With the increasing politicization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the threat of funding cuts in Congress, public media in this country is facing a serious crisis. We spend the hour with legendary journalist Bill Moyers–the subject of much of the pressure brought by CPB chair Kenneth Tomlinson.
Moyers says, "I think we’re at a moment in American history that is unique. I think we are in danger of losing our democracy because of the domination, the monopoly of power being exercised by the huge economic interests, both directly and indirectly. In public broadcasting we need to get back to the revolutionary spirit of dissent and courage that brought us into existence in the first place, and this country does, too." [includes rush transcript]
Public Broadcasting is facing the most serious threat to its existence since Congress created the non-profit Corporation for Public Broadcasting more than thirty years ago. CPB is the U.S taxpayer-funded agency that passes funds to public broadcasting stations in this country. Last week the House Appropriations Committee voted to cut $100 million dollars in federal funding to the CPB which is 25 percent of its total allocation. The proposal would also eliminate money that stations need to convert to digital programming and to upgrade technology. In addition, funds for the "Ready to Learn" program that produces children’s shows such as "Sesame Street," would also be cut. All told, the cuts in the budget for public television and radio would amount to a reduction of nearly 50 percent. And the proposal would eliminate all federal funding to the corporation in two years. The full House is scheduled to vote on it this week.
At a White House news conference Monday, press secretary Scott McClellan was questioned about the funding cuts.
- White House news conference, June 20, 2005.
The threats of funding cuts to public broadcasting have come amid revelations of the increasing politicization of the CPB. Under its mandate from Congress, the CPB is required to act as an independent buffer between lawmakers and public broadcasters. But this week, National Public Radio reported that they had obtained emails from a CPB official that showed that CPB Chair Kenneth Tomlinson had conferred with the White House in hiring decisions and in shaping policy at the corporation. In past interviews, Tomlinson has said that the White House does not interfere with CPB.
Last year, he secretly paid more than $14,000 to an outside consultant, to monitor the political content of the guests on the PBS program NOW with Bill Moyers. The consultant, Fred Mann, worked for the American Conservative Union for many years.
And earlier this month, it was revealed that a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee is Tomlinson’s favored candidate to take over as President of the CPB. Patricia de Stacy Harrison is currently a high-ranking official at the State Department. She was co-chair of the RNC from 1997 until January 2001, helping to raise money for Republican candidates, including George W. Bush. The vote on the position is expected to take place today.
Yesterday, sixteen senators signed a letter urging President Bush to remove Tomlinson from his position. The senators wrote, "We strongly disagree with your Administration’s decision to appoint an individual to head a not-for-profit corporation such as public broadcasting who is actively undermining, under-funding, and ultimately undoing its mission."
We are joined today by the man in the crosshairs–subject of much of the pressure brought by Tomlinson, Bill Moyers. Before we go to him live, let’s go to his goodbye on his show NOW last December.
- Excerpt of "Now with Bill Moyers"
Moyers was the host of NOW with Bill Moyers for three years. Over the past three decades he has become an icon of American journalism. He was one of the organizers of the Peace Corps, a special assistant for Lyndon Johnson, a publisher of Newsday, senior correspondent for CBS News and a producer of many groundbreaking series on public television. He is the winner of more than 30 Emmys, nine Peabodys, three George Polk awards and is the author of three best-selling books. His latest is called "Moyers on America: A Journalist and His Times." Bill Moyers joins us in our firehouse studio for the hour.
- Bill Moyers
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Press Secretary Scott McClellan was questioned about the funding cuts.
REPORTER: Ralph Regula, the Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, himself a longtime supporter of tax dollars for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting said that funding for this corporation had to be terminated because of deficit concerns this year. And on June 9, the subcommittee voted to cut out all funding for the CPB, and then those cuts were restored by the full committee. Does the President support ending government funding for Public Broadcasting?
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Now, what we have done in our budget, I believe — and I’ll have to go back and double check — but I believe we’ve provided level funding in the current budget. We do have concerns about the deficit, and we need to keep our budget on track to keep our economy growing and keep the budget on track to be able to cut the deficit in half by 2009. And that’s why we outlined a very responsible budget that held the line on spending elsewhere. But what we did for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, I believe, was level fund it. And I’ll double check that to make sure.
REPORTER: You’re saying you disagree with Chairman Regula that there should be some form of funding for Public Broadcasting?
SCOTT McCLELLAN: I mean, you can go and look at our budget, because it spells out — it spells it out in the budget.
