Saturday, June 11, 2005


My friend Dan Gilmartin sent me a good article by Bill Moyers that does some interesting things: Moyer is finally addressing public radio/TV's liberalism. My opinion is that public anything should be politically neutral, but PBS has never been anything but kneejerk liberal. The only... and I mean only... conservative voice on MY public TV station has been Bill Buckley and I don't see him there anymore either. Now there's a Republican president after a Democratic bloodbath last November and there are serious rumbles about making PBS just go away. A big part of me says fine... although I would miss shows like Nova and Mystery... but mostly the mavens at PBS are seeing a huge drop in numbers that is making it increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that nobody is listening to what they have to say. I call it the free enterprise system at work. Others say it's a shame. Me... I say that the failure is on PBS's part, not Mr. Bush.

Anyhow, Dan sent me a copy of a Bill Moyers article defending, or at least trying to explain the liberal viewpoint, and he does a pretty good job for his team. I sent this back to Dan:


Dan --
As you know perfectly well, I have always been a great lover of the Heglian dialectic.. and because of this love of the non-Randian brand of antisocial libertarianism I applaud the rancor between the lunatic left and the rabid right. I figure that the balance is somewhere in the middle. I will say this: It is high time that some fear crept into the one sided conversation coming from the left PBS. I figure that I pay my dues to WMFE every year because I want to watch Mystery and listen to public radio and I do like Garrison Keillor.. but you have to admit that they are just about as radical left a crew of weeping liberals as you'll find. And the brand of reportage that you get from Moyer and his ilk are just as repugnant as the screeching foam at the mouth conservatism that you get from Savage or Buttonhead... excuse me Dittohead.
The business of keeping my attention has been changing in the last decade. Talk radio and the internet has made print media nearly extinct and the smug liberalism esposed by PBS is reaching fewer and fewer people. They're preaching in an empty church Dan and you know it. Does that mean that the dittoheads have "won" or that they're "right". Nope. I figure that Michael Savage is as whacked as Michael Moore is. I'll stay in the middle thanks. But admit it.. it is nice to see the fuckers sweat a little bit, eh?

-----Original Message-----From: Dan Gilmartin Sent: Jun 8, 2005 7:24 PMTo: Dan Gilmartin Subject: Bill Moyers: Muting the Conversation of Democracy

I wrote to one of my more conservativefriends that I thought the present administrationwas "authoritarian". The below, concerning theattempt to shut up PBS is what I mean. Who needsdissonance in a democracy? We all do. Butapparently, we're all supposed to salute the samecliches. I dissent. I would hope you would too.

Muting the Conversation of DemocracyThe Corporation for Public Broadcasting UnderAttackTranscript of a speech by Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers is a broadcast journalist and formerhost of the PBS program "NOW With Bill Moyers."The following is an excerpt of the closingaddress Moyers delivered at the NationalConference on Media Reform in St. Louis on May15, 2005.

The story I've come to share with you goes to thecore of our belief that the quality of democracyand the quality of journalism are deeplyentwined.
As some of you know, the Corporation for PublicBroadcasting was established almost 40 years agoto set broad policy for public broadcasting andto be a firewall between political influence andprogram content. What some on this board aredoing today, led by its chairman, KennethTomlinson, is disturbing, and yes, evendangerous.

We're seeing unfold a contemporary example of theage-old ambition of power and ideology to squelchand punish journalists who tell the stories thatmake princes and priests uncomfortable.
I mean the people obsessed with control, usingthe government to threaten and intimidate. I meanthe people who are hollowing out middle-classsecurity even as they enlist the sons anddaughters of the working class in a war to makesure Ahmed Chalabi winds up controlling Iraq'soil. I mean the people who turn faith-basedinitiatives into a slush fund and who encouragethe pious to look heavenward and pray so as notto see the long arm of privilege and powerpicking their pockets. I mean the people whosquelch free speech in an effort to obliteratedissent and consolidate their orthodoxy into theofficial view of reality from which any deviationbecomes unpatriotic heresy.

That's who I mean. And if that's editorializing,so be it. A free press is one where it's okay tostate the conclusion you're led to by theevidence.

