The Messenger’s Counter-Attack - Broadcasting & Cable

The Messenger’s Counter-Attack

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The following is from Bill Moyers’ speech to the National Conference on Media Reform May 15. The St. Louis event was hosted by the media-reform group Free Press. Moyers is the former host of PBS’ Now. The full speech is available at http://freepress.net.

The story I’ve come to share with you goes to the core of our belief that the quality of democracy and the quality of journalism are deeply entwined. I can tell this story because I’ve been living it. It’s been in the news this week, including reports of more attacks on a single journalist—yours truly—by the right-wing media and their allies at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

As some of you know, CPB was established almost 40 years ago to set broad policy for public broadcasting and to be a firewall between political influence and program content. What some on this board are now doing today—led by its chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson—is too important, too disturbing and yes, even too dangerous for a gathering like this not to address.

We’re seeing unfold a contemporary example of the age-old ambition of power and ideology to squelch and punish journalists who tell the stories that make princes and priests uncomfortable.

Let me assure you that I take in stride attacks by the radical right-wingers who have not given up demonizing me although I retired over six months ago. They’ve been after me for years now, and I suspect they will be stomping on my grave to make sure I don’t come back from the dead.

I should remind them, however, that one of our boys pulled it off some 2,000 years ago—after the Pharisees, Sadducees and Caesar’s surrogates thought they had shut him up for good. Of course, I won’t be expecting that kind of miracle, but I should put my detractors on notice: They might just compel me out of the rocking chair and back into the anchor chair.

Who are they? I mean the people obsessed with control, using the government to threaten and intimidate. I mean the people who are hollowing out middle-class security even as they enlist the sons and daughters of the working class in a war to make sure Ahmed Chalabi winds up controlling Iraq’s oil. I mean the people who turn faith-based initiatives into a slush fund and who encourage the pious to look heavenward and pray so as not to see the long arm of privilege and power picking their pockets. I mean the people who squelch free speech in an effort to obliterate dissent and consolidate their orthodoxy into the official view of reality from which any deviation becomes unpatriotic heresy.

That’s who I mean. And if that’s editorializing, so be it. A free press is one where it’s OK to state the conclusion you’re led to by the evidence.

One reason I’m in hot water is because my colleagues and I at Now didn’t play by the conventional rules of Beltway journalism. Those rules divide the world into Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and allow journalists to pretend they have done their job if, instead of reporting the truth behind the news, they merely give each side an opportunity to spin the news.

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