Bill Moyers Said Conservatives Smeared His Show 'For a Bias That Didn't Exist'
PBS omnipresence Bill Moyers returns his series "Bill Moyers Journal" to taxpayer-funded PBS stations on Wednesday night. On Monday, National Public Radio’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross offered Moyers a very favorable interview to promote the show. Near the end, Gross asked Moyers about charges of liberal bias bandied about when Kenneth Tomlinson headed the board at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Moyers said "He singled out Now with Bill Moyers for a bias that didn’t exist."
Moyers didn’t try in this comfortable liberal forum to pretend completely that he was non-ideological or a "Thomas Paine radical." He proclaimed "There's no hiding the fact that I believe that collectively we can do things that we can't do individually. I don't think markets solve all of our problems. If that makes me a liberal, I'm a liberal." But he claimed his journalism was about seeking the "verifiable truth."
GROSS: You were basically accused by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting of having a liberal bias, and we learned that Kenneth Tomlinson, who was appointed to serve as chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting by President Bush in 2003, had commissioned a study spending $10,000 to investigate whether there was a liberal bias on your program. What have you learned about how that investigation was conducted and what the criteria were for measuring if there was a bias on your show?
MOYERS: Well, what the inspector general of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and members of Congress learned is that Kenneth Tomlinson did not act in a straightforward and--he didn't play by the rules. He misused Corporation for Public Broadcasting money. He singled out "Now with Bill Moyers" for a bias that didn't exist. We know that he was trying to discredit the kind of journalism that we were practicing. He tried to accuse us of promoting a liberal agenda.
You know, for years, the right wing movement has branded anyone who was critical of them or who didn't report the world as they see it as `liberal.' You know, there's no question I came out of two liberal administrations, the Kennedy-Johnson administration 40 years ago. There's no hiding the fact that I believe that collectively we can do things that we can't do individually. I don't think markets solve all of our problems. If that makes me a liberal, I'm a liberal. But in my journalism, I believe in trying to get people as close as possible to the verifiable truth and our reporting was about the very issues--the war in Iraq, the growing inequality in this country, the decline of the middle class, outsourcing, offshore tax havens, all of that--that was at odds with the view of the world being promoted by the ideologues in Washington.
(If Terry Gross wasn't bathed in the glow of utter servility, she would have asked how Moyers can be so dramatically "at odds with the ideologues" in Washington and not be seen as ideological. He can't seem to identify that by raging against war in Iraq, or fighting the rich's "war on the poor," he wasn't just seeking "verifiable truth," he was passionately taking one side.)
MOYERS:And unfortunately, and Mr. Tomlinson, whom I had wanted to meet--I wrote Ken Tomlinson three times and asked him if I could come in meet with the board of the the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and find out why they were so restless, because I was present at the signing of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. We believed that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting should be a heat shield to protect the producers and journalists of National Public Radio and public television from the very kind of political motives that were driving Ken Tomlinson and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
There is nothing richer in hypocrisy than Bill Moyers accusing his critics of being ideological. Tomlinson hired Fred Mann, formerly of the National Journalism Center in Washington, to screen a set of PBS and NPR shows for bias. What Moyers does not say is that the CPB is supposed to monitor the content of public broadcasting, as written into the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. Public TV and radio are supposed to provide balance on all "programming of a controversial nature." Tomlinson, then, secretly did what CPB was supposed to do, but has otherwise never really done. Instead, they've largely played that "heat shield" game -- keep the elected officials away from holding PBS and NPR accountable.
Then get a load of how Moyers the journalist says he couldn't even bring himself to read what Fred Mann found about his show. (Frankly, I don't believe this. Moyers is very thin-skinned with critics, and would naturally want to try and pick it apart.)
GROSS: Did you actually get to read the study that Tomlinson commissioned of your show?
