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Discomforting the Comfortable

Committed to the First Amendment 2/22/2004 07:00:00 PM Eastern

We were sorry to learn of Bill Moyers' decision to say "see you later" to Now,
his thoughtful, provocative series on PBS. Citing either The Byrds or the Bible, he said there is a season for everything, and this one will be his last on the show.

It's hard to believe Now
is only in its third year. It quickly became a lightning rod for critics of Moyers' liberal political views. PBS took some political heat and was courageous to defend his show, which never pulled its punches. Neither did he.

Most recently, Now
has trained a spotlight on media concentration, a subject about which Moyers' passion is undisguised. At a Madison, Wis., conference opposing deregulation last November, he gave a stem-winder of a speech all but calling for a viewer revolution. We're obviously not endorsing that view, nor do we think Moyers has always been on the mark. But the public at large and even big media companies benefit form exposure to divergent viewpoints.

Even if his criticism of big media didn't always (or ever) make it to the corporate penthouse, it was and remains necessary to keep pointing out the downsides of upbeat projections for synergy. Better to have an independent loyal opposition pound away than a government try to do it by regulation.

Moyers has been practicing his brand of thoughtful advocacy journalism, primarily on public TV with a couple of trips to CBS, for 32 years, collecting a host of awards, adherents, and critics. Back in his first year, hosting This Week
(which became Bill Moyers' Journal), he was described by one critic as looking like a "teacher's pet" as he sat behind a desk in his horn-rimmed glasses. Moyers concedes he prefers "the role of teacher and illuminator" and, in PBS, found arguably the only broadcast home that could accommodate that approach.

There is also a bit of the Baptist preacher (he has a divinity degree) and philosopher (he studied moral philosophy at the University of Edinburgh) in Moyers' journalistic world view.

A law professor wrote him following a piece he did on Watergate in 1974: "You have the best classroom in America. Don't ever give it up."

PBS says it will try not to let him, giving Moyers a visiting-lecturer post of sorts through occasional specials.

It also looks like the show will survive, hosted by the able David Brancaccio, whom the service has been grooming as a replacement for several months. PBS is currently renegotiating for next year and says it is committed to it. We hope so. It is a voice that needs to be part of the debate, Now
more than ever.

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