Moyers Promises More PBS Shows, Scorns Rest of Media As Neocon Pawns
In his latest left-wing tirade at a radical "media reform" conference in Memphis last Friday, long-time PBS omnipresence Bill Moyers announced he would resurface again with another regular show on PBS this spring, titled once again Bill Moyers’ Journal. He also is creating a documentary titled "Buying the War." In his Castro-length speech, rebroadcast for an hour on Tuesday on Pacifica’s nationally distributed "Democracy Now" radio/TV simulcast, Moyers decried an alleged conservative stranglehold on the American news media (apparently, the New York Times are "sitting ducks" for "neoconservative propaganda"), cited left-wing media watchdog theories and studies, and said his private "fantasy" was all about strident leftist "Democracy Now" host Amy Goodman: that the Memphis crowd would lobby every public TV station to run her daily radical hootenanny.
Let me try to boil this address down to the bizarre lowlights, as broadcast for the entire hour of Goodman's show on Tuesday. Moyers quite typically contended that conservatives have despoiled the American Dream and turned truth inside out with their incessant, Orwellian lying:
"For years, the media marketplace for opinions about public policy has been dominated by a highly disciplined, thoroughly networked, ideological ‘noise machine,’ to use David Brock’s term. Permeated with slogans concocted by big corporations, their lobbyists, and their think tank subsidiaries, public discourse has effectively changed the meaning of American values. Day after day, the ideals of fairness and liberty and mutual responsibility have been stripped of their essential dignity and meaning in people's lives. Day after day, the egalitarian creed of our Declaration of Independence is trampled underfoot by hired experts and sloganeers, who speak of the ‘death tax,’ ‘the ownership society,’ ‘the culture of life,’ ‘the liberal assault on God and family,’ ‘compassionate conservatism,’ ‘weak on terrorism,’ ‘the end of history,’ ‘the clash of civilizations,’ ‘no child left behind.’ They have even managed to turn the escalation of a failed war into a ‘surge,’ as if it were a current of electricity through a wire, instead of blood spurting from the ruptured vein of a soldier."
"The Orwellian filigree of a public sphere in which language conceals reality, and the pursuit of personal gain and partisan power, is wrapped in rhetoric that turns truth to lies and lies to truth. So it is that limited government has little to do with the Constitution or local economy anymore. Now it means corporate domination and the shifting of risk from government and business to struggling families and workers. Family values now mean imposing a sectarian definition of the family on everyone else. Religious freedom now means majoritarianism and public benefits for organized religion without any public burdens. And patriotism has come to mean blind support for failed leaders."
Earlier, Moyers spun his theory that "democracy" is equivalent with unfiltered left-wing media bias, and a country denied that progressive journalism is a country whose "democracy" has been choked. The conservatives dominated with their "establishment views" and the socialists were described favorably as chroniclers of "the bleak realities of powerlessness" for the ordinary people:
"You bet something is amiss, and it goes to the core of why we are here in Memphis. For this conference is about a force, the media, that cuts deep to the foundation of democracy. When Teddy Roosevelt dissected what he called ‘the real masters of the reactionary forces’ in his time, he concluded that, indirectly or directly, ‘they control the majority of the great newspapers that are against us.' Those newspapers, the dominant media of the day, choked 'the channels of the information ordinary people needed to understand what was being done to them.’"
"And today, two basic pillars of American society, shared economic prosperity and a public sector capable of serving the common good, are crumbling. The third pillar of American democracy, an independent press, is under sustained attack, and the channels of information are choked. A few huge corporations now dominate the media landscape in America. Almost all the networks carried by most cable systems are owned by one of the major media common conglomerates. Two-thirds of today's newspapers are monopolies."
"As ownership gets more and more concentrated, fewer and fewer independent sources of information have survived in the marketplace; and those few significant alternatives that do survive, such as PBS and NPR, are undergoing financial and political pressure to reduce critical news content and to shift their focus in a mainstream direction, which means being more attentive to establishment views than to the bleak realities of powerlessness that shape the lives of ordinary people."
"What does today's media system mean for the notion of an informed public cherished by democratic theory? Quite literally, it means that virtually everything the average person sees or hears, outside of her own personal communications, is determined by the interests of private, unaccountable executives and investors whose primary goal is increasing profits and raising the share prices. More insidiously, this small group of elites determines what ordinary people do not see or hear. In-depth coverage of anything, let alone the problems real people face day-to-day, is as scarce as sex, violence and voyeurism are pervasive. Successful business model or not, by democratic standards this is censorship of knowledge by monopolization of the means of information."
What? That sounds a bit Marxist, the "means of information." But political communication has exploded in the last 20 years into talk radio, the Internet, podcasting. Moyers dismisses it all by redefining it down into a contraction of media democracy, since the only media that matter are the "investigative" engines of progressive reform:
"Despite the profusion of new information platforms on cable, on the Internet, on radio, blogs, podcasts, YouTube and MySpace, among others, the resources for solid, original journalistic work, both investigative and interpretative, are contracting, rather than expanding."
