another, journalism mattered, and had purpose and direction.
Past and present are never as separate as we think. Horace Greeley, the reform-loving editor of the New York Tribune, not only kept his pages "ever open to the plaints of the wronged and suffering," but said that whoever sat in an editor's chair and didn't work to promote human progress hadn't tasted "the luxury" of journalism. I liken that to the words of a kindred spirit closer to our own time, I.F. Stone. In his four-page little I.F. Stone's Weekly, "Izzy" loved to catch the government's lies and contradictions in the government's own official documents. And amid the thunder of battle with the reactionaries, he said: "I have so much fun I ought to be arrested." Think about that. Two newsmen, a century apart, believing that being in a position to fight the good fight isn't a burden but a lucky break. How can our work here bring that attitude back into the newsrooms?
That era of a wide-open and crowded newspaper playing field began to fade as the old hand-presses gave way to giant machines with press runs and readerships in the hundreds of thousands and costs in the millions. But that didn't necessarily or immediately kill public spirited journalism. Not so long as the new owners were still strong-minded individuals with big professional egos to match their thick pocketbooks. When Joseph Pulitzer, a one-time immigrant reporter for a German-language paper in St. Louis, took over the New York World in 1883 he was already a millionaire in the making. But here's his recommended short platform for politicians:
2. Tax Inheritances
3. Tax Large Incomes
4. Tax monopolies
5. Tax the Privileged Corporation
6. A Tariff for Revenue
7. Reform the Civil Service
8. Punish Corrupt Officers
9. Punish Vote Buying.
10. Punish Employers who Coerce their Employees in Elections
Also not a bad mission statement. Can you imagine one of today's huge newspaper chains taking that on as an agenda?
Don't get me wrong. The World certainly offered people plenty of the spice that they wanted entertainment, sensation, earthy advice on living but not at the expense of news that let them know who was on their side against the boodlers and bosses.
Nor did big-time, big-town, big bucks journalism extinguish the possibility of a reform-minded investigative journalism that took the name of muckraking during the Progressive Era. Those days of early last century saw a second great awakening of the democratic impulse. What brought it into being was a reaction against the Social Darwinism and unrestrained capitalistic exploitation that is back in full force today. Certain popular magazines made space for and profited by the work of such journalists to name only a few as Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, Samuel Hopkins Adams and David Graham Phillips. They ripped the veils from among other things the shame of the cities, the crimes of the trusts, the treason of the Senate and the villainies of those who sold tainted meat and poisonous medicines. And why were they given those opportunities? Because, in the words of Samuel S. McClure, owner of McClure's Magazine, when special interests defied the law and flouted the general welfare, there was a social debt incurred. And, as he put it: "We have to pay in the end, every one of us. And in the end, the sum total of the debt will be our liberty."
Muckraking lingers on today, but alas, a good deal of it consists of raking personal and sexual scandal in high and celebrated places. Surely, if democracy is to be served, we have to get back to putting the rake where the important dirt lies, in the fleecing of the public and the abuse of its faith in good government.
When that landmark Communications Act of 1934 was under consideration a vigorous public movement of educators, labor officials, and religious and institutional leaders emerged to argue for a broadcast system that would serve the interests of citizens and communities. A movement like that is coming to life again and we now have to build on this momentum.
It won't be easy, because the tide's been flowing the other way for a long time. The deregulation pressure began during the Reagan era, when then-FCC chairman Mark Fowler, who said that TV didn't need much regulation because it was just a "toaster with pictures," eliminated many public-interest rules. That opened the door for networks to cut their news staffs, scuttle their documentary units (goodbye to "The Harvest of Shame" and "The Selling of the Pentagon"), and exile investigative producers and reporters to the under-funded hinterlands of independent production. It was like turning out searchlights on dark and dangerous corners. A crowning achievement of that drive was the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the largest corporate welfare program ever for the most powerful media and entertainment conglomerates in the world passed, I must add, with support from both parties.
And the beat of "convergence" between once-distinct forms of media goes on at increased tempo, with the communications conglomerates and the advertisers calling the tune. As safeguards to competition fall, an octopus like GE-NBC-Vivendi-Universal will be able to secure cable channels that can deliver interactive multimedia content text, sound and images to digital TVs, home computers, personal video recorders and portable wireless devices like cell phones. The goal? To corner the market on new ways of selling more things to more people for more hours in the day. And in the long run, to fill the airwaves with customized pitches to you and your children. That will melt down the surviving boundaries between editorial and marketing divisions and create a hybrid known to the new-media hucksters as "branded entertainment."
Let's consider what's happening to newspapers. A study by Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America reports that two-thirds of today's newspaper markets are monopolies. And now most of the country's powerful newspaper chains are lobbying for co-ownership of newspaper and broadcast outlets in the same market, increasing their grip on community after community. And are they up-front about it? Hear this: Last December 3 such media giants as The New York Times, Gannett, Cox, and Tribune, along with the trade group representing almost all the country's broadcasting stations, filed a petition to the FCC making the case for that cross ownership the owners so desperately seek. They actually told the FCC that lifting the regulation on cross ownership would strengthen local journalism. But did those same news organizations tell their readers what they were doing? Not all. None of them on that day believed they had an obligation to report in their own news pages what their parent companies were asking of the FCC. As these huge media conglomerates increase their control over what we see, read, and hear, they rarely report on how they are themselves are using their power to further their own interests and power as big business, including their influence over the political process.
Take a look at a new book called Leaving Readers Behind: The Age of Corporate Newspapering published as part of the Project on the State of the American Newspaper under the auspices of the Pew Charitable Trusts. The people who produced the book all love newspapers Gene Roberts, former managing editor of The New York Times; Thomas Kunkel, dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism; Charles Layton, a veteran wire service reporter and news and feature editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as contributors such as Ken Auletta, Geneva Overholser, and Roy Reed. Their conclusion: the newspaper industry is in the middle of the most momentous change in its three hundred year history a change that is diminishing the amount of real news available to the consumer. A generation of relentless corporatization is now culminating in a furious, unprecedented blitz of buying, selling and consolidating of newspapers, from the mightiest dailies to the humblest weeklies. It is a world where "small hometown dailies in particular are being bought and sold like hog futures. Where chains, once content to grow one property at a time, now devour other chains whole. Where they are effectively ceding whole regions of the country to one another, further minimizing competition. Where money is pouring into the business from interests with little knowledge and even less concern about the special obligations newspapers have to democracy." They go on to describe the toll that the never-ending drive ofr profits is taking on the news. In Cumberland, Maryland, for example, the police reporter had so many duties piled upon him he no longer had time to go to the police station for the daily reports. But newspaper management had a cost-saving solution: put a fax machine in the police station and let the cops send over the news they thought the paper should have. In New Jersey, the Gannett chain bought the Asbury Park Press, then sent in a publisher who slashed fifty five people from the staff and cut the space for news, and was rewarded by being named Gannett's Manager of the Year. In New Jersey, by the way, the Newhouse and Gannett chains between them now own thirteen of the state's nineteen dailies, or seventy three percent of all the circulation of New Jersey-based papers. Then there is The Northwestern in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with a circulation of 23,500. Here, the authors report, is a paper that prided itself on being in hometown hands since the Johnson administration the Andrew Johnson administration. But in 1998 it was sold not once but twice, within the space of two months. Two years later it was sold again: four owners in less than three years.