AMY GOODMAN: White House Press Secretary, Scott McClellan, speaking at his press briefing on Monday. The threats of funding cuts to Public Broadcasting have come amid revelations of the increasing politicization of the CPB. Under its mandate from Congress, the CPB is required to act as an independent buffer between lawmakers and public broadcasters. But this week, National Public Radio reported they had obtained emails from a CPB official that showed that CPB Chair, Kenneth Tomlinson, had conferred with the White House in hiring decisions and shaping policy at the corporation. In past interviews, Tomlinson had said the White House does not interfere with CPB.
Last year, he secretly paid more than $14,000 to an outside consultant to monitor the political content of the guests on the PBS program, "Now with Bill Moyers." The consultant, Fred Mann, worked for the American Conservative Union for many years. And earlier this month, it was revealed that a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee is Tomlinson’s favorite candidate to take over as president of the CPB. Patricia de Stacy Harrison is currently a high-ranking official at the State Department. She was co-chair of the RNC from ’97 until 2001, helped to raise money for Republican candidates, including George W. Bush. The vote on the position is expected to take place today.
Yesterday, 16 senators signed a letter urging President Bush to remove Kenneth Tomlinson from his position as CPB Chair. The senators wrote, (quote), "We strongly disagree with your administration’s decision to appoint an individual to head a not-for-profit corporation, such as Public Broadcasting, who’s actively undermining, under-funding, and ultimately undoing its mission."
We’re joined today by the man in the crosshairs, subject of much of the pressure brought by Tomlinson. He is Bill Moyers. Before we go to him live, let’s go to his goodbye on his show "Now" last December.
BILL MOYERS: Finally, my thanks to you for being there time and again, for coming back even after we’ve let you down. I treasure your letters and email and will take many of them with me as I would a family album. Even the angry harangues usually come from kissing cousins. I’ve learned from you not to claim too much from our craft, but not to claim too little, either. You keep reminding me that the quality of journalism and the quality of democracy go hand in hand, or as a character says in one of Tom Stoppard’s plays, people do terrible things to each other, but it’s worse in the places where everybody’s kept in the dark. So this is it for me, but fortunately, not for "Now."
AMY GOODMAN: Bill Moyers was the host of "Now with Bill Moyers" for three years. Over the past three decades, he’s become an icon of American journalism. He’s one of the organizers of the Peace Corps, special assistant for Lyndon Johnson, a publisher of Newsday, senior correspondent for CBS news, a producer of many ground breaking series on public television, winner of more than 30 Emmys, nine Peabodys, three George Polk Awards, and is the author of three best-selling books, his latest is called Moyers on America: A Journalist and His Times. Bill Moyers joins us in our firehouse studio for the hour. Welcome.
BILL MOYERS: It’s a pleasure to be with you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. Bill, let’s start with the latest news. Today in Washington, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is expected to vote on the president of their corporation. The person who is considered the favorite pick of the Chair, Kenneth Tomlinson, is Patricia de Stacy Harrison, State Department official, before that co-chair of the Republican National Committee. Your response.
BILL MOYERS: I don’t know her, but I think it’s a serious mistake to put in charge of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting a partisan, whether Democratic partisan or Republican partisan. It undermines the credibility of Public Broadcasting. It accentuates the effort of the appearance that the right wing is succeeding finally after 30 years of trying to eliminate Public Broadcasting. If they can’t eliminate it, they’re going to control it with their partisan operatives. It’s a very serious inside job.
All the attacks on Public Broadcasting in the past have come from outside. They’ve come from the Nixon White House, from Newt Gingrich when he was Speaker of the House, and they’ve been rebuffed because the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was led by principled Democrats and Republicans who took seriously their job of resisting pressure from Congress and the White House to influence Public Broadcasting. They can’t do that anymore. Now this is an inside job. Kenneth Tomlinson is there as an ally of Karl Rove to help make sure that Public Broadcasting doesn’t report the news that they don’t want reported. Miss Harris is a Republican partisan. She will work from the inside also to make sure our system is politicized.
AMY GOODMAN: Last year, she testified before Congress in her capacity as a State Department official, applauding the State Department’s Office of Special Broadcasting, which puts out those video news releases that we were describing them in the headlines today. Today we’re talking about the VNR’s that came out of the Department of Agriculture. But she was describing the ones, the packaged news stories that end up on local newscasts around the country or internationally that covered the invasion of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, saying that they were powerful strategic tools that sway public opinion. Your response.
BILL MOYERS: Well, she and Kenneth Tomlinson both are involved in the overseas broadcast of the American government, and it seems to me that they both would like to see Public Broadcasting be an arm of government propaganda, in particular the administration’s propaganda. That does not surprise — I’ve not heard that she had said that, but it does not surprise me that she sees the job of Voice of America and other broadcasts abroad, sponsored by the United States government, of putting America’s best foot forward. Journalism is about saying we’re not putting our best foot forward. Journalism is about reporting the news that we need to — Napoleon said to his secretary, you know, "If the news from the front is good, you don’t need to wake me, I can wait until morning; if the news is bad, I need to get up and act on it, so wake me up." But these people really want Public Broadcasting and all journalists — and they’ve essentially intimidated the mainstream media so that you don’t get much reporting of what is contrary to the official view of reality. They’d like to see Public Broadcasting silenced, too, or become an arm of the administration and the government.
AMY GOODMAN: State media.
BILL MOYERS: State media, yes. Or at least state-manipulated media, media that may not be owned by the state, but is responsive to the state.
AMY GOODMAN: Tomlinson comes from Voice of America.
BILL MOYERS: Well, he was the chairman. He worked for the Voice of America as — he was the director of the Voice of America early in the Reagan administration, and he’s now — has been on the board of governors of Voice of America in our other overseas operations. I think he thinks like a propagandist.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Bill Moyers. We’re going to go to break, come back to him, not a commercial break, and I also want to add that we did invite Kenneth Tomlinson on this show and on a number of previous shows, though he has gone on Bill O’Reilly, "The O’Reilly Factor" and other such programs, they have said they won’t come on Democracy Now!, at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue our discussion today with Bill Moyers. Bill Moyers’s latest book is called Moyers on America: A Journalist and His Times. Bill Moyers, himself, and public media, in general, is in the crosshairs, a target today. Later today, the CPB is expected to vote on the president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. A lot of revelations have come out over the last month in various exposés about what has been happening.
Bill, I wanted to get your response to the monitoring of the political content of your show. This first came out right before the big Media Reform Conference that you addressed in St. Louis. More has come out around it. The Chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Kenneth Tomlinson, spending something like $14,000, apparently secretly, to a consultant named Fred Mann from Indianapolis, who used to be with the American Conservative Union, to monitor the content of your show. Your response.
BILL MOYERS: Well, he didn’t have to pay Fred Mann any money at all. He could have just watched the broadcast. He could have called me and asked me who was on. He did not tell his board he was doing this. He did not tell his staff he was doing this. He did it arbitrarily on his own.
AMY GOODMAN: Where did he get the money?
BILL MOYERS: From the public. These are funds that were spent to hire this (quote) "consultant." I think Fred Mann is an old friend of Kenneth Tomlinson. Michael Winship, the columnist, has a really interesting report on who Fred Mann is. It turns out he’s been a longtime operative for conservative, right-wing journalism, and so naturally Tomlinson, who is himself a right winger, turned to him.
But, you know, the interesting thing, Amy, is this guy, watching my broadcast, concluded that I was — that "Now" was anti-defense, because we did an hour broadcast with the whistle blower, Chuck Spinney, one of the great public servants of our time, who kept calling the Pentagon from inside the Pentagon to account for its expenditures. We did a wonderful — I won an Emmy Award by it, by the way. But Fred Mann saw that report and reported to Mr. Tomlinson that "Now" was "anti-defense" because it was doing it.
We did a documentary segment, which included a sound bite from Chuck Hagel, the Republican Senator from Nebraska, criticizing his own party’s president, George W. Bush. Fred Mann’s report to Kenneth Tomlinson said, "Now" is anti-Bush because they had this liberal Senator, Chuck Hagel, on from Nebraska.
I mean, this is the kind of nonsense — we did one of the first investigative pieces in Texas of Tom DeLay’s use of corporate funds to manipulate the redistricting of Congress in Texas. And so Fred Mann’s report, secret report, to Kenneth Tomlinson said, "'Now With Bill Moyers' is anti-DeLay."
The really revealing moment came a couple of weeks ago when Kenneth Tomlinson gave an interview to The Washington Post, and he said he was watching "Now" himself one night, and he just couldn’t take what we were reporting from a little town in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. My camera crew, one of the great journalists of our time, a network journalist named Peter Bull, had gone with the team and spent time in this little town looking at what was happening economically in this town as a result of downsizing, outsourcing, loss of jobs, people losing $20 an hour jobs for $9 or $6 an hour jobs. It was a really good reporting about the losers in the class war.