One reason I'm in hot water is because mycolleagues and I at "NOW" didn't play by theconventional rules of Beltway journalism. Thoserules divide the world into Democrats andRepublicans, liberals and conservatives, andallow journalists to pretend they have done theirjob if, instead of reporting the truth behind thenews, they merely give each side an opportunityto spin the news.Liberation vs. Occupation

Jonathan Mermin writes about this in a recentessay in World Policy Journal. Mermin quotespublic television's Jim Lehrer acknowledgingthat, unless an official says something is so, itisn't news. Why were journalists not discussingthe occupation of Iraq? Because, says Lehrer,"the word occupation...was never mentioned in therun-up to the war." Washington talked about theinvasion as "a war of liberation, not a war ofoccupation, so as a consequence, "those of us injournalism never even looked at the issue ofoccupation."

"In other words," says Mermin, "if the governmentisn't talking about it, we don't report it." Heconcludes, "[Lehrer's] somewhat jarringdeclaration, one of many recent admissions byjournalists that their reporting failed toprepare the public for the calamitous occupationthat has followed the 'liberation' of Iraq,reveals just how far the actual practice ofAmerican journalism has deviated from the FirstAmendment ideal of a press that is independent ofthe government."

[The] "rules of the game" permit Washingtonofficials to set the agenda for journalism,leaving the press all too often simply to recountwhat officials say instead of subjecting theirwords and deeds to critical scrutiny. Instead ofacting as filters for readers and viewers,sifting the truth from the propaganda, reportersand anchors attentively transcribe both sides ofthe spin, invariably failing to provide context,background, or any sense of which claims hold upand which are misleading.
I decided long ago that this wasn't healthy fordemocracy.

I came to believe that objective journalism meansdescribing the object being reported on,including the little fibs and fantasies as wellas the Big Lie of the people in power. In no waydoes this permit journalists to make accusationsand allegations. It means, instead, making surethat your reporting and your conclusions can benailed to the post with confirming evidence.
This is always hard to do, but it has never beenharder than today. Without a trace of irony, thepowers-that-be have appropriated the newspeakvernacular of George Orwell 's 1984 . They giveus a program vowing "No Child Left Behind" whilecutting funds for educating disadvantaged kids.They give us legislation cheerily calling for"Clear Skies" and "Healthy Forests" that give usneither.

An unconscious people, an indoctrinated people, apeople fed only on partisan information andopinion that confirm their own bias, a peoplemade morbidly obese in mind and spirit by thejunk food of propaganda, is less inclined to putup a fight, to ask questions and be skeptical.That kind of orthodoxy can kill a democracy—orworse.A Limited Set of VoicesWe intended to do strong, honest, and accuratereporting, telling stories we knew people in highplaces wouldn't like.

PBS asked me after 9/11 to start a new weeklybroadcast. They asked us to tell stories no oneelse was reporting and to offer a venue to peoplewho might not otherwise be heard. That wasn't ahard sell. Extensive research on the content ofpublic television over a decade found thatpolitical discussions on our public affairsprograms generally included a limited set ofvoices that offer a narrow range of perspectiveson current issues and events. Instead offar-ranging discussions and debates, the kindthat might engage viewers as citizens, not simplyas audiences, this research found that publicaffairs programs on PBS stations were populatedby the standard set of elite news sources.Whether government officials and Washingtonjournalists (talking about political strategy) orcorporate sources (talking about stock prices orthe economy from the investor's viewpoint),public television, unfortunately, all too oftenwas offering the same kind of discussions, and asimilar brand of insider discourse, that isfeatured regularly on commercial television.

Who didn't appear was also revealing. Hoynes andhis team found that in contrast to theconservative mantra that public televisionroutinely featured the voices ofantiestablishment critics, "alternativeperspectives were rare on public television andwere effectively drowned out by the stream ofgovernment and corporate views that representedthe vast majority of sources on our broadcasts."The so-called "experts" who got most of the facetime came primarily from mainstream newsorganizations and Washington think tanks ratherthan diverse interests. In sum, these two studiesconcluded, the economic coverage was so narrowthat the views and the activities of mostcitizens became irrelevant.

All this went against the Public Broadcasting Actof 1967 that created the Corporation for PublicBroadcasting. As a young policy assistant toPresident Johnson, I attended my first meeting todiscuss the future of public broadcasting in 1964in the office of the Commissioner of Education. Iknow firsthand that the Public Broadcasting Actwas meant to provide an alternative to commercialtelevision and to reflect the diversity of theAmerican people.