You'd better get used to it, concluded Leaving Readers Behind, because the real momentum of consolidation is just beginning it won't be long now before America is reduced to half a dozen major print conglomerates.
You can see the results even now in the waning of robust journalism. In the dearth of in-depth reporting as news organizations try to do more with fewer resources. In the failure of the major news organizations to cover their own corporate deals and lobbying as well as other forms of "crime in the suites" such as Enron story. And in helping people understand what their government is up to. The report by the Roberts team includes a survey in l999 that showed a wholesale retreat in coverage of nineteen key departments and agencies in Washington. Regular reporting of the Supreme Court and State Department dropped off considerably through the decade. At the Social Security Administration, whose activities literally affect every American, only the New York Times was maintaining a full-time reporter and, incredibly, at the Interior Department, which controls five to six hundred million acres of public land and looks after everything from the National Park Service to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, there were no full-time reporters around.
That's in Washington, our nation's capital. Out across the country there is simultaneously a near blackout of local politics by broadcasters. The public interest group Alliance for Better Campaigns studied forty-five stations in six cities in one week in October. Out of 7,560 hours of programming analyzed, only 13 were devoted to local public affairs less than one-half of 1% of local programming nationwide. Mayors, town councils, school boards, civic leaders get no time from broadcasters who have filled their coffers by looting the public airwaves over which they were placed as stewards. Last year, when a movement sprang up in the House of Representatives to require these broadcasters to obey the law that says they must sell campaign advertising to candidates for office at the lowest commercial rate, the powerful broadcast lobby brought the Congress to heel. So much for the "public interest, convenience, and necessity."
So what do we do? What is our strategy for taking on what seems a hopeless fight for a media system that serves as effectively as it sells one that holds all the institutions of society, itself included, accountable?
There's plenty we can do. Here's one journalist's list of some of the overlapping and connected goals that a vital media reform movement might pursue.
First, we have to take Tom Paine's example and Danny Schecter's advice and reach out to regular citizens. We have to raise an even bigger tent than you have here. Those of us in this place speak a common language about the "media." We must reach the audience that's not here carry the fight to radio talk shows, local television, and the letters columns of our newspapers. As Danny says, we must engage the mainstream, not retreat from it. We have to get our fellow citizens to understand that what they see, hear, and read is not only the taste of programmers and producers but also a set of policy decisions made by the people we vote for.
We have to fight to keep the gates to the Internet open to all. The web has enabled many new voices in our democracy and globally to be heard: advocacy groups, artists, individuals, non-profit organizations. Just about anyone can speak online, and often with an impact greater than in the days when orators had to climb on soap box in a park. The media industry lobbyists point to the Internet and say it's why concerns about media concentration are ill founded in an environment where anyone can speak and where there are literally hundreds of competing channels. What those lobbyists for big media don't tell you is that the traffic patterns of the online world are beginning to resemble those of television and radio. In one study, for example, AOL Time Warner (as it was then known) accounted for nearly a third of all user time spent online. And two others companies Yahoo and Microsoft bring that figure to fully 50%. As for the growing number of channels available on today's cable systems, most are owned by a small handful of companies. Of the ninety-one major networks that appear on most cable systems, 79 are part of such multiple network groups such as Time Warner, Viacom, Liberty Media, NBC, and Disney. In order to program a channel on cable today, you must either be owned by or affiliated with one of the giants. If we're not vigilant the wide-open spaces of the Internet could be transformed into a system in which a handful of companies use their control over high-speed access to ensure they remain at the top of the digital heap in the broadband era at the expense of the democratic potential of this amazing technology. So we must fight to make sure the Internet remains open to all as the present-day analogue of that many-tongued world of small newspapers so admired by de Tocqueville.
We must fight for a regulatory, market and public opinion environment that lets local and community-based content be heard rather than drowned out by nationwide commercial programming.
We must fight to limit conglomerate swallowing of media outlets by sensible limits on multiple and cross-ownership of TV and radio stations, newspapers, magazines, publishing companies and other information sources. Let the message go forth: No Berlusconis in America!
We must fight to expand a noncommercial media system something made possible in part by new digital spectrum awarded to PBS stations and fight off attempts to privatize what's left of public broadcasting. Commercial speech must not be the only free speech in America!
We must fight to create new opportunities, through public policies and private agreements, to let historically marginalized media players into more ownership of channels and control of content.
Let us encourage traditional mainstream journalism to get tougher about keeping a critical eye on those in public and private power and keeping us all informed of what's important not necessarily simple or entertaining or good for the bottom line. Not all news is "Entertainment Tonight." And news departments are trustees of the public, not the corporate media's stockholders
In that last job, schools of journalism and professional news associations have their work cut out. We need journalism graduates who are not only better informed in a whole spectrum of special fields and the schools do a competent job there but who take from their training a strong sense of public service. And also graduates who are perhaps a little more hard-boiled and street-smart than the present crop, though that's hard to teach. Thanks to the high cost of education, we get very few recruits from the ranks of those who do the world's unglamorous and low-paid work. But as a onetime "cub" in a very different kind of setting, I cherish H.L. Mencken's description of what being a young Baltimore reporter a hundred years ago meant to him. "I was at large," he wrote,
in a wicked seaport of half a million people with a front seat at every public . . [B]y all orthodox cultural standards I probably reached my all-time low, for the heavy reading of my teens had been abandoned in favor of life itself. . .But it would be an exaggeration to say I was ignorant, for if I neglected the humanities I was meanwhile laying in all the worldly wisdom of a police lieutenant, a bartender, a shyster lawyer or a midwife.
We need some of that worldly wisdom in our newsrooms. Let's figure out how to attract youngsters who have acquired it.
And as for those professional associations of editors they might remember that in union there is strength. One journalist alone can't extract from an employer a commitment to let editors and not accountants choose the appropriate subject matter for coverage. But what if news councils blew the whistle on shoddy or cowardly managements? What if foundations gave magazines such as the Columbia Journalism Review sufficient resources to spread their stories of journalistic bias, failure or incompetence? What if entire editorial departments simply refused any longer to quote anonymous sources or give Kobe Bryant's trial more than the minimal space it rates by any reasonable standard or to run stories planted by the Defense Department and impossible, for alleged security reasons, to verify? What if a professional association backed them to the hilt? Or required the same stance from all its members? It would take courage to confront powerful ownerships that way. But not as much courage as is asked of those brave journalists in some countries who face the dungeon, the executioner or the secret assassin for speaking out.
All this may be in the domain of fantasy. And then again, maybe not. What I know to be real is that we are in for the fight of our lives. I am not a romantic about democracy or journalism; the writer Andre Gide may have been right when he said that all things human, given time, go badly. But I know journalism and democracy are deeply linked in whatever chance we human beings have to redress our grievances, renew our politics, and reclaim our revolutionary ideals. Those are difficult tasks at any time, and they are even more difficult in a cynical age as this, when a deep and pervasive corruption has settled upon the republic. But too much is at stake for our spirits to flag. Earlier this week the Library of Congress gave the first Kluge Lifetime Award in the Humanities to the Polish philosopher Leslie Kolakowski. In an interview Kolakowski said: "There is one freedom on which all other liberties depend and that is freedom of expression, freedom of speech, of print. If this is taken away, no other freedom can exist, or at least it would be soon suppressed."