And Kenneth Tomlinson, a right-wing Republican, couldn’t take that because it was contrary to the party line. The party line is: Globalization, NAFTA, CAFTA, all of this is really good for people, and if we just have the patience, we’ll see that. Well, we were reporting from the front lines of what’s happening on globalization to American workers, and he became furious. And it was that moment, he said, he decided I was a liberal advocate journalist, and that’s when he really turned up the heat on "Now." Why? Because we were reporting what was contrary to the official view of reality. It’s not my opinions he opposes. It’s journalism that is beholden to nothing but getting as close as possible to the verifiable truth.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Kenneth Tomlinson, while a Republican, was appointed by President Clinton.
BILL MOYERS: That comes because the legislation establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1967 provides that the CPB Board is always representative of both parties, so it’s a formula. So Reagan — I mean, Clinton did appoint Tomlinson, but he was recommended by the Republicans in Congress for that position. And that happens all the time.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the hiring of two Republican lobbyists, all this coming out in revelations?
BILL MOYERS: Well, Kenneth Tomlinson is the first chairman of the CPB in my 35 years’ experience in Public Broadcasting who has set out to staff the CPB with partisan operatives of his own party. Back in the 1970s, Richard Nixon and Patrick Buchanan, his communications aide, were unhappy with what Public Broadcasting was reporting, and they began to rail against Robert McNeil, who had come to Public Broadcasting, Sandy Vanocur, me, all professional journalists who were just trying to do our job. And Nixon and Buchanan tried to de-fund Public Broadcasting then, attacked it. But at that time, principled Republicans, like Ralph Rogers from Dallas, who was a member of the Board of PBS, rose to the occasion, opposed his own party’s president, and beat back the efforts to under-fund and de-fund and eliminate Public Broadcasting. We had principled Republicans in those days, moderate Republicans who believed in the mandate of the CPB to keep us out of politics.
AMY GOODMAN: How did Nixon and Pat Buchanan, who’s big time on television today, how did they go after CPB 30 years ago?
BILL MOYERS: They went behind the scenes to try to eliminate the budget from their own budgeting process, and they then —
AMY GOODMAN: It had just been established.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, it had just been established. And, well, we had set up an organization called NPACT, National Public Affairs Center for Television, to report on Washington as mainstream media were not reporting on Washington. And they were reporting stories that — such as you do — that were not being reported in the regular press. So Nixon didn’t like that. He accused, wrongly, falsely accused Public Broadcasting’s Robert McNeil and Sandy Vanocur and others of being biased against the administration, just because, as Tomlinson has done, they were reporting stories that the administration didn’t want reported. And so they tried to de-fund it, tried to eliminate the funding, and then ran a vicious smear campaign behind the scenes, much of what Kenneth Tomlinson has done. This is what troubles me. Much of what he has done has been secret. He hasn’t told his staff. He’s circulated rumors about those of us in Public Broadcasting. He’s spoken strongly against us privately. He’s actually spread disinformation about us privately. This is unbecoming of the Chairman of CPB.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at today’s New York Times, "Democrats Call For Firing of Broadcast Chair." So at the same time they’re — the CPB is voting on the president for Corporation for Public Broadcasting, you have these 16 senators who are saying Tomlinson should be fired. And it says, "A new problem emerged for Tomlinson on Tuesday when evidence surfaced that he might have provided incorrect information about the hiring of a researcher last year to monitor the political leanings of the guests on 'Now' program. In a letter to Senator Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, Tomlinson said he saw no need to consult with the board about the contract with the researcher, Fred Mann, because it was approved and signed by then-CPB president, Kathleen Cox. But a copy of the contract, provided by a person unhappy with Tomlinson’s leadership, shows that Tomlinson signed it on February 3, 2004, which was five months before Cox became president. Cox stepped down in April after the board did not renew her contract. Asked about the apparent discrepancy between the contract he signed and what he wrote to Dorgan, Tomlinson declined through a spokesperson to comment."
BILL MOYERS: It saddens me that the Chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, who should be representing the Public Broadcasting community and defending our political independence, is both a partisan and a dissembler. He has not been telling the truth, and this is unfortunate for the Public Broadcasting community to have a leader in that position who is not willing to be honest with the American public and with the press.
AMY GOODMAN: Congress members Obey and Dingle called for the CPB Inspector General to investigate his actions. He says — Tomlinson says that that will show he didn’t do anything illegal, but that investigation now is ongoing.