This was on my mind when we assembled the teamfor "NOW." It was just after the terroristattacks of 9/11. We agreed on two priorities.First, we wanted to do our part to keep theconversation of democracy going. That meanttalking to a wide range of people across thespectrum—left, right and center. It meant poets,philosophers, politicians, scientists, sages, andscribblers. It meant Isabel Allende, thenovelist, and Amity Shlaes, the columnist for theFinancial Times. It meant the former nun andbest-selling author Karen Armstrong, and it meantthe right-wing evangelical columnist Cal Thomas.It meant Arundhati Roy from India, Doris Lessingfrom London, David Suzuki from Canada, andBernard Henry-Levi from Paris. It also meant twosuccessive editors of the Wall Street Journal,Robert Bartley and Paul Gigot, the editor of theEconomist, Bill Emmott, the Nation's Katrinavanden Heuvel and the LA Weekly's John Powers. Itmeans liberals like Frank Wu, Ossie Davis, andGregory Nava, and conservatives like FrankGaffney, Grover Norquist and Richard Viguerie. Itmeant Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bishop WiltonGregory of the Catholic Bishops conference inthis country. It meant the conservative Christianactivist and lobbyist Ralph Reed and thedissident Catholic Sister Joan Chittister. Wethrew the conversation of democracy open to allcomers. We had a second priority. We intended todo strong, honest, and accurate reporting,telling stories we knew people in high placeswouldn't like.A Spectacle of Corruption

I told our producers and correspondents that inour field reporting our job was to get as closeas possible to the verifiable truth. This was allthe more imperative in the aftermath of theterrorist attacks. America could be entering along war against an elusive and stateless enemywith no definable measure of victory and no limitto its duration, cost, or foreboding fear. Therise of a homeland security state meantgovernment could justify extraordinary measuresin exchange for protecting citizens againstunnamed, even unproven, threats.

Furthermore, increased spending during a nationalemergency can produce a spectacle of corruptionbehind a smokescreen of secrecy.
For these reasons and in that spirit we wentabout reporting on Washington as no one else inbroadcasting—except, occasionally, "60Minutes"—was doing. We reported on the expansionof the Justice Department's power ofsurveillance. We reported on the escalatingPentagon budget and expensive weapons that didn'twork. We reported on how campaign contributionsinfluenced legislation and policy to skewresources to the comfortable and well-connectedwhile our troops were fighting in Afghanistan andIraq with inadequate training and armor. Wereported on how the Bush administration wasshredding the Freedom of Information Act. We wentaround the country to report on how closed-door,backroom deals in Washington were costingordinary workers and taxpayers their livelihoodand security. We reported on offshore tax havensthat enable wealthy and powerful Americans toavoid their fair share of national security andthe social contract.

And always—because what people know depends onwho owns the press—we kept coming back to themedia business itself—to how mega mediacorporations were pushing journalism further andfurther down the hierarchy of values, how giantradio cartels were silencing critics whileshutting communities off from essentialinformation, and how the mega media companieswere lobbying the FCC for the right to grow evermore powerful.

The broadcast caught on. Our ratings grew everyyear. There was even a spell when we were theonly public affairs broadcast on PBS whoseaudience was going up instead of down.
Our journalistic peers took notice. The LosAngeles Times said, "NOW's team of reporters hasregularly put the rest of the media to shame,pursuing stories few others bother to touch."
The Austin American-Statesman called "NOW" "theperfect antidote to today's high pitched decibellevel—a smart, calm, timely news program."

Frazier Moore of the Associated Press said wewere "hard-edged when appropriate but never'Hardball.' Don't expect combat. Civilityreigns."
The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 had beenprophetic. Open public television to the Americanpeople—offer diverse interests, ideas, fearless in your belief indemocracy—and they will come.

The more compelling our journalism, the angrierthe radical right of the Republican party became.

Never mind that their own stars were getting afair shake on "NOW": Gigot, Viguerie, David Keeneof the American Conservative Union, Stephen Mooreof the Club for Growth, and others. No, ourreporting was giving the radical right fitsbecause it wasn't the party line. It wasn't thatwe were getting it wrong. Only three times inthree years did we err factually, and in eachcase we corrected those errors as soon as weconfirmed their inaccuracy. The problem was thatwe were getting it right, not right-wing—tellingstories that partisans in power didn't want told.Standing Up to Your Government

Strange things began to happen. Friends inWashington called to say that they had heard ofmuttered threats that the PBS reauthorizationwould be held off "unless Moyers is dealt with."The chairman of the Corporation for PublicBroadcasting, Kenneth Tomlinson, was said to bequite agitated. Apparently there was apoplexy inthe right-wing aerie when I closed the broadcastone Friday night by putting an American flag inmy lapel, and here is [an excerpt of] what Isaid:

"I wore my flag tonight. First time. Until now Ihaven't thought it necessary to display a littlemetallic icon of patriotism for everyone to see.It was enough to vote, pay my taxes, perform mycivic duties, speak my mind, and do my best toraise our kids to be good Americans.
"So what's this doing here? Well, I put it on totake it back. The flag's been hijacked and turnedinto a logo—the trademark of a monopoly onpatriotism.