Moyers then tried the hypocritical argument that the Bush administration are pathetic paragons of government secrecy (but don’t ever try to get Moyers or PBS to give you any details of his multi-million-dollar business dealings inside his public-private gravy train, or you’ll really see secrecy in action). He then suggests the mainstream media are like slaves on a plantation:
"But now they have found new methods in the name of national security and even broader claims of executive privilege. The number of documents stamped ‘Top Secret,’ ‘Secret,’ or ‘Confidential’ has accelerated dramatically since 2001, including many formerly accessible documents that are now reclassified as ‘Secret.’ Vice President Cheney's office refuses to disclose, in fact, what it is classifying. Even their secrecy is being kept a secret."
"Beyond what is officially labeled ‘Secret’ or ‘privileged’ information, here hovers on the plantation a culture of selective official news implementation, working through favored media insiders to advance political agendas by leak and innuendo and spin, by outright propaganda mechanisms, such as the misnamed public information offices that churn out blizzards of factually selective releases on a daily basis, and even by directly paying pundits and journalists to write on subjects of mutual interest."
"They needn’t have wasted the money. As we saw in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the plantation mentality that governs Washington turned the press corps into sitting ducks for the war party, for government, and neoconservative propaganda and manipulation. There were notable exceptions -- Knight Ridder's bureau, for example -- but on the whole, all high-ranking officials had to do was say it, and the press repeated it until it became gospel. The height of myopia came with the admission (or was it bragging?) by one of the Beltway's most prominent anchors that his responsibility is to provide officials a forum to be heard, what they say more newsworthy than what they do."
Journalists aren’t lazy, Moyers declared. They’re just willing pawns:
"I think what's happened is not indifference or laziness or incompetence, but the fact that most journalists on the plantation have so internalized conventional wisdom that they simply accept that the system is working as it should. I'm doing a documentary this spring called ‘Buying the War,’ and I can't tell you again how many reporters have told me that it just never occurred to them that high officials would manipulate intelligence in order to go to war. Hello?"
Let’s skip way ahead to the part about how public broadcasting needs to be much more leftist, and his "private fantasy" about Amy Goodman:
"And let me tell you, it means reclaiming public broadcasting and restoring it to its original feisty, robust, fearless mission as an alternative to the dominant media, offering journalism you can afford and can trust, public affairs of which you are a part, and a wide range of civic and cultural discourse that leaves no one out. You can have an impact here. For one thing, we need to remind people that the federal commitment to public broadcasting in this country is about $1.50 per capita, compared to $28 to $85 per capita in other democracies."
"But there is something else I want you to think about. Something else you can do. And I'm going to let you in here on one of my fantasies. Keep it to yourself, if you will, because fantasies are private matters, and mine involves Amy Goodman. But I'll just ask C-SPAN to bleep this out. Oh, shucks, what’s the use. Here it is. In moments of revelry, I imagine all of you returning home to organize a campaign to persuade your local public television station to start airing Democracy Now."
"I can't think of a single act more likely to remind people of what public broadcasting should be, or that this media reform conference really means business. We've got to get alternative content out there to people, or this country is going to die of too many lies. And the opening rundown of news on Amy's daily show is like nothing else on any television, corporate or public. It's as if you opened the window in the morning and a fresh breeze rolls over you from the ocean. Amy doesn't practice trickle-down journalism. She goes where the silence is, and she breaks the sound barrier. She doesn't buy the Washington protocol that says the truth lies somewhere in the spectrum of opinion between the Democrats and the Republicans."
"On Democracy Now the truth lies where the facts are hidden, and Amy digs for them. And above all, she believes the media should be a sanctuary for dissent, the Underground Railroad tunneling beneath the plantation. So go home and think about it. After all, you are the public in public broadcasting and not just during pledge breaks. You live there, and you can get the boss man at the big house to pay attention."
Before you trail to the end (and Moyers ended with a weird poem from the poet Marge Piercy), there is the paragraph where Moyers announces he’s resurfacing like Rasputin on PBS to marshal the "armies of the Lord" against conservative capitalist running dogs:
"Last time we were together, I said to you that I should put my detractors on notice. They might just compel me out of the rocking chair and back into the anchor chair. Well, in April, I will be back with a new weekly series called Bill Moyers’ Journal, thanks to some of the funders in this room. We'll take no money from public broadcasting because it compromises you even when you don't intend it to -- or they don't intend it to. I hope to complement the fine work of colleagues like David Brancaccio of Now and David Fanning of Frontline, who also go for the truth behind the news."
"But I don't want to tease you. I'm not coming back because of detractors. I wouldn't torture them that way. I'll leave that to Dick Cheney. I'm coming back, because it's what I do best. Because I believe television can still signify, and I don't want you to feel so alone. I'll keep an eye on your work. You are to America what the abolition movement was, and the suffragette movement, and the civil rights movement. You touch the soul of democracy. It's not assured you will succeed in this fight. The armies of the Lord are up against mighty hosts. But as the spiritual sojourner Thomas Merton wrote to an activist grown weary and discouraged protesting the Vietnam War, ‘Do not depend on the hope of results. Concentrate on the value and the truth of the work itself.’"
For more on Pacifica Radio, we have a few NB posts here.