Friday, December 17, 2004

Bill Moyers Says Goodnight…for Now

Bill Moyers, a presence in American journalism for over fifty years, concludes his run of Now with Bill Moyers on PBS tonight. In spite of his genial manner – always measured, always polite – he is not going without firing a last shot or two.

The gospel of Mr. Moyers – an unreconstructed progressive – warns against the danger of media consolidation, the growing links between conservative government and conservative media and the threat of information control by government.

Anybody who has paid attention to Mr. Moyers’s 54-year career in journalism would not be surprised by his jeremiad. He is a rigorous journalist, one whose documentaries and television news reports always point to the facts, but when he makes up his mind, he lands hard on his conclusions. And among other epiphanies, Mr. Moyers has decided that the current administration in the White House represents a threat to free and unfettered discourse.

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Mr. Moyers has done more than preach, teach and write stories. He has been president of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that provides grants to promote education and environmental causes, along with financial support for media projects.

To many people with allegiances to liberal causes, he has been a kind of patron saint, a journalist-activist who never let notions of objectivity get in the way of taking a stand.

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“I think this will be a golden age of investigative journalism,” he said. “When you marry the power of the state with the power of business, as is the case with the current administration, you are creating a spectacle of corruption that will create a heyday for muckrakers, as long as there are enough of them left.”

Although Mr. Moyers is nominally retiring – he and Ms. Moyers will continue to produce documentaries – it is doubtful he will go silent. A day after the telephone interview from his Manhattan production studio, he sent a draft by e-mail of his final remarks on “Now.” (The program’s new host will be David Brancaccio, its current co-host, a former host of “Marketplace” on public radio and a man with a modern irony that Mr. Moyers never managed to master.) In the note that accompanied the draft, Mr. Moyers continued to circle like a warplane, pumping round after round into its intended targets.

“I learned the hard way an old lesson that the greatest moments in the history of the press came not when journalists made common cause with the state but when they stood fearlessly independent of it,” he said. “Now we have those megamedia companies that won’t speak truth to power and an ideological media that willingly lies for power. Scary!”

In the uninflected medium of e-mail Mr. Moyers’s departing exclamation, not couched in his just-us-folks Texas delivery, comes through loud and clear. [David Carr, New York Times]

I hope he’ll be around for a long, long time. He gives us whippersnappers something to aspire to.