BILL MOYERS: This is what they always say, "We didn’t do anything illegal." I mean, the biggest scandal in Washington is that all the scandal is legal, campaign contributions and this sort of thing. It probably will show that he didn’t do anything illegal, but what he did not was not ethical, and it was not moral.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Bill Moyers, who has done the program on PBS, "Now With Bill Moyers," for three years, but has been associated with Public Broadcasting for three decades. In The Washington Post on Tuesday, you have a very large letter. It’s a two-page spread. It says, "A Message From Bill Moyers." Can you talk about what you are trying to accomplish with this? Can you talk about your message?
BILL MOYERS: Sure. My message goes back to the beginning of Public Broadcasting. I was a young policy assistant in the White House of Lyndon Johnson, attended my first meeting to discuss the future of educational television in 1964 when I was 30 years old, to discuss what we were going to do about educational television, and I was present at the creation, and then by a series of serendipitous events after I left the White House to become publisher of Newsday, I wound up hosting a broadcast on Public Broadcasting in 1970, and I’ve been associated with it ever since. I care about this medium.
We established Public Broadcasting back in the 1960s because we believed there should be an alternative to commercial television and to commercials on television. We thought commercial television was doing pretty well at what it was doing, but it was even then beginning to dumb down its programming to satisfy the largest common denominator. It had made its peace with the little lies and fantasies of merchandising. It treated Americans as consumers, not as citizens. So we started — Congress approved Public Broadcasting as an alternative to corporate and commercial broadcasting.
I still believe with all my heart that although — while there are so many more channels, we still need one system — people vote for their television. Television is a great democracy. You can use that remote control and vote a change right away. We need one channel in there, such as you’re doing here. In fact, Amy, it’s not because I’m here today, but I’ve long believed that Democracy Now! belongs on Public Broadcasting. You report the news that others are not reporting. You represent constituencies that are not represented in our programming.
Public Broadcasting has failed on many respects. We’ve not been enough of an alternative. We need a greater variety of voices on Public Broadcasting, conservative, liberal and beyond conservative and liberal. But it’s still the best alternative we have for providing the American people with something other than what is driven by commercials, corporations, and the desire constantly to sell, sell, sell. You cannot get anywhere in the Public Broadcasting universe the kind of information that you provided in the opening of your broadcast with your news summary. That’s not the news summary you’re going to get on CNN tonight or Fox News tonight or ABC or CBS. Public Broadcasting still unfulfilled, still flawed, still imperfect, my message is to remind people what’s at stake if we allow it to go under.
AMY GOODMAN: What do the cuts mean? The House Appropriations Committee, altogether we’re talking cuts around half of the funding for Public Broadcasting, and they say, in two years zeroing out the budget. Didn’t — Newt Gingrich tried this more than 10 years ago when he first led the House. He was beaten back by Ernie, Bert and Big Bird, who testified before Congress, and more importantly, the American people, and it wasn’t Democrat, it wasn’t liberal, it wasn’t red state, it wasn’t blue state. It was people believing in educational Public Broadcasting. What’s happened this time around? It seems it hasn’t gotten half the attention.
BILL MOYERS: Well, there’s a war going on. The administration is far more clever than any administration, in my knowledge, at manipulating the agenda, determining what the Washington press corps reports and doesn’t report. Also, the right wing minority has a monopoly power over the instruments of government, over the House, the Senate and the White House. In 1954, when Newt Gingrich tried to de-fund and eliminate Public —
AMY GOODMAN: 1994.
BILL MOYERS: 1994, there was a Democrat in the White House. You had a divided government, so that one party could serve as a check on the other party. We don’t have that now. The right wing has consolidated its control over the United States government, and it can now bully its way through to what it wants, even though it may not represent the majority. Look at what’s happening to John Bolton. I mean, clearly he’s not the qualified man for the U.N. The administration won’t pull him back. Clearly Kenneth Tomlinson shouldn’t be president — chairman of the board of CPB, but they have the power to do what they want to do, irrespective of public opinion, and that’s what has happened.
These cuts — look, Public Broadcasting only gets about 16% of its total budget from the United States Congress, from the taxpayers. But that 16% is sufficient to provide the basic infrastructure support for the stations around the country. The real losers, if these budget cuts go through — it’s not programming per se, although we will be hurt in terms of what we can produce, but the real losers will be the local stations around the country that depend upon these public funds to provide their station operations, their infrastructure and the conversion to digital television, which is the future. So this is a blow — these budget cuts are a blow at the local stations that are serving communities all over this country.