That's the flame of truth your movement must carry forward. I am older than almost all of you and am not likely to be around for the duration; I have said for several years now that I will retire from active journalism when I turn 70 next year. But I take heart from the presence in this room, unseen, of Peter Zenger, Thomas Paine, the muckrakers, I.F. Stone and all those heroes and heroines, celebrated or forgotten, who faced odds no less than ours and did not flinch. I take heart in your presence here. It's your fight now. Look around. You are not alone.
First, a confession: I haven't seen Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11." It's not that I haven't wanted to; it's just that I have not been able to tear myself away from the real show-the political theatre playing out in full sight right before our eyes. Who needs a movie when you have the news?
Michael Moore's weird alright, but not as weird as Michael Powell, our cartel-loving chairman of the Federal Communications Commission whose idea of the press seems to be channeling William Randolph Hearst.
Michael Moore's outrageous, but not as outrageous as George W. Bush and Tom DeLay conspiring to let the ban on killer assault weapons expire. Bush says he doesn't like all that loaded hardware lying around, but it's up to the House of Representatives to vote. The aptly named Tom DeLay, the House Majority Leader, on the other hand, says-wink, wink-he can't let a vote happen because Bush hasn't asked him to. After you, Alphonse; after you, Gaston - and will the last man out please turn on the lights?
Michael Moore has a keen eye for the absurd; I know that from his earlier wickedly funny films. But we don't need a seeing-eye absurdist to understand how wacky it is for Ralph Nader to get on the ballot in different states with the help of a conservative outfit that's a front group for all those corporate interests Nader has spent his life trying to cut down to size. Imagine: 43,000 Michigan Republicans suddenly seized by the vision of "Nader the Savior," putting their names on a petition urging him to run for President. "Save us, Ralph; save us!" Politics makes strange bedfellows, but this is a ménage a trois, as John Kerry might say, that would shame the Marquis de Sade.
No, I don't need to shell out $9 for a movie when I can watch the Democrats in Boston next week piously pretending to be taking seriously a homily on values from Al Sharpton, or when I have C-span to watch Congress in action (or not).
In fact, there was to be a Congressional hearing this week into the safety of anti-depressant medicine. It seems some pharmaceutical companies are suspected of keeping secret the bad news about their products. The hearing was abruptly cancelled when word spread that the committee chairman is under consideration for a big-paying job representing-are you ready for this?-the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.
You think I'm kidding. But believe me; I couldn't make this stuff up if I wanted to. Unfortunately, I don't have to.
Bill Moyers is the host of the weekly public affairs series NOW with Bill Moyers, which airs Friday nights on PBS.
BILL MOYERS. Born in Hugo, Oklahoma, U.S.A., 5 June 1934. Educated at North Texas State College; the University of Texas at Austin, B.A. in journalism, 1956; University of Edinburgh in Scotland, 1956-57; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, B.D., 1959. Married: Judith Suzanne Davidson, 1954, children: William Cope, Alice Suzanne, and John Davidson. Personal assistant to Senator Lyndon Johnson, 1960-61; associate director of public affairs, Peace Corps, 1961-62; deputy director, Peace Corps, 1963; special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson, 1963-67; press secretary, 1965-67; publisher of Newsday, 1967-70; producer and editor, Bill Moyers' Journal, PBS, 1971-76, 1978-81; anchor, USA: People and Politics, 1976; chief correspondent, CBS Reports, 1976-78; senior news analyst, CBS News, 1981-86; executive editor, Public Affairs Programming Inc. since 1986. Honorary doctorate, American Film Institute. Recipient: numerous Emmy Awards; Ralph Lowell medal for contribution to public television; George Peabody awards, 1976, 1980, 1985-86, 1988-90; DuPont/Columbia Silver Baton award, 1979, 1986, 1988; Gold Baton award, 1991; George Polk awards, 1981, 1986. Address: Public Affairs Television, Inc., 356 West 58th St., New York, New York 10019, U.S.A.
TELEVISION SERIES (selection)
1971-76; 1978-81 Bill Moyers'
1971-72 This Week
1976-78 CBS Reports
1982 Creativity With Bill Moyers
1983 Our Times With Bill Moyers
1984 American Parade (renamed Crossroads)
1984 A Walk Through the 20th Century With Bill Moyers 1987 Moyers: In Search of the Constitution
1988 Bill Moyers' World of Ideas
1988 Joseph Campbdell and The Power of Myth
1990 Amazing Grace
1991 Spirit and Nature With Bill Moyers
1993 Healing and the Mind With Bill Moyers
1995 The Language of Life With Bill Moyers
Listening to America. New York: Harper's Magazine Press, 1971.
Report From Philadelphia. New York: Ballantine, 1987.
The Secret Government. Cabin John, Maryland: Seven Locks Press, 1988.
The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday, 1988. A World of Ideas. New York: Doubleday, 1989.
A World of Ideas II. New York: Doubleday, 1990.
"Dialogue on Film: Bill Moyers." American Film (Washington, D.C.), June 1990.
The story I'd like to share with you goes to the core of our belief that the quality of democracy and the quality of journalism are deeply entwined. Public media is now under attack, as am I, by the right-wing media and their allies at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).
established almost 40 years ago to set broad policy for public
broadcasting and to be a firewall between political influence
and program content. What some on this board are now doing today,
led by its chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson, is too important, too
disturbing and yes, even too dangerous not to respond to.
I take in stride attacks by the radical right-wingers who have not given up demonizing me although I retired over six months ago. They've been after me for years now and I suspect they will be stomping on my grave to make sure I don't come back from the dead. I should remind them, however, that one of our boys pulled it off some 2,000 years ago - after the Pharisees, Sadducees and Caesar's surrogates thought they had shut him up for good. Of course I won't be expecting that kind of miracle, but I should put my detractors on notice: They might just compel me out of the rocking chair and back into the anchor chair.
Who are they? They are the people obsessed with control, using the government to threaten and intimidate. They are the people who are hollowing out middle-class security even as they enlist the sons and daughters of the working class in a war to make sure Ahmad Chalabi winds up controlling Iraq's oil. They are the people who turn faith-based initiatives into a slush fund and who encourage the pious to look heavenward and pray so as not to see the long arm of privilege and power picking their pockets. They are the people who squelch free speech in an effort to obliterate dissent and consolidate their orthodoxy into the official view of reality from which any deviation becomes unpatriotic heresy.
And if that's editorializing, so be it. A free press is one where it's OK to state the conclusion you're led to by the evidence.
I'm in hot water because my colleagues and I at "NOW" didn't play by the conventional rules of Beltway journalism. Those rules divide the world into Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and allow journalists to pretend they have done their job if, instead of reporting the truth behind the news, they merely give each side an opportunity to spin the news.
I decided long ago that this wasn't healthy for democracy. I came to see that "news is what people want to keep hidden and everything else is publicity." Objectivity is not satisfied by two opposing people offering competing opinions, leaving the viewer to split the difference.
