Bill Moyers Is Stepping Down: With Serious Journalism in Decline, 32-Year Veteran Is Not Going Quietly

By Schroth, Raymond A. | National Catholic Reporter, July 16, 2004 | Go to article overview

Bill Moyers Is Stepping Down: With Serious Journalism in Decline, 32-Year Veteran Is Not Going Quietly


Schroth, Raymond A., National Catholic Reporter


It's mid-June. This week the headlines, reporting the findings of the 9/11 commission, have decisively debunked the Bush administration's argument for the Iraq war, the alleged alliance between the perpetrators of 9/11 and Saddam Hussein. On the television screen Friday night an army vehicle is destroyed, a survivor pulls himself from the wreck, his face a mass of red. He will lose his eye.

But, the narrator explains, the Pentagon will keep no public record of his wound. He is not one of the 900-plus killed or of the 5,457 wounded in battle. He is one of the at least 11,000 noncombatants injured, disabled, sick, addicted, or neurologically or mentally damaged young men and women who are as much victims of the war as those who have been shot.

The Pentagon tells United Press International reporter Mark Benjamin it doesn't know how many troops are in this condition.

Bill Moyers started his weekly PBS documentary, "Now," in January 2002, specifically "to tell stories nobody else is telling and put on people who have no forum elsewhere."

The program has been the capstone of his career.

When the great CBS News World War II correspondent and radio and TV news analyst Eric Sevareid retired at 65 in 1977, the media world waited to see who might attempt to fill his shoes.

For some months CBS experimented--rotating wise men into the final two minutes of Walter Cronkite's "CBS Evening News," including the young protege of Lyndon Johnson, Bill Moyers. But CBS decided the sun had set on the age of commentary and ceded those two precious minutes to light features, health tips and ads.

This marked a turning point for both Moyers and CBS, freeing Moyers for other opportunities yet weakening CBS' commitment to serious journalism.

Now, after 32 years in TV journalism, including long stints at both CBS and Public Broadcasting, plus some years as publisher of Long Island's Newsday, Moyers, who turned 70 in June, is leaving journalism to finish a book of reflections on Lyndon B. Johnson, for whom he worked as a teenage intern, as a Senate office assistant at age 20 and finally as press secretary during Johnson's presidency.

But Moyers is not going quietly. On June 4, 2003, he delivered a spellbinding speech to the Take Back America conference in Washington in which he re-ignited the fires of the turn-of-the-century Progressive movement, as personified in the muckraking journalists Jacob Riis and Lincoln Steffans. Progressive reforms became an "embedded tradition of Democrats," the heart of the New Deal and Fair Deal, he said. But by the 1970s "Democrats grew so proprietary in this town that a fat, complacent political establishment couldn't recognize its own intellectual bankruptcy."

As a result, he said, the conservative "crusade" has moved to "strip from government all its functions except those that reward their rich and privileged benefactors."

On May 17 of this year, Moyers received the Peabody Award, one of electronic journalism's highest honors. The same month he published a collection of his talks and commentaries, Moyers on America: A Journalist and His Times.

In the course of his career, three themes, it seems to me, have run through his work: a concern for religion, influenced by his early education in a Baptist seminary and exemplified in his PBS series on Genesis; issues of fairness, specifically the unjust distribution of the world's economic resources; and the condition of journalism itself, where power has become concentrated in too few hands.

On May 19, in an address to the Newspaper Guild/Communication Workers of America, he warned that before long America would be reduced to half a dozen major print organizations. TV news devotes less and less time to public affairs. An authoritarian administration obsessed with secrecy, he said, is allied with economic interests who use their media outlets, from the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch's empire to the "nattering nabobs of know-nothing radio," to keep the public as uninformed as possible. …

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