MOYERS: No. I mean, I could have, but I didn't want to. You know, he'd hired some old friend of his to do this report. This guy was supposed to watch the broadcast and report to Tomlinson what was on it, who was being interviewed. As I said in the speech I gave after I retired in 2004 voluntarily from the show, all Ken had to do was call me, and I'd tell him what was on, or all he had to do was watch the broadcast and he'd find out what was on. Or he could even read the TV Guide. I offered to give him a subscription to it.
You know, to this day, I've yet to have a conversation, despite my calls and my letters to him, with Ken Tomlinson, and I--you know, I'm going to write him. I hear he's working on a book. I'll be interviewing some book authors on my weekly show. I'll see if he comes on and wants to talk about this. I believe the job of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is support the independence of producers and journalists in public radio or public television. And whether the Democrats are trying--do you know, we recently had an example of Democrats in Congress, part of the Hispanic caucus, calling the president of PBS up to the Hill to chastise her over the failure of a upcoming series on World War II to include Hispanics. Well, whatever the merits of that case, the very fact that members of Congress feel they can call the president of PBS up to put her on the spot, I mean, that's exactly what we don't want in public broadcasting and exactly why the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was established.
Once again, if Terry Gross was doing an interview instead of a pedicure, she would ask Moyers about Frank Gaffney's PBS special on Islam, where people inside public broadcasting demanded Gaffney be removed because of his conservative "day job" at the Center for Security Policy. Is that an example of "independence of producers" inside public TV -- or merely a liberal fiefdom that's highly interested in preserving itself as a liberal fiefdom?
GROSS: By the way, if you were to land an interview with Ken Tomlinson, who investigated you while he was the head of CPB, do you think you would be able to conduct the interview without a hostile tone?
MOYERS: I feel no hostility to him. I'm curious. I mean, I'm not a very good devil's advocate, either. I like to draw people out, not argue with them on the--I don't feel any hostility with Ken Tomlinson. I feel sadness that he didn't understand the mission of his office, but no, I would like to ask him what was his motive and why does he think that reporting...
He said he was watching one of my reports from Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, on "Now with Bill Moyers." We'd gone down there to look at what was happening to workers who had been the victims of outsourcing and of downsizing. And it was so moving, and their story was so powerful that we gave it an hour. We gave the whole hour to the broadcast. It was really about what's happening to working people in the middle class in this country. Ken Tomlinson told The Washington Post that he was watching that broadcast and he said, `I realized that Moyers had a quote, "liberal" agenda,' and I was incensed by that. I would like to ask Ken Tomlinson if, whether you're liberal or conservative, what's happening to the middle class, what's happening to working people in this country, what's happening to the standards of living for people who live paycheck to paycheck isn't of concern to all of us as Americans. Not as conservatives or as liberals. And I'd like to see what his definition of some of the language, of the words he used might actually be.
This again, is incredibly phony on the part of Moyers. He has raged against Tomlinson in many left-wing forums, and his hostility knows no bounds. This is the real Bill Moyers raging against Tomlinson as a toady of Tom DeLay:
So what did he do? Well, apparently the saintly Tom DeLay was too busy snorkeling with lobbyists to take on his own show informing the folks in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, that they are the "Petri dish of capitalism." But Mr. Tomlinson found kindred spirits at the right-wing editorial board of the Wall Street Journal where the "animal spirits of business" are routinely celebrated with nary a negative note about the casualties of their voracious appetites. Now you can get on public television every week, in The Wall Street Editorial Report, an alternative view of reality to life as it is lived in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania and communities like it all across this country.
Here's the point: The last thing ideologues want is reporting about the facts on the ground. Facts on the ground subvert the party line. That's why if you live where rightwing talk radio and media monopolies dominate the public discourse, you are told a hundred different ways every day why unregulated markets work better than democracy. It's a lie, but it works, because you are never told the other side of the story. But here, on PBS one Friday evening, was the other side of the story. Here were ordinary people who are in pain for reasons not of their own making. And it was more than a rightwing apparatchik could take. Because too much of the truth might set those people free. Might take them to the voting booths - or even to the streets - to declare: We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore!"