When PBS asked me after 9/11 to start a new weekly broadcast, they wanted us to make it different from anything else on the air - commercial or public broadcasting. They asked us to tell stories no one else was reporting and to offer a venue to people who might not otherwise be heard.
But we also had a second priority. We intended to do strong, honest and accurate reporting, telling stories we knew people in high places wouldn't like. I told our producers and correspondents that in our field reporting our job was to get as close as possible to the verifiable truth. This was all the more imperative in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. America could be entering a long war against an elusive and stateless enemy with no definable measure of victory and no limit to its duration, cost or foreboding fear. The rise of a homeland security state meant government could justify extraordinary measures in exchange for protecting citizens against unnamed, even unproven, threats. I reminded our team of how the correspondent and historian, Richard Reeves, answered a student who asked him to define real news. "Real news," Reeves responded, "is the news you and I need to keep our freedoms."
For these reasons and in that spirit we went about reporting on Washington as no one else in broadcasting - except occasionally "60 Minutes" - was doing. We reported on the expansion of the Justice Department's power of surveillance. We reported on the escalating Pentagon budget and expensive weapons that didn't work.We reported on how campaign contributions influenced legislation and policy to skew resources to the comfortable and well-connected while our troops were fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq with inadequate training and armor. We reported on how the Bush administration was shredding the Freedom of Information Act. We went around the country to report on how closed-door, back-room deals in Washington were costing ordinary workers and taxpayers their livelihood and security. We reported on offshore tax havens that enable wealthy and powerful Americans to avoid their fair share of national security and the social contract.
And always - because what people know depends on who owns the press - we kept coming back to the media business itself, to how mega media corporations were pushing journalism further and further down the hierarchy of values, how giant radio cartels were silencing critics while shutting communities off from essential information, and how the mega media companies were lobbying the FCC for the right to grow ever more powerful.
The broadcast caught on. Our ratings grew every year. There was even a spell when we were the only Public Affairs broadcast on PBS whose audience was going up instead of down.
things began to happen. Friends in Washington called to say that
they had heard of muttered threats that the PBS reauthorization
would be held off "unless Moyers is dealt with." Apparently
there was apoplexy in the right wing aerie when I closed the broadcast
one Friday night by putting an American flag in my lapel and said:
I wore my flag tonight. First time. Until now I haven't thought it necessary to display a little metallic icon of patriotism for everyone to see. It was enough to vote, pay my taxes, perform my civic duties, speak my mind, and do my best to raise our kids to be good Americans.
Sometimes I would offer a small prayer of gratitude that I had been born in a country whose institutions sustained me, whose armed forces protected me, and whose ideals inspired me; I offered my heart's affections in return. It no more occurred to me to flaunt the flag on my chest than it did to pin my mother's picture on my lapel to prove her son's love. Mother knew where I stood; so does my country. I even tuck a valentine in my tax returns on April 15.
So what's this doing here? Well, I put it on to take it back. The flag's been hijacked and turned into a logo - the trademark of a monopoly on patriotism. On those Sunday morning talk shows, official chests appear adorned with the flag as if it is the good housekeeping seal of approval. During the State of the Union, did you notice Bush and Cheney wearing the flag? How come? No administration's patriotism is ever in doubt, only its policies. And the flag bestows no immunity from error. When I see flags sprouting on official lapels, I think of the time in China when I saw Mao's little red book on every official's desk, omnipresent and unread.
But more galling than anything are all those moralistic ideologues in Washington sporting the flag in their lapels while writing books and running Web sites and publishing magazines attacking dissenters as un-American. They are people whose ardor for war grows disproportionately to their distance from the fighting. They're in the same league as those swarms of corporate lobbyists wearing flags and prowling Capitol Hill for tax breaks even as they call for more spending on war.
So I put this on as a modest riposte to men with flags in their lapels who shoot missiles from the safety of Washington think tanks, or argue that sacrifice is good as long as they don't have to make it, or approve of bribing governments to join the coalition of the willing (after they first stash the cash.) I put it on to remind myself that not every patriot thinks we should do to the people of Baghdad what Bin Laden did to us. The flag belongs to the country, not to the government. And it reminds me that it's not un-American to think that war - except in self-defense - is a failure of moral imagination, political nerve, and diplomacy. Come to think of it, standing up to your government can mean standing up for your country.
That did it. That - and our continuing reporting on overpricing at Halliburton, chicanery on K-Street, and the heavy, if divinely guided, hand of Tom DeLay.
When Senator Trent Lott protested that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting "has not seemed willing to deal with Bill Moyers," a new member of the board, a Republican fundraiser named Cheryl Halpern, who had been appointed by President Bush, agreed that CPB needed more power to do just that sort of thing. She left no doubt about the kind of penalty she would like to see imposed on malefactors like Moyers.
But the New York Times reported that he enlisted Karl Rove to help kill a proposal that would have put on the CPB board people with experience in local radio and television. The Times also reported that "on the recommendation of administration officials" Tomlinson hired a White House flack (I know the genre) named Mary Catherine Andrews as a senior CPB staff member. While she was still reporting to Karl Rove at the White House, Andrews set up CPB's new ombudsman's office. And only a few weeks ago did we learn that Tomlinson had spent $10,000 last year to hire a contractor who would watch my show and report on political bias.
In a May 10 op-ed in The Washington Times, CPB Chairman Tomlinson tells of a phone call from an old friend complaining about my bias. He wrote: "The friend explained that the foundation he heads made a six-figure contribution to his local television station for digital conversion. But he declared there would be no more contributions until something was done about the network's bias."
Apparently that's Kenneth Tomlinson's method of governance. Money talks and buys the influence it wants.
I would like to ask him to listen to a different voice.
This letter came to me last year from a woman in New York, five pages of handwriting. She said, among other things, "After the worst sneak attack in our history, there's not been a moment to reflect, a moment to let the horror resonate, a moment to feel the pain and regroup as humans. No, since I lost my husband on 9/11, not only our family's world, but the whole world seems to have gotten even worse than that tragic day." She wanted me to know that on 9/11 her husband was not on duty. "He was home with me having coffee. ... But my Charlie took off like a lightning bolt to be with his men from the Special Operations Command. 'Bring my gear to the plaza,' he told his aide immediately after the first plane struck the North Tower. ... He took action based on the responsibility he felt for his job and his men and for those towers that he loved."
In the FDNY, she continued, chain-of-command rules extend to every captain of every fire house in the city. "If anything happens in the firehouse - at any time - even if the captain isn't on duty or on vacation - that captain is responsible for everything that goes on there 24/7." So she asked: "Why is this administration responsible for nothing? All that they do is pass the blame. This is not leadership. ... Watch everyone pass the blame again in this recent torture case [Abu Ghraib] of Iraqi prisons."
She told me
she was a faithful fan of NOW. She wrote: "We need more programs
like yours to wake America up. ... Such programs must continue
amidst the sea of false images and name-calling that divide America
now. ... Such programs give us hope that search will continue
to get this imperfect human condition on to a higher plane. Without
public broadcasting, all we would call news would be merely carefully
Enclosed with the letter was a check made out to "Channel 13 - NOW" for $500.
