Saturday, 23 April 2005

Bill Moyers

Integrity was on display last night, as I joined a full house of kindred spirits in Seattle's Paramount Theatre to hear the wisdom of 'retired' journalist Bill Moyers. Moyers continues to spend the capital he has so richly earned during a career in newspapers, government, and television, to warn America of the dangers she faces from the marriage of a narrowly defined religion with one-party government.

Though the right wing noise machine has laughably mocked him as part of the "loony left", what makes Moyers so remarkable is not that he was one of the last liberal journalists on mainstream television (many may be more liberal), but that he was one of the last with the courage to speak the truth plainly, unconstrained by the government's definition of what makes news.

Anyone who has been watching Moyers for years, is well acquainted with his gentle manner, deep personal religious convictions, and gracious ability to engage a wide range of guests of a multitude of different persuasions in thought provoking conversation. While I've been delighted to be witness to his increasing forthrightness in exposing and condemning bought government, media consolidation, government secrecy, and political corruption, he retained to the end his ability to have cordial conversations with the likes of Grover Norquist or Richard Viguerie.

Responding to questions collected from the audience last night, to one which asked if he ever felt like strangling any of his guests, Moyers joked that perhaps there were times that the opposite may have been true, but went on to say how much he enjoys interviewing all sorts of people. The question betrayed the likelihood that Moyers may have been one of the more conservative people in the hall last night, but he is certainly one of the most courageous.

Another question asked him if in debate, who would he choose to represent the other side. He mentioned George Will, and it sounded like he was contemplating listing some other options, but instead segued into reflections on the importance of dialogue. "You know" he said, "we owe our adversaries the compliment of an argument."

His speech got right into the way that the Republican National Convention has leveraged the cultural conservatism of the religious right to establish a base which ultimately serves the interests of the corporate elite. He talked about the large faction of earnest, well-intended people who have made Timothy Lahaye's Left Behind series one of the best selling sets of books in America, subscribing to a particularized interpretation of the book of Revelation regarding End Times and the Rapture. Moyers believes that we dismiss these folks as loonies at our own peril, for their theology meshes with the greed of corporate elites who are drunk with power at their ability to roll back all manner of environmental regulation endangering the future of our species. If we are already in the last days the thinking goes, there is little concern about preserving our planet for future generations.

Midway through the speech I came to my senses and got out a notecard to capture some of the better quotes. In referring to today's power elite Moyers used an analogy from the Aztec [or was it the Maya?] civilization, where those in power so "insulated themselves from the consequences of their actions" that they eventually became "victims of their own privilege." In such an environment, as that which permeates Washington, D.C., the powerful become "devoid of the moral imagination to see life as others live it."

Moyers noted that it is not only the left which is seeing these dangers. He referred to an article in the Economist which states
A growing body of evidence suggests that the meritocratic ideal is in trouble in America. Income inequality is growing to levels not seen since the Gilded Age, around the 1880s. But social mobility is not increasing at anything like the same pace: would-be Horatio Algers are finding it no easier to climb from rags to riches, while the children of the privileged have a greater chance of staying at the top of the social heap. The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.
He also referred to the speech that he decided not to give us last night, which would have focused on media consolidation, but did capsulize his concerns about how the agenda of what is often decided to be news today is constrained to what the newsmakers will publicly say. But that's not really news. "News is what people want to keep hidden, everything else is publicity."

I cried a little bit on the night that Moyers bid us adieu on NOW, back on December 17, saying
I've learned from you not to claim too much for my craft, but not to claim too little, either. You keep reminding me that the quality of journalism and the quality of democracy go hand in hand. Or as a character says in one of Tom Stoppard's plays, "People do terrible things to each other, but it's worse in the places where everybody is kept in the dark."
Well, here I am trusting that more brave souls will come forward, and shine a light in the darkness as Moyers has done.


-epm said...

I'm jealous. It must have been a wonderful to spend a night listening to Bill Moyers.

I've always appreciated his truthfulness, and his calm mannerly tone. He has humbled me in my own certainty and has broadened my understanding of people and issues over the years.

My only concern is that in today's media mudfest, voices like Moyers' are snuffed out in favor of bombastic controversy and make-it-up-as-you-go-along debate. We owe our adversaries an argument provided they are approaching the debate with sincerity. We don't have to show the same deference to fascists, propogandist or demagogues that we would to honorable people with honest differences.

Barry Peters said...

Walker, your report beautifully captures the evening with Bill Moyers.
Moyers, the man, was inspiring because of the integrity and search for true facts that Moyers' exudes. I only hope when I'm 70 that I'll have half the drive, energy, voice and eloquence that Moyers has.
But the evening was also sobering. That's because Moyers confirms, with detail and insight, my worst fears about American: that our political process is as broken as it was in the decade leading up to the Civil War; that greed is driving policy that is widening the gap between the most privileged and the least; and that the megaphone is clenched firmly in the fists of closed-minded religious and ideological zealots.
There is so much to learn from Bill Moyers. His next book is due in June. And I can personally highly recommend his 2004 book of essays: "Moyers on America : A Journalist and His Times" (coming in paperback in June), and especially the extraordinary (free) archive of his PBS journalism from his NOW programs of the last few years, at


Daniel said...

"We owe our adversaries an argument provided they are approaching the debate with sincerity. We don't have to show the same deference to fascists, propogandist or demagogues that we would to honorable people with honest differences."

Quite true. However, it is my observation that just about anyone who disagrees with the left, particularly on religious grounds, is automatically labelled a "fascist right-wing theocratic demagogue."

"closed-minded religious and ideological zealots ..."

As long as you describe your opponents this way, they won't be much inclined to listen to you.

mickh said...

I too was very sad the night Bill Moyers said his goodbye.

He should not have retired.

His show was one of only a very few on TV that raised the bar on all types of discussions.

I still watch NOW every week and David B. (no way am I going to attempt to spell his name) is cut from the same cloth as Bill.

Thanks for the report.

Visit my Blog some time I'm just down the street (well kinda) from you in Bremerton.