Sunday, November 22, 2009

When Bill Moyers goes, will anyone on broadcast TV uphold proper journalistic standards -- or even have any idea what they are?


Bill Moyers' Journal, which Bill will draw to a close on April 30 of next year, began with a momentous report called "Buying the War," on April 25, 2007. It was a simple but searing look at the stunning, near-complete breakdown of the infotainment-news media while the Bush regime was lying gullible Americans into war against Iraq. The shameful truth explored in that report was that there were non-Beltway journalists doing an actual job of reporting. In this all-too-brief clip, he notes of people like Knight Ridder's Warren Strobel (working with the solid backing of his bureau chief, James Wolcott), "They went about their reporting the old-fashioned way, with shoe leather, tracking down and meeting with sources deep inside the intelligence community." But no one paid attention to Knight Ridder; they weren't Beltway players. And for the journalists who tried to get the story right, there was no reward, and often punishment, while most of the people who got it wrong -- all wrong, dead wrong -- saw their careers flourish. (By the way, a DVD of "Buying the War" is still available, and two and a half years later seems every bit as pertinent. Maybe PBS could just keep recycling old BMJ reports?)

by Ken

Say it ain't so, Bill.

From Elizabeth Jensen's Friday night NYT "Media Decoder" blogpost:
Mr. Moyers said he had been planning for some time to retire the program on Dec. 25, but was asked by PBS to raise the funds to continue through April, which he did.

“I am 75 years old,” he said of the decision to end the series, which began in April 2007. The program has recently been having a “good run of it,” he added in a telephone interview on Friday, “so I feel it’s time.” He said he was not quitting television work, although he has no new projects planned.

No, it's not fair to badger Bill simply because of the gap his departure will leave. If anybody has earned relief from the grind of producing a weekly hour of solid investigative reporting, it's Bill Moyers at age 75. It's not his fault that there's nobody to replace him. Actually, my guess is that over the years he's worked with, inspired, and trained enough TV journalists that there are people who could carry on his work, but they don't have his name or his ability to squeeze money out of public-television donors.

The fact that there's nobody to replace him works out fine, since it turns out that PBS really has no interest in replacing him. Note that the PBS wizards are taking this opportunity to dump Now on PBS as well. From Ms. Jensen's report: "John Siceloff, the executive producer, said the program, hosted now by David Brancaccio, had been “a unique voice at a time when outlets for insightful journalism are diminishing. We’re all looking for places to continue that work.” Of course there isn't anyplace -- at least not in broadcast TV -- to continue that work.

I'm sure a lot of higher-ups at PBS, many of whom proclaim the highest admiration for Bill Moyers, and some of whom may actually mean it, are breathing easier now that they don't have Bill M to defend anymore. We all know how crazy he drives the loony, lying Right, people who would be incapable of championing fair reporting if their toxic lives depended on it. Bill Moyers as a journalist has always been obsessed with real fairness, the kind that's pinned to truth, as opposed to the kind drooled about by the lying liars of the Right. (When they talk about "fairness," what they mean is "lies the way we like 'em, to suit our delusional, psychotic prejudices.")

Maybe equally important, because the bias of right-wing news outlets like Fox is so blatant and egregious -- to everyone, it appears, except the American journalistic establishment -- Bill Moyers has stood brazenly apart from the muddled mob mentality of Inside the Beltway journalism, whose overriding mission is to coddle the preconceptions and prerogatives of the ossified Village establishment. Even Beltway journalists who privately sneer at the Fox Noisemakers wax indignant when it's suggested that they have abandoned pretty much any pretense to doing actual journalism in exchange for the privilege of being thought of as "insiders" in the corridors of power.


That said, I have to admit that I haven't watched Bill Moyers' Journal all that often. I should be ashamed to admit it -- heck, I am ashamed to admit it -- but his TV hours are simply too filled with reality, of which my system these years can absorb only so much, even from someone as kindly and gentle as Bill. I'm still hopping mad from "Buying the War," and thinking about coughing about the $29.95 to buy the DVD. But realistically, in terms of the decisions that even well-meaning TV executives have to make, if somebody like me isn't watching the Journal, how big an audience can they hope for? Especially when measured against the nonstop raucous roaring produced by the Right-Wing Noise Machine in response to any attempt at honest reporting.

Still, it was always reassuring, when Bill was doing a regular program, that he was there, meaning that somebody on broadcast TV was practicing journalism.

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