"I put this on as a modest riposte to men withflags in their lapels who shoot missiles from thesafety of Washington think tanks, or argue thatsacrifice is good as long as they don't have tomake it, or approve of bribing governments tojoin the coalition of the willing (after theyfirst stash the cash). I put it on to remindmyself that not every patriot thinks we should doto the people of Baghdad what Bin Laden did tous. The flag belongs to the country, not to thegovernment. And it reminds me that it's notun-American to think that war—except inself-defense—is a failure of moral imagination,political nerve, and diplomacy. Come to think ofit, standing up to your government can meanstanding up for your country."

That did it. That—and our continuing reporting onoverpricing at Halliburton, chicanery on KStreet, and the heavy, if divinely guided, handof Tom DeLay.
When Sen. Lott protested that the Corporation forPublic Broadcasting "has not seemed willing todeal with Bill Moyers," a new member of theboard, a Republican fundraiser named CherylHalperin, who had been appointed by PresidentBush, agreed that CPB needed more power to dojust that sort of thing. She left no doubt aboutthe kind of penalty she would like to see imposedon malefactors like Moyers.

As rumors circulated about all this, I asked tomeet with the CPB board to hear for myself whatwas being said. I thought it would be helpful forsomeone like me, who had been present at thecreation and part of the system for almost 40years, to talk about how CPB had been intended tobe a heat shield to protect public broadcastersfrom exactly this kind of intimidation.

I simply never imagined that any CPB chairman,Democrat or Republican, would cross the line fromresisting White House pressure to carrying it outfor the White House. But that's what KennethTomlinson has done. On Fox News this week, hedenied that he's carrying out a White Housemandate or that he's ever had any conversationswith any Bush administration official about PBS.But the New York Times reported that he enlistedKarl Rove to help kill a proposal that would haveput on the CPB board people with experience inlocal radio and television. The Times alsoreported that "on the recommendation ofadministration officials" Tomlinson hired a WhiteHouse flack named Mary Catherine Andrews as asenior CPB staff member. While she was stillreporting to Karl Rove at the White House,Andrews set up CPB's new ombudsman's office andhad a hand in hiring the two people who will fillit, one of whom once worked guessedit...Kenneth Tomlinson.

According to a book written about Reader's Digestwhen he was its editor-in-chief, he surroundedhimself with other right-wingers—a pattern he'snow following at the Corporation for PublicBroadcasting. There is Ms. Andrews from the WhiteHouse. For acting president he hired Ken Ferrerfrom the FCC, who was Michael Powell's enforcerwhen Powell was deciding how to go about allowingthe big media companies to get even bigger.According to a forthcoming book, one of Ferrer'sjobs was to engage in tactics designed to dismissany serious objection to media monopolies. And,according to Eric Alterman, Ferrer was even morecontemptuous than Michael Powell of publicparticipation in the process of determining mediaownership. Alterman identifies Ferrer as the FCCstaffer who decided to issue a "protective order"designed to keep secret the market research onwhich the Republican majority on the commissionbased their vote to permit greater mediaconsolidation.

Mr. Tomlinson also put up a considerable sum ofmoney, reportedly over five million dollars, fora new weekly broadcast featuring Paul Gigot andthe editorial board of the Wall Street Journal.Gigot is a smart journalist, a sharp editor and afine fellow. I had him on "NOW" several times andeven proposed that he become a regularcontributor.
But I confess to some puzzlement that the WallStreet Journal, which in the past editorializedto cut PBS off the public tap, is now beingsubsidized by American taxpayers although itsparent company, Dow Jones, had revenues in justthe first quarter of this year of $400 million.
I thought public television was supposed to be analternative to commercial media, not a funder ofit.

Only two weeks ago did we learn that Mr.Tomlinson had spent $10,000 last year to hire acontractor who would watch my show and report onpolitical bias. That's right. Kenneth Y.Tomlinson spent $10,000 of your money to hire aguy to watch "NOW" to find out who my guests wereand what my stories were.Taking Back Public Broadcasting
Having spent that cash, what did he find? Heapparently decided not to share the results withhis staff or his board or leak it to RobertNovak. The public paid for it—but Ken Tomlinsonacts as if he owns it.