I keep a copy of that check above my desk to remind me of what journalism is about.
Kenneth Tomlinson has his demanding donors.
I'll take the widow's mite any day.
Moyers is the president of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy.
This essay is adapted from a speech Bill Moyers gave on May 15
at the National Conference on Media Reform in St. Louis. The full
text also recounts President Richard Nixon's attempts to muzzle
It's good to be with you again. Your passion for democracy is inspiring and your enthusiasm contagious. I can't imagine a more exuberant gathering today except possibly at the K Street branch of the Masters of the Universe where they are celebrating their coup at the Securities and Exchange Commission
I wish that I could have attended all your sessions, listened to all the speakers, and heard all the points of view that have been raised here. But thanks to C-Span I was able to catch enough of your proceedings to realize you covered so many subjects and touched on so many ideas that you've left me little to say. That's okay, because as Bob Borosage reminded us back in January, what matters most isn't what is said in Washington but what you do on the ground across the country to build an independent infrastructure, generate ideas, drive local campaigns, persuade the skeptic, organize your neighbors, and carry on the movement at the grassroots for social and economic justice.
Before you go home, however, Bob has asked me to talk about what's at stake in what you are doing. Given all that has already been said, I will take my cue from the late humorist Robert Benchley who arrived for his final exam in international law at Harvard to find that the test consisted of this one instruction: "Discuss the arbitration of the international fisheries problem in respect to hatcheries protocol and dragnet and procedure as it affects (a) the point of view of the United States and (b) the point of view of Great Britain." Benchley was desperate but he was also honest, and he wrote: "I know nothing about the point of view of Great Britain in the arbitration of the international fisheries problem, and nothing about the point of view of the United States. I shall therefore discuss the question from the point of view of the fish."
That's what I have done in much of my work in journalism. Thirty-five years ago almost to the day I set out on a three-month trip of over l0, 000 miles to write a book called "Listening to America." I completed the book but I've never finished the trip; never was able to come off the road; never could stop listening. My worldview has been a work in progress, molded largely by the stories I've heard from the people I've met. I want to tell you this morning about some of those people. They tell us what's at stake.
I begin with two families in Milwaukee. The breadwinners in both households lost their jobs in that great wave of downsizing in 1991 as corporations began moving jobs out of the city and out of the country. In a series of documentaries over the next decade my colleagues and I chronicled their efforts to cope with the wrenching changes in their lives and find a place for themselves in the new global economy. I grew up with people like them. They're the kind my mother called "the salt of the earth" (takes one to know one!) They love their children, care about their neighborhoods, go to church every Sunday, and work hard all week. But like millions of Americans, these two families in Milwaukee were playing by the rules and still losing. By the end of the decade they were running harder but slipping behind, and the gap between them and prosperous America had reached Grand Canyon proportions.
I want to show you a very brief excerpt from that first documentary. It aired on PBS in January 1992 with the title "Minimum Wages: The New Economy." You'll see the father of one family as he looks for work after losing his machinist's job at the big manufacturer, Briggs and Stratton. You'll meet his wife in their kitchen as they make a desperate call to the bank that is threatening to foreclose on their home after failing to meet their mortgage payments. During our filming the fathers in both families became seriously ill. One was hospitalized for two months, leaving the family $30,000 in debt. You'll hear the second family talk about what it's like when both parents lose their jobs, depriving them of health insurance and putting their children's education up for grabs. Take a look.
Seeing those people again I thought of the interviews that the Campaign for America's Future conducted around the country on the eve of your conference. A woman in Columbus, Ohio, told one interviewer something that I've heard in different ways in my own reporting over the past few years. She said: "Everyday life pulls families apart." It takes a moment for the implications of that to hit home. Think about it: Our country, the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the race - a place where "everyday life pulls families apart."
What turns these personal traumas into a political travesty is that the people we're talking about are deeply patriotic. They love America. But they no longer believe they matter to the people who run the country. When our film opens, they are watching the inauguration of Bill Clinton on television in 1992. By the end of the decade, when our final film in the series aired, they were paying little attention to politics; they simply didn't think their concerns would ever be addressed by our governing elites. They are not cynical - their religious faith leaves them little capacity for cynicism - but they know the system is rigged against them. As it is.
You know the story: For years now a relatively small fraction of American households have been garnering an extreme concentration of wealth and income as large economic and financial institutions obtained unprecedented levels of power over daily life. In 1960 the gap in terms of wealth between the top 20% and the bottom 20% was 30-fold. Four decades later it is more than 75 fold. (See Joshua Holland, AlterNet, posted 4/25/05.)
Such concentrations of wealth would be far less of an issue if everyone were benefiting proportionally. But that's not the case. Statistics tell the story. Yes, I know - statistics can cause the eyes to glaze over, but as one of my mentors once reminded me, "It is the mark of a truly educated man [or woman] to be deeply moved by statistics."
Let's see if these statistics move you.
While we've witnessed several periods of immense growth in recent decades, the average real income of the bottom 90 percent of American taxpayers - that's a heap of people - fell by 7 percent between l973 and 2000.
2004 and the first couple of months this year, wages failed to
keep pace with inflation for the first time since the l990 recession.
They were up somewhat in April, but it still means that "working
Americans effectively took an across-the-board pay cut at a time
when the economy grew by a healthy four percent and corporate
profits hit record highs as companies got more productivity out
of workers while keeping pay raises down."
Believe it or not, the United States now ranks the highest among the highly developed countries in each of the seven measures of inequality tracked by the index. While we enjoy the second highest GDP in the world (excluding tiny Luxembourg), we rank dead last among the 20 most developed countries in fighting poverty and we're off the chart in terms of the number of Americans living on half the median income or less.
And the outlook is for more of the same. On the eve of George W. Bush's second inauguration The Economist - not exactly a Marxist rag - produced a sobering analysis of what is happening to the old notion that any American can get to the top. With income inequality not seen since the first Gilded Age (and this is The Economist editors speaking, not me) - with "an education system increasingly stratified with fewer resources than those of their richer contemporaries" and great universities "increasingly reinforcing rather than reducing these educational inequalities" - with corporate employees finding it "harder...to start at the bottom and rise up the company hierarchy by dint of hard work and self-improvement" - "with the yawning gap between incomes at the top and bottom" - the editors of The Economist - all friends of business and advocates of capitalism and free markets - concluded that "The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society."
Let me run that by you again: "The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society."
Or worse. The Wall Street Journal is no Marxist sheet, either, although its editorial page can be just as rigid and dogmatic as old Stalinists. The Journal's reporters, however, are among the best in the country. They're devoted to getting as close as possible to the verifiable truth and describing what they find with the varnish off. Two weeks ago a front-page leader in the Journal concluded that "As the gap between rich and poor has widened since 1970, the odds that a child born in poverty will climb to wealth - or that a rich child will fall into middle class - remain stuck....Despite the widespread belief that the U.S. remains a more mobile society than Europe, economists and sociologists say that in recent decades the typical child starting out in poverty in continental Europe (or in Canada) has had a better chance at prosperity." (Wall Street Journal, page one, May 13, 2005.)
That knocks the American Dream flat on its back. But it should put fire in our bellies. Because what's at stake is what it means to be an American.
