Thursday, May 8, 2008

Moyers, on Democracy Now! ... Again

The following is an excerpt from a May 7, 2008 interview with Bill Moyers on Democracy Now! [full program]

AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of broadcasting and media, you’re broadcasting on PBS. Do you think it has become, well, let’s say, to put it mildly, risk-averse? Go back forty years to the Carnegie Commission and the founding of public broadcasting. You were there in the White House. You were the press secretary for Lyndon Johnson. You came in in ’63, when he came in after Kennedy’s assassination?

BILL MOYERS: Yes. The first two years, I was his general assistant and the fellow who was coordinating his domestic policy. I actually helped put together the task force that led to the creation of public broadcasting in—Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. I had left in January of ’67. But my first job, before he insisted—after three times I had said no—he insisted I become the press secretary, was dealing with issues like the environment, civil rights, public broadcasting and all of that. So, yes, I was present at the creation.

And I have to say that public broadcasting today is not the adventuresome, the risk-taking exercise in diversity and pluralism and democracy that we had hoped it would be. It lacks the financial independence to take the risks that you can only take when you have nothing to lose, because 70 percent of public broadcasting’s funding comes from Congress. That makes it political in the eyes of many people, even though that influence is marginal. You know, I’ve advocated for years publicly that Democracy Now! should be on public broadcasting.

AMY GOODMAN: And it is on a number of PBS stations.

BILL MOYERS: A number of stations, but it’s not fed through the system. It’s not a system-wide—it should be. And there should be other reasonable voices with different philosophies than yours and mine on the air. But it is hamstrung by financial penury, and it’s embedded in a system that is altogether too political, and so it doesn’t take the risks that we ought to be taking. We ought to be the forum for the country.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of Kenneth Tomlinson, the man who made you his target, possibly drove you off PBS for a while, giving $5 million to the Wall Street Journal Report that aired on PBS, $5 million? Now it goes to FOX, so PBS becomes the incubator for programs in the commercial media.

BILL MOYERS: Well, I address that story in two of the speeches I delivered that are published in Moyers on Democracy. They didn’t drive me off the air. PBS took—stood behind me. Pat Mitchell, the then-president of PBS, was under enormous pressure. I wasn’t even aware of how much pressure until I left.

The main reason I left—I had been doing this weekly broadcast, I was seventy years old, I was tired, I needed a rest. But the main reason I left is that I could not oppose—I knew what Kenneth Tomlinson and the—who was Karl Rove’s man at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—I knew what they were doing. I had friends still working at CPB. One of them called me and said, you know, Tomlinson has said his job is to get rid of Moyers. Well, I wasn’t going to let that happen, but I finally realized that the only way I could deal with Kenneth Tomlinson and the rightwing effort to intimidate public broadcasting was to leave the air for awhile, because I couldn’t use my broadcast, I couldn’t use the camera to oppose him, because it would appear to be self-serving. So I left.

I retired at the age of seventy, went out and made a series of speeches. Most of them are in that book. Two of them dealt directly with Tomlinson. And I worked with friends of public broadcasting in Washington to tell the story of what was happening.

As a result of that and other things, the integrity of—the inspector general at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting looked into Tomlinson’s activities and decided they were violating the rules and the regulations. He had to leave the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He was not reappointed. And then he had to also leave the Board of Governors of the overseas broadcasting, the United States overseas broadcasting, because he had engaged in many of the same questionable activities there that he had done at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. When that was over and I had felt that I had had my say without abusing my position at public broadcasting, I came back with a weekly series.

But this is not the first time, Amy. You know that starting with Richard Nixon and Patrick Buchanan, when Buchanan was Nixon’s director of communications, they tried to undo public broadcasting. Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole tried to undo public broadcasting. George W. Bush wants to defund even the modest amount of money we get from Congress. There’s been a consistent fight, because the conservatives don’t want an alternative view of reality. We’re not going to propagate their propaganda. They don’t like it when there’s any kind of opposition or any—someone who doesn’t cooperate with them, they don’t like. So they have been consistently, from 1970 forward, trying to undo public broadcasting. And that’s one of the reasons public broadcasting hasn’t soared as the independent source of journalism, analysis and debate that it should be.