That's not the only news Mr. Tomlinson tried tokeep to himself. As reported by Jeff Chester'sCenter for Digital Democracy, of which I am asupporter, there were two public opinion surveyscommissioned by CPB but not released to themedia—not even to PBS and NPR!
The data revealed that, in reality, publicbroadcasting has an 80 percent favorable ratingand that "the majority of the US adult populationdoes not believe that the news and informationprogramming on public broadcasting is biased."

In fact, more than half believed PBS providedmore in-depth and trustworthy news andinformation than the networks and 55 percent saidPBS was "fair and balanced."
This letter came to me last year from a woman inNew York, five pages of handwriting. She said,among other things, that "After the worst sneakattack in our history, there's not been a momentto reflect, a moment to let the horror resonate,a moment to feel the pain and regroup as humans.No, since I lost my husband on 9/11, not only ourfamily's world, but the whole world seems to havegotten even worse than that tragic day." Shewanted me to know that on 9/11 her husband wasnot on duty. "He was home with me having coffee.My daughter and grandson, living only five blocksfrom the Towers, had to be evacuated withmasks—terror all around ... my other daughter,near the Brooklyn son in high school.But my Charlie took off like a lightning bolt tobe with his men from the Special OperationsCommand. 'Bring my gear to the plaza,' he toldhis aide immediately after the first plane struckthe North Tower...He took action based on theresponsibility he felt for his job and his menand for those Towers that he loved."
In the FDNY, she continued, chain-of-commandrules extend to every captain of every fire housein the city. "If anything happens in thefirehouse—at any time—even if the Captain isn'ton duty or on vacation—that Captain isresponsible for everything that goes on there24/7." So she asked: "Why is this administrationresponsible for nothing? All that they do is passthe blame. This is not leadership... Watcheveryone pass the blame again in this recenttorture case [Abu Ghraib] of Iraqi prisons....."

She told me that she and her husband had watchedmy series on "Joseph Campbell and the Power ofMyth" together and that now she was a faithfulfan of "NOW." She wrote: "We need more programslike yours to wake America up.... Such programsmust continue amidst the sea of false images andname calling that divide America now....Suchprograms give us hope that search will continueto get this imperfect human condition on to ahigher plane. So thank you and all of those whowork with you. Without public broadcasting, allwe would call news would be merely carefullycontrolled propaganda."

Enclosed with the letter was a check made out to"Channel 13–NOW" for $500.
Someone has said recently that the great raucousmob that is democracy is rarely heard and thatit's not just the fault of the current residentsof the White House and the capital. There's toogreat a chasm between those of us in thisbusiness and those who depend on TV and radio astheir window to the world. We treat them too muchas an audience and not enough as citizens.They're invited to look through the window buttoo infrequently to come through the door and toparticipate, to make public broadcasting trulypublic.

To that end, five public interest groupsincluding Common Cause and Consumers Union willbe holding informational sessions around thecountry to "take public broadcasting back"—totake it back from threats, from interference,from those who would tell us we can only thinkwhat they command us to think.

We're big kids; we can handle controversy anddiversity, whether it's political or religiouspoints of view or two loving lesbian moms andtheir kids, visited by a cartoon rabbit. We arenot too fragile or insecure to see America andthe world entire for all their magnificent andsometimes violent confusion. "There used to be athing or a commodity we put great store by,"
JohnSteinbeck wrote. "It was called the people." Some Things You Should Know About PublicBroadcasting

According to the Roper Center for Public OpinionResearch, 79 percent of Americans believe thatmoney given to Public Broadcasting is well spent.In fact, 51 percent think it's too little, and 35percent think it's about right, yielding acombined 86 percent of the public who statesatisfaction with PBS funding.

Public Broadcasting was signed into law byPresident Lyndon Johnson in 1967, following theCarnegie Commission's outline, with the missionto "provide the miracles of education and theideals of citizenship and culture," and to serveas a "forum for debate and controversy" andprovide a voice to groups that may not otherwisehave a voice.

The Corporation of Public Broadcasting wascreated to help carry out that mission, allocatefunds, and in general, to guard PublicBroadcasting against undue political pressure.The full text and video of Bill Moyers's speechat the National Conference on Media Reform, aswell as a host of other resources on how readerscan become involved in the media reform movement,can be found at