Friday, November 26, 2004

The soul of Bill Moyers and the quest for better media

Tom Brokaw is retiring with the tone of wary, even weary calcification.

Dan Rather is retiring, still smoldering from scandal and a bumpy ride.

Bill Moyers is retiring, sorry not to be on the job in the face of four more years and the need for good investigative journalism.

Good news takes time and careful consideration, and these qualities seem sorely absent. Who among journalists or viewers seem patient enough any more on television to adequately consider the complex issues of the day?

The CNN team seems watered down, even immasculated - horrors not only that anyone would look to FOX for "fair and balanced" reporting but that anyone would look to CNN for quality investigative reporting. I don't count as authoritative or even particularly informed anyone I've met who uses television as their primary news source.

The web can be good, but be careful how you use it.

The New York Times, The Washington Post and good magazines such as The Nation, The Progressive, and the The American Prospect still seem to tower over other sources.

Meanwhile, back at the TV ranch, crossfire-style blather seems to be winning out. Bill Moyers, Charlie Rose, Jim Lehrer, some PBS coverage, Brian Lamb and C-Span seem to stand alone as being considerate, nuanced and fairly wise. With a sort of grave irony, Bill Maher and Jon Stewart seem smarter than the talking heads not making such insightful wisecracks.

But among earnest television interviewers, I have to give special accolades to Mr. Moyers and Mr. Rose. Who else comes close?

From the website, home of the Speaker's Platform:

"Called one of the 10 journalists who most significantly influenced television news by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Moyers has produced more than 240 programming hours since establishing Public Affairs Television in 1986.

"His documentaries range from the hard-hitting (Moyers on Addiction; Moyers on Dying in America; Facing the Truth, the story of the aftermath of apartheid in South Africa) and the marvelous (The Power of Myth; Amazing Grace; Healing and the Mind) to the historical and political (God and Politics; The Constitution in Crisis; Minimum Wages).

"Moyers combines a quick wit with deep reflection on the human condition. His 25-year career in broadcast journalism has been recognized with many major awards, including over 30 Emmys; the Erik Barnouw Award from the Organization of American Historians; the George Foster Peabody Award for political reporting and international coverage; and the Gold Baton, the highest honor of the Alfred I. duPont/Columbia University Award. Five of the books based on his television series, among them the 1971 work Listening to America have become bestsellers.

"Moyers began his journalism career at age 16 as a cub reporter on the Marshall News Messenger. He earned his B.A. in journalism with honors from the University of Texas at Austin in 1956, and three years later received his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary at Fort Worth, Texas. After serving as deputy director of the Peace Corps during the Kennedy Administration, he became the press secretary for former President Lyndon B. Johnson.

"As the first presidential spokesperson to make the transition to journalist, he has a unique perspective on the forces effecting news coverage."

But beyond his resume, it has been Moyers patient and respectful Southern tone and even his comforting yet accessible drawl and genteel manners which have added an aura of panache and reliable moral guidance to his interviews and his reporting. Moyers has keep the large picture and his own moral compass in perspective, adding greatly to our own. And there just aren't many like him at all.

And so, a mournful farewell to Bill Moyers. This gentle soul of solid journalism (and a mentor here at A Better Nation) will be missed.


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