A few weeks ago my colleague Charlie Rose put a question to the new president of CNN, Jonathan Klein. He asked: Could there ever be a successful progressive version of Fox News Channel? Klein didn't think so. He said Fox appeals to "mostly angry white men" while liberals - "you know, they don't get too worked up about anything."
Well, here's something to get worked up about:
Under a headline stretching six columns across the page, the New York Times reported last year that tuition in the city's elite private schools, kindergarten as well as high school, would hit $26,000 for the coming school year. On the same page, under a two-column headline, the Times reported on a school in nearby Mount Vernon, just across the city line, with a student body that is 97% black. It is the poorest school in the town: Nine out of ten children qualify for free lunches; one out of ten lives in a homeless shelter. During black history month this past February a sixth-grader who wanted to write a report on the poet Langston Hughes could not find a single book about Hughes in the library - not one. There is only one book in the library on Frederick Douglass. None on Rosa Parks, Josephine Baker, Leontyne Price, or other path breakers like them in the modern era. Except for a couple of Newbery Award books bought by the librarian with her own money, the books are largely from the l950s and l960s, when all the students were white. A child's primer on work begins with a youngster learning how to be a telegraph delivery boy. There's a l967 book about telephones with the instruction: "When you phone you usually dial the number. But on some new phones you can push buttons." The newest encyclopedia dates from l99l, with two volumes missing. And there is no card catalogue in this library. Something worth getting mad about.
How about this:
Caroline Payne's face and gums are distorted because her Medicaid-financed dentures don't fit. Her appearance has caused her to be continuously turned down for jobs. Caroline Payne is one of the people in David Shipler's recent book, The Working Poor: Invisible in America. . She was born poor; although she once owned her own home and earned a two-year college degree, Caroline Payne has bounced from one poverty-wage job to another all her life, equipped with the will to move up, but lacking the resources to deal with such unexpected and overlapping problems as a mentally handicapped daughter, a broken marriage, and a sudden layoff that forced her to sell her few assets, pull up roots, and move on. "In the house of the poor..." Shipler writes, "the walls are thin and fragile, and troubles seep into one another." If you believe the Declaration of Independence means what it says - that all of us are endowed by the Creator with a love of life, a longing for liberty, and a passion for happiness - and everyone includes Caroline Payne - this is something to get worked up about.
- courtesy of the columnist, Mark Shields. It seems workers in
the American territory of the Northern Mariana Islands were being
forced to labor under sweatshop conditions producing garments
for Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Gap and Liz Claiborne. The garments
were then shipped tariff-free and quota-free to the American market
where they were entitled to display the coveted "Made in
the USA" label. When Republican Senator Frank Murkowski of
Alaska heard that these people were being paid barely half the
U.S. minimum hourly wage and were forced to live behind barbed
wire in squalid shacks without plumbing while working l2 hours
a day, often seven days a week, with none of the legal protections
U.S. workers are guaranteed, he became enraged. He got the Senate
to pass a bill - unanimously - that would extend the protection
of our laws to the U.S. territory of the Northern Marianas. But
then the notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff moved into action with
an SOS to his good friend, Tom DeLay. The records show they met
at least two dozen times. DeLay traveled to the Marianas with
his family and staff - on a "scholarship" provided by
Abramoff's clients - where they played golf and went snorkeling
not far the sweatshops (some scholarship!) Was Tom DeLay offended
by what he saw? To the contrary. He told the Washington Post that
the sweatshops were "a perfect petri dish of capitalism.
ABC-TV News recorded him praising Abramoff's clients by saying:
"You are a shining light for what is happening to the Republican
Party, and you represent everything that is good about what we
are trying to do in America and leading the world in the free-market
system." And Tom Delay - the rightwing radicals' revisionist
incarnation of Saint Francis of Assisi - killed the Senate bill.
(Mark Shields, CNN.com. 5/28/05.)
If that doesn't get your dander up, maybe this will: The minimum wage hasn't been raised since l997. After the Republicans recently defeated an effort to increase it, Rick Wilson wrote for CommonDreams.org about a single mother of two children working somewhere in his home state of West Virginia at $5.l5 an hour, 40 hours a week, or $5,378 below the federal poverty level of $l6,090 for a family that size. Put another way, "her earnings only reach two-thirds of the poverty level." Meanwhile, the base salary of the Members of Congress who voted down the wage increase is $l62, l00. That single mom would have to work about 3l, 476 hours to earn what those members of Congress get in a year. And remember - the minimum wage she earns is actually worth less than it was 40 years ago (Rick Wilson, CommonDreams.org. 5/25/05.)
It wasn't supposed to be this way. America was not meant to be a country where the winner takes all. Through a system of checks and balances we were going to maintain a decent equilibrium in how democracy works so that it didn't just work for the powerful and privileged (If you don't believe me, I'll send you my copy of The Federalist Papers). The economist Jeffrey Madrick put it well: Because equitable access to public resources is the lifeblood of any democracy, Americans made primary schooling free to all. Because everyone deserves a second chance, debtors - especially the relative poor - were protected by state laws against their rich creditors. Charters to establish corporations were open to most if not all (white) comers, rather than held for elites. Government encouraged Americans to own their own piece of land and even supported squatters' rights. The old hope for equal access to opportunity became a reality for millions. Including yours truly.
Ruby and Henry Moyers were knocked down and almost out when the system imploded into the Great Depression. They worked hard all their lives but never had much money - my father's last paycheck before he retired was $96 and change, after taxes. We couldn't afford books at home but the public library gave me a card when I was eight years old. I went to good public schools. My brother made it to college on the GI bill. And in my freshman year I hitchhiked to college on public highways stopping to rest in public parks. Like millions of us, I was an heir to what used to be called the commonwealth - the notion of America as a shared project. It's part of our DNA, remember: "We, the People...in order to create a more perfect union"
You're never more mindful of this than at the Lincoln Memorial. Like you, I've been there many times over the years. Back in l954, when I was a summer employee in the Senate, I took the same hike every Sunday. Starting at the Capitol I headed for the Washington Monument, briskly climbed its 898 steps, came down almost as briskly (I was only 20, remember), veered over to the Jefferson Memorial and then doubled back to the mall and down past the reflecting pool to where Lincoln gazes perpetually over this city - a city that because of him is the capital of the United States of America and not just the Northern States of America.
Standing there last night, I sensed that temple of democracy where Lincoln broods to be as deeply steeped in melancholy as it was during the McCarthy reign of terror, the grief of Vietnam, or the crimes of Watergate. You stand there silently contemplating the words that gave voice to Lincoln's fierce determination to save the Union - his resolve that "government of, by, and for the people shall not perish from the earth" - and then you turn and look out, as he does, on a city where those words are daily mocked. This is no longer Lincoln's city. And those people from all walks of life making their way up the steps to pay their respects to this martyr for the Union - it's not their city, either. This is an occupied city, a company town, a wholly owned subsidiary of the powerful and privileged whose have hired an influence racket to run it. The records are so poorly kept it's impossible to know how many lobbyists there really are in this town, but the Center for Public Integrity found that their ranks include 240 former members of Congress and heads of federal agencies and over 2000 senior officials who passed through the revolving door of government at warp speed. Lobbyists now spend $3 billion a year buying influence and access for their clients and, according to the New York Times, over the last six years spent more than twice the amount spent by candidates for federal office. Once again this is a divided city. Not between North and South as in Lincoln's time, but between those who pay to play - those who can buy the government they want - and those who can't even afford even a seat in the bleachers.