AMY GOODMAN: What’s your prediction? I mean the House has not voted — ultimately has not come out of Congress yet. Do you think people will weigh in? I mean, even on the issue of the president for Corporation for Public Broadcasting, what mechanism is there for the public to have a say?
BILL MOYERS: In 1994, when Newt Gingrich tried this, and in the 1970s when Richard Nixon tried this, moderate Republicans from around the country and in Congress rose up to defend Public Broadcasting. What has happened now is that moderate Republicans have thrown in the towel. They have no influence in their own party, so the right wingers are driving this. I believe these budget cuts — I believe the right wing will succeed in this effort for the first time in our history. I believe they will succeed in de-funding Public Broadcasting, because the Republican Party has given up on it.
I mean, what people need to do — Democrats are for this, they’ve always been for public schools, public libraries, public transportation, public parks, and Public Broadcasting. The right wingers that now control the United States government are against everything public. This is only one of the fronts in their long war to privatize anything public in this country supported by the United States government. So the only way these budget cuts are going to be resisted is if people across the country reach out to Republicans, to the moderates in their states and in Congress, the few of them that there are, and say we don’t agree with this.
And I’m not sure that even that’s going to work. I feel more pessimistic at the moment about the future of Public Broadcasting than I ever have in my 35 years, despite the Nixon attacks, despite Newt Gingrich’s attack, because these right wingers are organized. They’ve got Tomlinson at CPB. They’re taking over the governance of Public Broadcasting at that level, and they don’t pay any attention to opposition or to protest or to pressure. They are actually dogmatic and determined in their agenda. So it will take a bipartisan response to what is happening by the right wing. But I’m not optimistic about that because the Republicans, for the first time, have given up on Public Broadcasting.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Bill Moyers. We’ll be back with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: If you hear a dog barking, that’s Big Al upstairs, not to be confused with Clifford the Big Red Dog, who was protesting in Washington this week, protesting the cuts to Public Broadcasting. Our guest is Bill Moyers, has been a journalist for decades, associated with Public Broadcasting since its inception, was special assistant to Lyndon Johnson, one of the founders of the Peace Corps, a top producer at CBS, most recently did a three-year stint, having his weekly broadcast on PBS called "Now with Bill Moyers" on Friday nights, very much in the crosshairs with this latest battle over Public Broadcasting, with an independent consultant — so-called independent consultant being brought in by the Chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to monitor the political content of his broadcast. Bill Moyers, do you sense a kind of McCarthyism right now that’s going on?
BILL MOYERS: I don’t want to make any easy comparisons, but I do sense that there is a desire to silence any dissent in this country by the administration. They practice extraordinary media manipulation. They’re the most secretive administration in my 70 years. And this whole attack on me is indicative of how when anyone rises up to speak an alternative truth, an alternative vision of reality, they try to discredit them. I mean, that’s been behind the 25 year attack on the mainstream media, on Dan Rather and others. I mean, sometimes mainstream media contribute to our own errors — I mean, to our own downfall, because of our mistakes, but they have been trying to discredit the mainstream journalists for a long time so that their own right wing media can be accepted by their constituency, in particular, as the media. So I’m targeted because my reporting on "Now" was telling the stories that they didn’t want told about secrecy in government, about Cheney’s energy task forces, about a cover up at the Department of Interior, about the relationship between business, corporations, and the administration. We were reporting what good muckraking journalism always reports, and they don’t like that. So that’s why they’ve singled me out.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about some of those reports. I mean, you talk about them in Moyers on America: A Journalist and His Times. You talk about the toxins in children. You talk about taking on not just the industry, but even organizations like the American Heart Association. Talk about that.
BILL MOYERS: Well, I think you’re referring to a documentary we did called Trade Secrets, which looked at how, for 40 years, the chemical administration had tried to cover up the toxic qualities in the products that their workers were producing and consumers were using. And when we did that broadcast, the chemical industry did everything it could to smear me and our producer, Sherry Jones. This is the way they worked. They used the American Cancer Society unwittingly to spread disinformation about that documentary before it happened.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, that was an interesting point, because you had an advertising agency doing pro bono work.
BILL MOYERS: Well, the American Cancer Society benefited from the services of a private public relations firm that gave it advice about how to communicate to the American people. At the same time, this P.R. agency was —
AMY GOODMAN: Was it Porter Novelli?
BILL MOYERS: Porter Novelli was a paid — was providing paid services to the chemical industry. And unbeknownst to the leadership at the top of the American Cancer Society, the P.R. industry, Porter Novelli, persuaded young — the lower down staff people at the American Cancer Society to spread information before our broadcast aired discrediting it as unreliable information, so that they were making money from the chemical industry and using their pro bono relationship to the American Cancer Society to discredit a documentary that was telling the truth about the chemical industry. This is the way Washington works today. You began this broadcast by talking about how Washington now has 35,000 lobbyists. The drug industry has more lobbyists in Washington than there are members of Congress. $3 billion a year are spent right now on — by lobbyists in Washington.
AMY GOODMAN: A lot of the journalism schools are now merging P.R. with journalism. A lot of people say the only advantage of going to a journalism school is your connections. Now it may well be for the P.R. professionals, the best education they have is networking with the journalists that they will then influence.
BILL MOYERS: You know, the lines are so dissolving between reality and fiction, between journalism and advertising, that it is increasingly hard for people to know what they can rely upon.
AMY GOODMAN: The magazine, Mother Jones, in their — I think it was the May-June issue, had this issue devoted to looking to the corporate sponsors of conservatives, so-called conservative think tanks; ExxonMobil giving something like $8 million to scores of so-called think tanks, like the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Do you think that when a network, Public Broadcasting or commercial, interviews someone from one of these organizations like Competitive Enterprise Institute that they should have to also say if, for example, they’re talking about global warming, that ExxonMobil, which has poured money into raising questions about global warming, is funding the so-called independent think tank, the person they’re interviewing?
BILL MOYERS: Absolutely. I was so dumfounded and depressed after the election last year when Congress came back to act on several pieces of legislation. One important piece of legislation was a $35 billion tax bill. And buried in that $35 billion tax bill was a huge giveaway to corporations to go offshore, I mean, actually subsidized these corporations for going offshore, which we all know is a — hurts American workers and American economy. And that night, on our premiere broadcast on Public Broadcasting, the only person who was called on that show to talk about what was in that bill was a representative of the American Enterprise Institute, which is corporate-supported. And not one word was said about the entrails of that bill, about what was really in it. Yet he was not identified — he was identified as representing the American Enterprise Institute, but nobody said the American Enterprise Institute is paid for by many of the corporations that are benefiting from this legislation.
AMY GOODMAN: And what broadcast was this on?
BILL MOYERS: Well, that was "The News Hour, which I greatly respect. Jim Lehrer is a scrupulous journalist. He tries very hard to be fair. But he is in — they are within that beltway boundary where the agenda is set by the establishment. In my speech in St. Louis, which you can hear and see, by the way, on FreePress.net — in my speech, I pointed out that most of the voices that we hear on Public Broadcasting come from elites. There were two major scholarly studies in the 1990s that show that 90% of all the people who appear on Public Broadcast represent elites: elite corporations, elite political — political elites, and journalistic elites. They do not represent consumers, environmentalists, ordinary people, people of color out across the country. Public Broadcasting, which I believe in deeply, including "The News Hour," nonetheless reflects the official view of reality more than we should.
AMY GOODMAN: Maybe might that be the reason there isn’t the kind of outcry that there used to be, because the very constituency that would speak out, that perhaps Public Broadcasting has deserted, has, while on the one hand infuriating the right wing, has also perhaps deserted its own base?
BILL MOYERS: I think it has lost the public. Too many of us consider our audiences to be audiences, and not a public. We, too, look at — out on the country and see a country of — a society of passive spectators instead of potential activists. I mean, what we need to do — the American Revolution came about because independent voices like Thomas Paine rallied people to the cause of independence. We have settled in Public Broadcasting into a comfortable, complacent niche where we provide information that isn’t necessarily the truth.
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, I mean, while Public Broadcasting doesn’t have commercial advertisers, you would be hard put to distinguish the difference between enhanced underwriting credits from commercial advertisers, and you have a lot of smaller, local owners of commercial radio stations, for example, around the country are saying why should they get government funding when they’re doing as much or more corporate advertising than we are, who are very locally based.
BILL MOYERS: It distresses me to see more and more underwriting credits come in as commercials on Public Broadcasting. A lot of stations justify it because they said we need the money, but that —
AMY GOODMAN: And now we’ll be pushed very much more in that direction if half the funding is cut.
