Moyers Radio Whoppers: PBS Is Centrist, Dan Rather Is Honest, Jon Stewart Is Mark Twain

As part of his tour of public-broadcasting publicity spots, PBS omnipresence Bill Moyers appeared Wednesday morning on radical-left Pacifica Radio’s "Democracy Now" program with Amy Goodman, a show Moyers celebrated at a radical "media reform" conference in January by suggesting he had a private "fantasy" about Goodman, that every PBS station would put her on their air. They referred to him as "legendary." Goodman played large chunks of the Moyers PBS special "Buying the War" in advance, and Moyers uncorked a series of left-wing howlers for her. The mainstream media were cheerleaders for Bush. "Pro-war pundits" need to be banned from TV, put in a "penalty box." Implausibly, he claimed his documentary "talks to people on all sides of the story." Jon Stewart is the "Mark Twain of our day." Dan Rather is an "honest man" but at CBS, he was a "good man caught in a rigged system," contained by corporate owners at Viacom who voted Republican. And, weirdest of all, Moyers claims he and PBS "serve a sort of centrist role," and PBS needs to break free of control from Congress. Let’s take the Moyers claims one at a time. The mainstream media were cheerleaders for Bush:

We are entering the fifth year of this war. The casualties keep mounting. April was the deadliest month so far. The deadliest day occurred in April. And the press, which was very much responsible for creating the momentum for the war, has yet to understand it's role. So I wanted to look, with my producer Kathy Hughes, at what are the lessons we can learn from what happened in the build-up to the war, so that we might not see it happen again. This is an example of what happens when the press surrenders its independence and suspends its skepticism and becomes a cheerleader for an administration. And I don’t care what administration it is -- Democratic or Republican. When the press gives up its power to scrutinize what power is doing, then we’re all in trouble.

"Pro-war pundits" need to be banned from TV, put in a penalty box:

You can't win -- you can fight a war that’s based on lies, but you can't win it, because there comes a point when you can't keep asking people to die for a lie. And that’s why there’s a moral tragedy in this. And none of these people -- you know, to be a pro-war pundit meant you never had to apologize. If we had standards in journalism so that those of us who might violate them get put in the penalty box for a while, half these people wouldn’t be on the air today. But without ever looking back and saying, "Yes, we were wrong," they are all over television and the radio today. And that’s one of the reasons I did this broadcast, to try to make them see, hope that they might see themselves in a different light.

Implausibly, he claimed his documentary talks to people "on all sides of the story," supposedly:

I mean, the sad thing is that we journalists rarely say, "I’m sorry." We rarely admit we made a mistake. If there’s a correction by the New York Times of a story, it’s usually like this, and we in broadcasting rarely say we made this mistake. All I’m trying to do with this documentary -- and by the way, this is a fact-based, evidence-driven film, in which I talk to people on all sides of the story. What I’m just trying to get us to see in the media is that you should never go to war on a suspicion. You know, I was in the Johnson White House at the time of the escalation to the Vietnam War. David Halberstam and I -- the late David Halberstam -- had many conversations about this. It was David Halberstam’s reporting from Vietnam that made me realize, even from within the White House, that the official view of reality that we were adopting had some flaws in it. ...Well, David Halberstam is the one reporter who helped me realize over time that what’s important to journalism is not how close you are to power. Michael Gordon [of the New York Times] was close to power. You have to be influenced by that. You have to believe nobody would lie to you about a war. But David Halberstam and Peter Arnett of the Associated Press and Morley Safer of 60 Minutes were out in Vietnam reporting the facts on the ground. And we’d see those reports, and we’d be angry about them, because they were undermining the official view of reality. And yet, when you thought about them, you realized, what’s their stake? They’re not trying to make policy. They’re trying to report the impact of policy. And so, you begin to pay attention to them, and you realize, as I said, that the further you get from power, the closer you can get to the truth. That was the great lesson of David Halberstam's life and all of those reporters in Vietnam.

Jon Stewart is the Mark Twain of our day (and Amy Goodman will accept any whopper if it comes from the mouth of Bill Moyers):

BILL MOYERS: Well, I almost didn’t come back to PBS. I really wanted to be a correspondent on the Daily Show, but I wasn't funny enough, so I had Stewart come over. You know, he and I have been back and forth below. Jon Stewart is part of the new media. AMY GOODMAN: Were you really going to be a correspondent? BILL MOYERS: No. You’ve been in journalism too long if you start believing things like that, Amy. No, no, I’m just teasing. But Jon Stewart is the Mark Twain of our day. If Mark Twain were here today, he would not be writing these long tomes. He would be on Comedy Central, because the way to get across the truth today is to wrap it in the kind of humor that will go down the way Jon Stewart’s humor goes down. So Jon Stewart on comedy is -- by the way, the Pew Research Center recently pointed out that more people get their reliable news from fake news than they do from the evening newscast. And Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were identified by the most informed people as their regular sources of information about the world. Interesting phenomenon.

Dan Rather is an "honest man," but at CBS, he was "a good man caught in a rigged system," contained by corporate owners at Viacom who voted Republican:

You know, Dan Rather is an honest man. I’ve known him forty years. He was a good man caught in a rigged system, you know, in which you can’t ever really be totally yourself in commercial broadcasting. In the documentary tonight, he himself raises the question and says one of the compromising realities that we face is that the guys at the top of CBS, Viacom, have business dealings in Washington where they want deregulation, subsidies, tax breaks -- I’m paraphrasing Dan now -- and he says that has become a significant problem. In effect, the news business is at war with journalism. And Sumner Redstone -- you know, Sumner Redstone, the head of Viacom, the chairman of Viacom, said, "I’m going to vote Republican, although I’m a Democrat, because the Republicans will be better for Viacom than the Democrats." Well, that trickles down to the newsroom. It has to trickle down to the newsroom. It’s a real world we live in.

Moyers claims he and PBS serve a "centrist role," and PBS needs to break away from Congress:

PBS has been a marvelous source of creativity and alternative information, Amy, but it will never achieve its full potential until is slips the tether of government support. Only 17% of PBS’s budget comes from Congress, but that 17% compromises the system so much that unconsciously people know that there are places you can't go, there are things you don’t do. And we serve a sort of centrist role here. I’m fortunate. I don’t take public -- my new series does not have public money in it. I didn't take any money from CPB or any money from PBS. I raised it all from foundations and corporations that believe in the independence of journalism. I am independent. But until PBS finds a way -- has it own trust fund, no longer has to go up with its cup out to Congress, it’s not going to achieve its full potential, although I take my hat off to my colleagues throughout the system, because they do the best job they can.

Moyers has often claimed in his career that he takes no PBS funds for the production of his documentaries. But pretty much every PBS station that airs his jeremiads takes federal grants through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, so the conservative taxpayer is still advancing his views and his career. Do not forget that Moyers became a wealthy man by selling spinoff products from his PBS shows, not just the tapes or DVDs, but book spinoffs as well.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis