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Emailed to list on: October 28, 2003

Bill Moyers is one of the great thinkers of out time

Hi everyone,

Bill Moyers is one of the great thinkers of out time. He was recently interviewed by buzzflash.com. You can find some of the highlights of what was said below. You can also read the entire interview at:

http://www.buzzflash.com/interviews/03/10/int03281.html

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Bill Moyers is Insightful, Erudite, Impassioned, Brilliant and the Host of PBS' "NOW"

A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW

Bill Moyers will be the keynote speaker at the National Conference on Media Reform (http://www.mediareform.net/conference.php) in Madison, Wisconsin, on Nov. 8. Media reform is a subject near to his heart and a topic central to this BuzzFlash interview with him.

Moyers is someone who knows both sides of the world of political media coverage, having served as Lyndon Johnson's press secretary. Over the years, we have come to know him as a thoughtful, impassioned journalist who has developed a voice and vision uniquely his own. Unlike today's crop of cookie-cutter, blow-dried corporate television news celebrities, Moyers is a man who chooses his words carefully because he values and respects the power of language and the importance of his own integrity. He is a craftsman in an age that values the assembly line production of indistinguishable news churned out at a numbing pace.

Moyers is host of the PBS news and public affairs program "NOW with Bill Moyers," airing Friday nights at 9 p.m. (http://www.pbs.org/now -- check local listings, because some affiliates air NOW at different times). BuzzFlash readers who complain about the vast right-wing wasteland of television news and commentary should watch "NOW," if they don't already. It's an oasis of journalistic integrity and pro-democracy analysis.
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I think these forces have unbalanced the relationship between this White House and the press. Frankly, even if we had tried it in LBJ's time, we wouldn't have gotten away with the kind of press conference President Bush conducted on the eve of the invasion of Iraq -- the one that even the President admitted was wholly scripted, with reporters raising their hands and posing so as to appear spontaneous. Matt Taibbi wrote in The New York Press at the time that it was like a mini-Alamo for American journalism. I'd say it was more a collective Jonestown-like suicide. At least the defenders of the Alamo put up a fight.
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I'll give you a very recent example, one read in the Washington Post. Seems the NBC affiliate in Tampa is selling segments on its morning "news" show. You pony up $2,500 and get four to six minutes of what is in fact an infomercial. I'm not making this up. One of the show's hosts confessed: "You pay us, and we do what you want us to do." So Wendy's restaurant chain paid to have a chirpy co-host tout the company for its awards program for young football players who perform community service. According to the Post, the conglomerate that owns WFLA, Media General, wasn't at all embarrassed by the disclosure.The Post went on to say that stations in Washington and Baltimore are running health segments featuring hospitals and medical centers that pay for the pieces. Whether we're being pushovers or prostitutes, it's a sad day for what used to be called "a free and independent press."
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Does it matter? Well, governments can send us to war, pick our pockets, slap us in jail, run a highway through our back yard, look the other way as polluters do their dirty work, slip tax breaks and subsidies to the privileged at the expense of those who can't afford lawyers, lobbyists, or time to be vigilant. Right now, as we speak, House Republicans are trying to sneak into the energy bill a plan that would prohibit water pollution lawsuits against oil and chemical companies. Millions of consumers and their water utilities in 25 states will be forced to pay billions of dollars to remove the toxic gasoline additive MTBE from drinking water if the House gives the polluters what they want. I can't find this story in the mainstream press, only on niche websites. You see, it matters who's pulling the strings, and I don't know how we hold governments accountable if journalism doesn't tell us who that is.
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On the other hand, remember during the invasion of Iraq a big radio-consulting firm sent out a memo to its client stations advising them on how to use the war to their best advantage -- they actually called it "a war manual." Stations were advised to "go for the emotion" -- broadcast patriotic music "that makes you cry, salute, get cold chills." I'm not making this up. All of this mixture of propaganda and entertainment adds up to what? You get what James Squires, the long-time editor of the Chicago Tribune, calls "the death of journalism." We're getting so little coverage of the stories that matter to our lives and our democracy: government secrecy, the environment, health care, the state of working America, the hollowing out of the middle class, what it means to be poor in America. It's not that the censorship is overt. It's more that the national agenda is being hijacked. They're deciding what we know and talk about, and it's not often the truth behind the news.
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My favorite example is what happened during the nine months when Congress was considering the Telecommunications Act of 1996. That legislation amounted to some of America's richest and most powerful corporations picking the taxpayers' pockets of many billions of dollars. The three major network news broadcasts, whose parent companies werepart of the heist, aired a sum total of only 19 minutes about the legislation. None of those 19 minutes included a single mention of debate over whether the broadcasters should pay for use of the digital spectrum that would make them richer.
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Take the big story this year -- the White House and its big corporate allies prodding the FCC to relax the rules to allow the conglomerates to get even bigger. Practically no major news outlets bothered to cover it. Our little program on PBS stayed on the story -- the FCC became our beat -- and we kept throwing our spotlight on it until the public caught on. Over two million citizens bombarded the FCC and Congress with protests. Suddenly Congress woke up and realized people really care about these media issues. The Senate has stopped the FCC from acting and there are votes in the House to do the same except that Tom Delay won't let it come to the floor. I was flabbergasted to read the other day that even the FCC chairman, Michael Powell, had to acknowledge that if it hadn't been for PBS, there wouldn't have been any media coverage of the most important media story of the year.
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MOYERS: I think Jon Stewart is the most astute political analyst working today. He has more moments of "Eureka" in a single broadcast than a month of editorials. Who else sets off laughter and light bulbs in your head at the same time? If I believed in reincarnation, I would believe Mark Twain alive and well.
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I still have in my files a headline that ran the day after the bombing of Baghdad began: "Anti-War, Pro-Troops Rallies Take to Streets as War Rages." There was another one, too: "Weekend Brings More Demonstrations -- Opposing War, Supporting Troops." That's a mistaken and misleading formulation. You can be opposed to war because you support the troops and don't think they should be put in jeopardy in the wrong place for the wrong reason at the wrong time.
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MOYERS: Or the wounded. The wounded get dumped at home and soon forgotten. But you're right about the antiseptic nature of coverage. There was a story by Dana Milbank recently in the Washington Post that the Pentagon is not going to allow news coverage and photography of dead soldiers' homecoming on military bases. Show 'em marching off to war but make damned sure we don't see 'em coming back in pieces. It's the Barbara Bush syndrome as official policy. Remember what she told Diane Sawyer earlier this year. "Why should we hear about body bags, and deaths Why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that " No wonder her son is the only president in our time who has not attended any memorials or funerals for soldiers killed in action on his watch.
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The constitutional scholar Raul Berger once told me that the main purpose of one party is to keep the other party honest. We didn't have that. And the burden on journalism was overwhelming to what too few are equipped to do -- go to original material, provide plenty of airtime to dissenting opinions. We wound up with far more airtime going to official spokesmen than to skeptics. I've gone back and reviewed transcripts of many of the interview programs conducted in the build-up to the invasion. Hawks like Richard Perle were thrown softball after softball, and their assertions for invasion basically went unchallenged. Our mandate at NOW is to provide alternative voices and views and when we started fulfilling that mandate, the hawks wouldn't come on. They didn't want to be challenged. Colin Powell's now largely-discredited speech to the U.N. was hailed at the timeas if it were an oration by Pericles; there was no one with the evidence to challenge him until some time had passed.
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MOYERS: Down the memory hole, as George Orwell would describe it. And yes, it's all about stimulation now. Watching the opening of the second game of the World Series, I was struck at how effectively the Fox producers mixed patriotic imagery with prurient promotions for upcoming programming in what amounted to a sedation of the viewer's critical faculty. It's a fitting metaphor, I think, for what's happening in politics as the mainstream media have been silenced and the partisan media have turned propaganda into "news." Wave the flag, stroke the sentiments, stir the prejudices -- and you can keep the masses distracted from the real game happening out of sight, behind closed doors in boardrooms and oval offices.


BUZZFLASH: And what is that game?

MOYERS: Class war. The corporate right and the political right declared class war on working people a quarter of a century ago and they've won. The rich are getting richer, which arguably wouldn't matter if the rising tide lifted all boats. But the inequality gap is the widest it's been since l929; the middle class is besieged and the working poor are barely keeping their heads above water. The corporate and governing elites are helping themselves to the spoils of victory -- politics, when all is said and done, comes down to who gets what and who pays for it -- while the public is distracted by the media circus and news has been neutered or politicized for partisan purposes.
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BUZZFLASH: You will be the keynote speaker at the National Conference on Media Reform (http://www.mediareform.net/conference.php) in Madison on Nov. 8. It is described as a groundbreaking forum to democratize the debate over media policymaking. How do you give optimism to those who feel that the struggle against multi-billion dollar media conglomerates is hopeless, considering their financial and political power?

MOYERS: By reminding ourselves of what's at stake. We're not just talking about the media here; we're talking about democracy and what kind of country America's going to be. It's too late to transform the global structure of media ownership or Wall Street's appetite for higher and higher profits no matter the cost to journalism. But we can fight for more accountability to democracy by the big companies, we can encourage alternative and independent journalism, and we keep our searchlights trained on the towers of power, including the contradictions, absurdities and excesses of the right-wing media that now dominate the public discourse.

That's just the beginning. We have to get people involved in the crucial public policy fights that are taking place. Over the last decade there's been an astonishing explosion of new-media diversity, as online and other digital media have made more outlets for expression possible. The Internet has enabled many new voices in our democracy to be heard, including those of advocacy groups, artists and nonprofit organizations. Just about anyone can speak up online, and often with an impact far greater than in the days when orators had to step onto a soap box and address passersby in a park. The virtual soap box has the potential to reach anyone, anywhere, anytime -- and to spread virally good ideas and good works of journalism. It's where people can fight back.
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So we have our work cut out for us. If we don't do it -- every one of us who has any measure of independence and any forum whatsoever -- no one will. I just count on our keeping in mind the news photographer in Tom Stoppard's Night and Day who says, "People do terrible things to each other, but it's worse in places where everybody is kept in the dark." We have to turn on some lights around here.
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