So it is that huge financial institutions like MBNA - the credit card giant that is the biggest contributor to the President's two campaigns for the White House - prevail in getting Congress and George W. Bush to curtail personal bankruptcies, making it harder for those families in Milwaukee to get a fresh start and a second chance.
So it is that Wal-Mart, with the third largest corporate political action committee in the country, and pharmaceutical giants with more lobbyists in town than there are Members of Congress, join with gun manufacturers and asbestos makers and the White House to restrict the right of aggrieved citizens to take corporations to court for malfeasance.
So it is that as Exxon Mobil accumulates more than $l billion a month from escalating oil prices - more than $l billion a month even after allocating for dividends, share repurchases, and capital spending - the oil and gas industry wrings huge tax breaks from a public already squeezed hard by high prices at the gas pumps.
And so it is that on the Sunday before President Bush's second inaugural, Nick Confessore, writing in the New York Times Magazine, , describes how the president's first round of tax cuts has brought the United States tax code closer to a system under which income from savings and investments would not be taxed at all and revenues for public services would be raised exclusively from taxes on working men and women. One of the most fervent right-wing class warriors in Washington is quoted as predicting: "No capital gains tax, no dividends tax. No estate tax, no tax on interest." It will be one of President Bush's enduring legacies to have replaced estate taxes on the wealthy with a sweat tax on their grave diggers.
Let me read you something:
When political interests shower Washington with millions in campaign contributions, they often get what they want. But it's ordinary citizens and firms that pay the price and most of them never see it coming. This is what happens if you don't contribute to their campaigns or spend generously on lobbying. You pick up a disproportionate share of America's tax bill. You pay higher prices for a broad range of products from peanuts to prescriptions. You pay taxes that others in a similar situation have been excused from paying. You're compelled to abide by laws while others are granted immunity from them. You must pay debts that you incur while others do not. You're barred from writing off your tax returns some of the money spent on necessities while others deduct the cost of their entertainment. You must run your business by one set of rules, while the government creates another set for your competitors. In contrast the fortunate few who contribute to the right politicians and hire the right lobbyists enjoy all the benefits of their special status. Make a bad business deal; the government bails them out. If they want to hire workers at below market wages, the government provides the means to do so. If they want more time to pay their debts, the government gives them an extension. If they want immunity from certain laws, the government gives it. If they want to ignore rules their competition must comply with, the government gives its approval. If they want to kill legislation that is intended for the public, it gets killed.
I'm not quoting Marx or Lenin or even The Nation, the American
Prospect, the Washington Monthly, In These Times, The Progressive,
or Mother Jones.
I'm quoting from.....Time. From the heart of the Time-Warner empire comes the judgment that America now has "government for the few at the expense of the many."
You read this, and then you read the report by the American Political Science Association which finds that "increasing inequalities threaten the American ideal of equal citizenship and that progress toward real democracy may have stalled in this country and even reversed." You also read - in that same report - that a quarter of all whites in this country have no financial assets. Then you read on and learn that the median white household has 62% more income and twelve times as much wealth as the median black household and that 6l% of African-Americans in this country and half of all Latinos have no financial assets at all.
Then you open Jared Diamond's new book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail to find the Pulitzer Prize-winning scholar's description of an America where rich elites cocoon themselves "in gated communities, guarded by private security guards, and filled with people who drink bottled water, depend on private pensions, and send their children to private schools." Gradually, they lose the motivation "to support the police force, the municipal water supply, Social Security, and public schools." Any society where the elite insulate themselves from the consequences of their action, Diamond warns, contains a built-in blueprint for failure.
You read all this and realize you have been seeing it with your own eyes as a reporter in the field. You're seeing the mugging of the American Dream right before your eyes.
Go with me for a moment to a small town in Pennsylvania. Two years ago, for my weekly PBS series Now with Bill Moyers, one of our teams spent time there listening to regular people talk about what's happening in their lives. I want to share with you an excerpt so that you can eavesdrop on the hidden conversation of America that the ruling powers in Washington wants to stay hidden, as I'll explain in a moment. First look at this:
Let me tell you something about these people ("the point of view of the fish," remember?)
ask to get rich.
They want a job that pays a living wage.
They want social security to be there in their old age, for their own sake and so their kids won't be burdened with their care.
They want a simple, comprehensive health care system.
They want their livelihoods and the fate of their communities to be taken into account as the elites in government and corporations measure profits, economic growth and the GDP.
And they would like to see the political system cleaned up, so the playing field is more level and their voices not wholly drowned out by the deep-pocket predators from the Business Roundtable.
These are not radical views. These are not even "liberal" views. They are just plain American values. Any reporter who spends any time in the field can see that. You just have to get out of the Washington and New York studios, throw away the talking points sent you by the Republican National Committee, stop yakking and start listening, leave the winners to their champagne and buy the losers a beer, and you'll discover that the actual experience of regular people is the missing link in a nation wired for everything but the truth.
And let me tell you: These plain American values - the truth from an America that is barely holding on - scare the hell out of the powers that be.
Case in point: When that broadcast aired in November of '03, Kenneth Tomlinson was watching. As most of you know by now, Mr. Tomlinson is chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, an ally of Karl Rove, and the rightwing monopoly's point man to keep tabs on public broadcasting. You've heard no doubt that he and I have been, shall we say, somewhat at odds of late. I didn't know exactly what started the trouble until just a few days ago, when the Washington Post carried a story reporting that when Mr. Tomlinson watched that documentary from Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, it was too much for him. Reaching into the well-worn book of mindless rightwing clichés, he called it "liberal advocacy journalism" and decided right then and there "to bring some 'balance' to the public TV and radio airwaves."
So what did he do? Well, apparently the saintly Tom DeLay was too busy snorkeling with lobbyists to take on his own show informing the folks in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, that they are the "Petri dish of capitalism." But Mr. Tomlinson found kindred spirits at the rightwing editorial board of the Wall Street Journal where the "animal spirits of business" are routinely celebrated with nary a negative note about the casualties of their voracious appetites. Now you can get on public television every week, in The Wall Street Editorial Report, an alternative view of reality to life as it is lived in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania and communities like it all across this country.
Here's the point: The last thing ideologues want is reporting about the facts on the ground. Facts on the ground subvert the party line. That's why if you live where rightwing talk radio and media monopolies dominate the public discourse, you are told a hundred different ways every day why unregulated markets work better than democracy. It's a lie, but it works, because you are never told the other side of the story. But here, on PBS one Friday evening, was the other side of the story. Here were ordinary people who are in pain for reasons not of their own making. And it was more than a rightwing apparatchik could take. Because too much of the truth might set those people free. Might take them to the voting booths - or even to the streets - to declare: We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore!"