BILL MOYERS: Exactly. Look, I think we’re at a moment in American history that is unique. I think we are in danger of losing our democracy because of the domination, the monopoly of power being exercised by huge economic interest, both directly and indirectly. And in Public Broadcasting, we need to get back the revolutionary spirit of dissent and courage that brought us into existence in the first place, and this country does, too. One of the most interesting books I have read recently is a book called Thomas Paine and the American Promise by a wonderful scholar at the University of Wisconsin named Harvey J. Kaye. This is a book I recommend to all of — to you — and you ought to have Harvey on — and all of your listeners. I recommend it second to Moyers on America, because this is a book that talks about reclaiming the promise and passion of the American Revolution. We have to do that as a country. We have to do that for Public Broadcasting, as well, or we are going to lose.
A student once asked my colleague, Richard Reeves, the great journalist and historian, "What do you mean by real news?" And Reeves said, "Real news is the news we need to keep our freedom." The news we need to keep our freedom. We are not getting that kind of news from the American press today. There are some world-class exceptions. We still get some really good journalism from time to time in this country. There are exceptions like Democracy Now! and other independent voices in the country. But we’re not getting from the mainstream press or the right-wing press the news we need to keep our freedoms. And we better think about that, because it’s easy to fall into a kind of anesthetized complacency thinking that democracy, since it is the best form of government, except for all — since it is the worst form of government, except all others, that we can take it for granted. We can’t take it for granted.
Franklin Roosevelt feared a government of money, as much as he feared a government of the mob. And we now have a government of money. Amy, on the weekend before George W. Bush’s second inauguration, The Economist, which is not a Marxist rag, The Economist is a great friend of business and capitalism, The Economist said that because of the growing inequality in America, the gap between the rich and the poor, America faces becoming a European-style, class-based society. That’s a warning from admirers of America that if we don’t pay heed to could spell the end of the kind of freedom and society that we want.
AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned the National Conference on Media Reform. In May, over 2,000 people converged in St. Louis at the second annual Conference of Media Reform. You spoke at the conference in your first public address since leaving PBS a half year earlier. This is an excerpt of what you had to say.
BILL MOYERS: First, 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 point out to them that one of our boys pulled it off some two thousand years ago after the Pharisees, the Sadducees and Caesar surrogates thought they had shut him up for good. 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.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Bill Moyers in May in St. Louis at the National Conference on Media Reform. Well, Bill Moyers, from the rocking chair into the anchor chair? Are you going to be hurled back?
BILL MOYERS: Here’s the interesting thing, Amy. I’ve discovered since I retired — I made about three or four speeches, including one to the Harvard Medical School that is now estimated to be have been heard on the internet or read on the internet by some 10 million people —- I discovered the internet is the new global Hyde Park. You know, you’re not old enough to remember that Hyde Park was the great square in London, downtown park, where people could go and get up on the stump and speak. There were all kinds of speakers, you know? It was the great kind of drumbeat of freedom in London. These speeches I’ve been doing have been circulating like crazy all through the web, all through the internet. It could be that this medium is actually more powerful today than television. I probably will come back and do -—
AMY GOODMAN: And yet you have the digital divide of who gets to hear and see and read on the internet.
BILL MOYERS: That is true. But I also find that the power of radio is also great today. You know, I’ve been in television all my career. I sort of missed these developments: independent radio, like you’re doing, and the internet. I probably will come back and do some public broadcasting — do some broadcasting — I’m not sure I can get on Public Broadcasting. There’s a nervousness. Since the right has succeeded in demonizing me and politicizing this debate, there’s a nervousness on the part of a lot of stations about carrying controversial programming, quite frankly. That’s been the price, the cost of this relentless effort by the right wing to discredit Public Broadcasting, and the fact that our stations do depend on Congress for 16% of the funding, I do not know that any of the controversial programming that I would like to do, which is nothing but just muckraking, investigative journalism, would find an audience on Public Broadcasting today.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Bill Moyers, as we wrap up, I said at the beginning of this broadcast, we’re going to talk about the future of Public Broadcasting and your history as a journalist, which we didn’t get into very much, and so we’re going to have to have you back. But in this last few seconds, final words for our listening, our viewing, our reading audience around the globe, because of DemocracyNow.org, as well.
BILL MOYERS: I would like for your audience of listeners, viewers, readers to besiege the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS, and our stations, to get Democracy Now! as a regular broadcast in the programming of public television. I’m serious about this. We need this kind of broadcast. I mean, CPB is spending some $4 million to $5 million of taxpayer moneys to put a broadcast on with the editorial board, the right wing editorial board of the Wall Street Journal.
AMY GOODMAN: With a message like that, I hate to cut you off, but we are going to be cut off the satellite. I want to thank you for being with us.
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