On Friday, April 30, 2010, Bill Moyers broadcast his final program of the Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. This diary is a thank you for all of the years of insights and the wonderful interviews that Bill Moyers has provided to American citizens.
Moyers was born in 1934, served as a summer intern to then Senator Lyndon Johnson and later became LBJ’s press secretary from 1965 to 1967. His journalistic career began when he served as publisher of the Long Island newspaper, Newsday. He moved it from a conservative to a progressive publication and brought in Pete Hamill, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Saul Bellow as writers. Under Moyers, circulation increased and the publication won 33 major journalism awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes.
Moyers later did commentary work for both CBS news and NBC. But he is best remembered for his affiliation with PBS which began in 1971. On April 25, 2007, Moyers returned to PBS with Bill Moyers Journal (he had done a show under this name earlier for PBS too). The first episode, entitled "Buying the War", had Moyers investigating the what he called the general media’s shortcomings in the runup to the War in Iraq.
His awards, according to Wikipedia include:
Recipient of the 2006 Lifetime Emmy Award, "Bill Moyers has devoted his lifetime to the exploration of the major issues and ideas of our time and our country, giving television viewers an informed perspective on political and societal concerns," according to the official announcement, which also noted that "the scope of and quality of his broadcasts have been honored time and again. It is fitting that the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences honor him with our highest honor—the Lifetime Achievement Award." He has received well over thirty Emmys and virtually every other major television journalism prize, including a gold baton from the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, a lifetime Peabody Award, and a George Polk Career Award (his third George Polk Award) for contributions to journalistic integrity and investigative reporting. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has been the recipient of numerous honorary degrees, including a doctorate from the American Film Institute.
One of the most insightful interviews that I have seen was Moyer’s interview with both Matt Taibbi and Robert Kuttner on his PBS show of December 18, 2009. To see it, or read the transcript of it, click here.
Here are but a few highlights of Moyers’s comments from that show which indicate that he was less than pleased with Barack Obama’s performance as President:
BILL MOYERS: If you were Republican, wouldn’t you feel right now that it’s going your way? I mean, the Democrats control the White House, they control Congress and the only thing they’ve been able to make happen this year is escalate the war in Afghanistan.
On the health "insurance bill" that eventually emerged under Obama:
BILL MOYERS: Matt, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, a very progressive member of Congress who’s been at this table wanted a public option. He says this health care bill appears to be the legislation that the president wanted in the first place.
On how Congress is corrupted by donations and money:
BILL MOYERS: But members of Congress, they take the same contributions from the same insurance and real estate and drug industry. You look at the list of contributions to members of Congress- they are as saddled by obligations as the President, right?
On Obama not being an agent of change:
BILL MOYERS: But what if by nature, that’s not what he wants to do? What if, by nature, he prefers to head the establishment, than to change it?
And this interchange with Taibbi and Kuttner on how Obama mouthed banking reform but was really in bed with corporate interests:
BILL MOYERS: I was thinking about both of you Sunday night when President Obama was on 60 MINUTES and he said…
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street.
BILL MOYERS: Then on Monday afternoon, he had this photo opportunity in which he scolded the bankers and then they took it politely and graciously, which they could’ve done because the Hill at that very moment was swarming with banking lobbyists making sure that what the President wants doesn’t happen. I mean, what did you think as you watched him on 60 MINUTES or watched that press conference?
MATT TAIBBI: It seemed to me that it was a response to a lot of negative criticism that he’s been getting in the media lately, that they are probably looking at the President’s poll numbers from the last couple of weeks that have been remarkably low. And a lot of that has to do with some perceptions about his ties to Wall Street. And I think they felt a need to come out and make a strong statement against Wall Street, whether they’re actually do anything is, sort of, a different question. But I think that was my impression.
ROBERT KUTTNER: I was appalled. I was just appalled because think of the timing. On Thursday and Friday of last week, the same week when the president finally gives this tough talk on "60 Minutes," a very feeble bill is working its way through the House of Representatives and crucial decisions are being made. And where is the President? I mean, there was an amendment to put some teeth back in the provision on credit default swaps and other kinds of derivatives. And that went down by a handful of votes. And to the extent that the Treasury and the White House was working that bill, at all, they were working the wrong side. There was a there was a provision to exempt foreign exchange derivatives from the teeth in the bill. That–
I’m not sure about you, but I cannot think of another political observer/journalist who is considered part of the mainstream media who has been so prescient, so critical and so insightful of what is happening in American society. The only one who comes close is Amy Goodman of Democracynow but Goodman has always been seen and treated as an outsider. Not so Moyers. Maybe it’s because of that folksy way that he has, maybe it is because he seems to be able to get along with everyone while still preserving his integrity. Somebody should ask him how he has done that for all these years.
Fittingly, Moyer’s last show on PBS, the one that aired this past Friday, had Jim Hightower of Texas as his guest. Here’s a fascinating discussion between the two men (with a transcript from Truthout) on how the tea bagger movement differs from populism:
BILL MOYERS: How does the Tea Party differ from the people you’re talking about? We have two groups of Americans, both angry and defiant, and both calling themselves populists. What don’t they have in common?
JIM HIGHTOWER: Here’s what populism is not. It is not just an incoherent outburst of anger. And certainly it is not anger that is funded and organized by corporate front groups, as the initial Tea Party effort is, and as most of it is still today. Though there is legitimate anger within it, in terms of the people who are there. But what populism is at its essence is a, a just determined focus on helping people be able to get out of the iron grip of the corporate power that is overwhelming our economy, our environment, energy, the media, government. And I guess that’s one big difference between real populism and what the Tea Party thing is, is that real populists understand that government has become a subsidiary of corporations. So you can’t say, let’s get rid of government. You need to be saying let’s take over government.
How about this revealing set of observations from Moyers and Hightower on the Democrats and Obama:
BILL MOYERS: There’s someone we both know said to me just this morning, the Republicans work for Wall Street and the Democrats are afraid to work against them.
JIM HIGHTOWER: Isn’t that strange? You know, the– it’s odd to me that we’ve got a President who ran from the outside and won. And now is trying to govern from the inside. You can’t do progressive government from the inside. You have to rally those outsiders and make them a force to come inside.
If you want to read a nice tribute to Bill Moyer’s, here an excellent one from Michael Winship who has been associated with Moyers. He also has some good news. Moyers will still be around, will still offer us some of the best insights available:
With this week’s edition, Bill Moyers Journal goes off the air. But we’ll be continuing the conversation via our Web site at PBS.org/moyers. These weekly columns will be continuing for the foreseeable as well.
Thanks again Bill and keep those great comments coming!