This is a good place to pause and call on that old journalistic warhorse, Hal Crowther, who was at Time and Newsweek and the Buffalo News before going his own way with an independent column. Just this week he writes that "The first thing every reporter was taught, back when reporters were taught things, is that the best way to find the truth is to follow the money....If the media still hunted with live ammunition, Enron, Halliburton and the energy industry's pornographic profits since 9/11 would be enough to force this oil-soaked, sheik-beholden government to resign. In disgrace - remember disgrace?" And he goes on: "Worse still than handouts to the wealthy is the reprehensible new legislation that blocks working Americans from climbing the hill where the money flows - laws like boulders rolled downhill to crush the scrambling underclass, the millions of Americans unable to pay their bills. Think about what it means to limit personal bankruptcies, inhibit class action suits against toxic employers, protect chemical polluters (usually oil companies) from liability lawsuits and cap settlements in personal injury cases. It means trying to eliminate what little protection ordinary citizens retain against corporate leviathans that cheat, exploit, injure and poison them, trap them in hopeless jobs, renege on their healthcare and default on their pensions. It means striping leverage from the people who have no leverage to spare."
//Hal Crowther is one of those journalists who goes hunting with live ammunition. But if Kenneth Tomlinson and Karl Rove have their way, public broadcasting journalists will be firing blanks.
///What's important in this story is not only that journalism still matters - that reporting from the ground up can strike a nerve in the heart of the imperium. What's important is that you see what as citizens you are up against. These guys play for keep. They mean to control the story. And if they can they will silence or discredit anyone who dissents from the official view of reality.
///A profound transformation is occurring
in America and those responsible for it don't want you to connect
the dots. We are experiencing what has been described as a "fanatical
drive to dismantle the political institutions, the legal and statutory
canons, and the intellectual and cultural frameworks that have
shaped public responsibility for social harms arising from the
excesses of private power." From public land to water and
other natural resources, from media with their broadcast and digital
spectrums to scientific discoveries and medical breakthroughs,
a broad range of America's public resources is being shifted to
the control of elites and the benefit of the privileged. It all
seems so clear now that we wonder how we could have ignored the
warning signs at the time. Back in the early l970s President Nixon's
Attorney General, John Mitchell, predicted that "this country
is going to go so far to the right that you won't recognize it."
A wealthy right-winger of the time, William Simon, President Nixon's
Secretary of the Treasury, wrote a polemic declaring that "funds
generated by business...must rush by the multimillions" to
conservative causes. Said Business Week, bluntly: "Some people
will obviously have to do with less...It will be a bitter pill
for many Americans to swallow the idea of doing with less so that
big business can have more."
///We've seen the strategy play out for years now: to cut workforces and wages, scour the globe in search of cheap labor, trash the social contract and the safety net meant to protect people from hardships beyond their control, make it hard for ordinary citizens to gain redress for the malfeasance and malpractice of corporations, and diminish the ability of government to check and balance "the animal spirits" of economic warfare where the winner takes all. Streams of money flowed into think tanks to shape the agenda, media to promote it, and a political machine to achieve it. What has happened to working Americans is not the result of Adam Smith's benign and invisible hand but the direct consequence of corporate money, ideological propaganda, a partisan political religion, and a string of political decisions favoring the interests of wealthy elites who bought the political system right out from under us.
It's an old story in America. We shouldn't be surprised by it any more. Hold up a mirror to this moment and you will see reflected back to you the first Gilded Age in the last part of the l9th century. Then, as now, the great captains of industry and finance could say, with Frederick Townsend Martin, "We are rich. We own America. We got it, God knows how, but we intend to keep it."
///They were deadly serious. Go for the evidence to such magisterial studies of American history as Growth of the American Republic ( Morison, Commager, and Leuchtenberg), and you'll read how they did it: They gained control of newspapers and magazines. They subsidized candidates. They bought legislation and even judicial decisions. To justify their greed and power they drew on history, law, economics, and religion to concoct a philosophy that would come to be known as Social Darwinism - "backed up by the quasi religious principle that the acquisition of wealth was a mark of divine favor." One of their favorite apologists, Professor William Graham Sumner of Yale, said: "If we do not like the survival of the fittest, we have only one possible alternative, and that is the survival of the unfittest. The former is the law of civilization; the latter is the law of anti-civilization.I
/// I'm not making this up. It's right there in the record. The historians tell us that a boundless continent lay open and ready for their exploitation and "all the bounties of nature were allowed to fall into the hands of strong men and powerful corporations." Clever lawyers came up with new devices for the legal aggrandizement of private fortunes (shades of today's Federalist Society!) No labor laws or workingmen's compensation nets interfered with their profits (shades of DeLay's "Petri dish of capitalism! ") No public opinion penetrated the walls of their conceit (shades of "The Great Republican Noise Machine.")
They're back, my friends. They're back in full force and their goal is to take America back - to their private Garden of Eden in that first Gilded Age when "the strong take what they wanted and the weak suffer what they must." Look no further than today's news: William Donaldson, who made a decent stab at enforcing post-Enron reform on Wall Street, is out as Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission; according to USA Today, the President's big donors - the captains of finance - cashed in their IOUs and came away from the White House with his head on a platter. In his place: A rightwing congressman who takes a dim view of shareholder suits and favors eliminating the estate tax, the dividend tax, the - well, there's no tax on wealth he doesn't want to eliminate. Once again the chicken coop is sold to the fox.
///Back in the first Gilded Age it was the progressives who took them on, throwing themselves at the juggernaut to try and keep it from rolling over the last vestiges of democracy. They lost the first rounds and only because they kept fighting for many long years did in time America begin to balance the power of concentrated wealth with the claims and needs of ordinary people. Nowadays it's you who stand between that regenerated juggernaut and those families in Milwaukee, those folks in Tamaqua, and the millions like them around the country. You must be like the Irishman coming upon a street brawl who yells in a loud voice: "Is this a private fight, or can anyone get in it?" Not waiting, he wades in.
///Wade in! Go home and tell the truth to your neighbors and fight the corruption of the system. But it's not enough just to say how bad the others are. You owe your opponents the compliment of a good argument. Come up with fresh ideas to make capitalism work for all. Ask entrepreneurs to join you - they know how to make things happen. Show us a new vision of globalization with a conscience. Stand up for working people and people in the middle and people who can't stand on their own. Be not cowed, intimidated, or frightened - you may be on the losing side of the moment, as the early progressives were, but you're on the winning side of history. And have some fun when you fight - Americans are more likely to join the party that enjoys a party . Come to think of it, go out and argue that working people should have more time off from the endless hours of tedious work that devours the soul and the long commutes that devastate families and communities.
///Above all, know what you belief and why.
So I have some homework for you. Here's your summer reading: Thomas
Paine and the Promise of America, by Harvey Kaye, soon at your
bookstores (along, I might add, with a revised and updated paperback
version of Moyers on America.) Thomas Paine was the foremost journalist
of the American Revolution who called forth the better angels
of our nature, imbued us with our democratic impulse, and articulated
our American Identity with its exceptional purpose and promise.
It was Paine who argued that America would afford "an asylum
for mankind," provide a model to the world, and support the
global advance of republican democracy. In these pages is tonic
for flagging spirits facing great odds - because it was Thomas
Paine who insisted that "it is too soon to write the history
of the Revolution." And writing the history of the Revolution
is now up to you. That's what truly is at stake.
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