BILL MOYERS IS RETIRING THIS WEEK. After a third of a century on television, appearing so pervasively on PBS that many have called public broadcasting the “Moyers Broadcasting Service,” this sweater-wearing pundit who delivered socialist and neo-Marxist propaganda with a soft Texas accent is leaving television.
The bad news is that the corrosive Great Society programs Bill Moyers helped shape as the left-hand man to President Lyndon Johnson during the 1960s have siphoned more than $6 trillion from productive Americans to the unproductive, and will continue. So, too, will the toxic politics Moyers played a major role in creating.
Bill Moyers’ face henceforth will appear only irregularly on television, except during fundraising drives at PBS, but his puppeteer hand will continue to manipulate American politics from behind the scenes. This will continue via the millions he disperses tax-exempt to leftwing media and activist groups from the $90 million endowment of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy (formerly the Florence and John Schumann Foundation), where as a longtime Daddy Warbucks of the left Moyers will remain President.
Who is Bill Moyers, and how did he come to occupy these lofty positions of power and influence in American culture?
Born Billy Don Moyers (a name he would later legally change to Bill) in 1934 in Hugo, Oklahoma, this son of a laborer grew up in the town of Marshall in east Texas, near the borders of Louisiana and Arkansas. In 1948, at age 14, Moyers witnessed the visit of an imposing 6’3”-tall politician named Lyndon Johnson, who spoke without microphone to a large crowd.
“His white shirt was glinting in the sun,” Moyers once told an interviewer from Esquire Magazine about the moment. “And he was literally forcing himself physically on that audience of three thousand to four thousand people…. I remember the sheer presence of the man. And I thought ‘This is what power is.’”
Moyers attended North Texas State University, working in his spare time as a reporter for the local newspaper. His own first taste of power came when a story he did denigrating local tax protestors was picked up by a national news wire.
He had written to then-U.S. Senator Johnson’s office seeking a job, and worked during the summer of 1954 in the mail room of Johnson’s office in Washington, D.C. He then transferred, as Johnson recommended, to the liberal University of Texas in Austin. He was given a job as Assistant News Editor at Austin radio and television complex KTBC, the valuable government licenses for which had been granted to Johnson’s wife Lady Bird. Moyers, with his new job and career, wed a wife of his own, Judith Suzanne Davidson. They will celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary on December 18, 2004.
Although an LBJ family servant, Moyers was uncertain about what to do with his life. After completing his journalism degree in 1956, he spent a year at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland on a Rotary International fellowship. In 1957 he entered the Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary, earning a divinity degree and becoming an ordained minister in 1959. By then he had worked as a minister and preacher, and he briefly accepted a lectureship in Christian ethics at Baylor University.
“I thought it was a call to the ministry,” Moyers later told one interviewer, “but actually it was a wrong number.” Torn between whether to serve the Prince of Peace or the Prince of this World, Moyers chose the latter and has given his soul to the dark side of power ever since.
The call he followed was from Lyndon Johnson, inviting Moyers to a job in the Senate leader’s 1960 presidential campaign. When Johnson became Senator John F. Kennedy’s vice presidential running mate, Moyers became LBJ’s executive assistant.
After Kennedy was elected president, Moyers gravitated to the greater power, in 1961 becoming associate director of public affairs, and then deputy director, of JFK’s new Peace Corps. But after Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, Moyers rushed to Lyndon Johnson’s side and became the new President’s special assistant.
In LBJ’s White House Moyers supervised the task forces that shaped the legislation of the vast welfare expansion known as the Great Society. Moyers also orchestrated the 1964 political campaign of calculated hatred against Republican Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Moyers personally green-lighted the notorious “daisy ad” that featured a little girl plucking daisy petals as a countdown leads to her vaporization in a nuclear blast, presumably that would happen if Goldwater were elected. Moyers’ fear-mongering ad marked a turning point away from civility and decency and towards the polarizing hatred and Manichaean demonization that Democrats have injected into our political campaigns ever since.
In 1965 Moyers was promoted from President Johnson’s propaganda minister to Press Secretary. Moyers again found himself torn. He loved power and the glow of being the voice of the White House. But as an increasingly-leftwing ideologue, he found it more and more difficult to go before the press to defend the President’s war policies in Vietnam.
In 1967 Moyers and President Johnson had a personal falling out. They never spoke to one another again. With his political background, left ideology and media contacts Moyers found it easy to switch sides and join the media. He was named publisher of the suburban New York City newspaper on Long Island, Newsday. Moving the newspaper farther left, he turned it into a literary salon that invited writers such as Saul Bellow to be its correspondents. Moyers left in 1970 when Newsday was acquired by the then-conservative Los Angeles Times.
In 1970 Moyers began a long career on television, that year hosting the show “This Week” for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), which had just replaced its ancestor National Educational Television (NET). It was the start of a beautiful friendship, one that over the years would provide Moyers and his wife, by one estimate, with more than $20 million taxpayer dollars. Moyers would edit and host “Bill Moyers’ Journal” on PBS 1971-76 and then resume it 1978-81.
But once again Bill Moyers was torn, this time between his left ideological kinship and relative editorial freedom at PBS, and his desire to make far more money than fledgling PBS in its early years was able to pay.
In 1976 Moyers moved to the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), where he worked as editor and chief correspondent for “CBS Reports” until 1980, then as senior news analyst and commentator for “CBS News,” 1981-86. By now the Moyers were raising several children, including one troubled son who (as Moyers discussed in a documentary) became a drug addict. But CBS would not give Moyers an unfettered weekly pulpit from which to give sermons on his views.
In 1986 Moyers and his wife created their own production company, Public Affairs Television, Inc. This afforded them both absolute control over the shows they did and a lion’s share of any profits from their shows. By agreement with PBS, for example, Moyers retained ownership and the right to market such popular series as “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth,” first broadcast by PBS in 1987 and still re-broadcast during fundraising drives by the network’s major market stations. But Moyers pockets the proceeds from tape and DVD sales, sales of the related book and other subsidiary products from hundreds of hours of his programs. Moyers has refused to make any public disclosure of his income.
The Campbell six-hour series reflects Moyers’ skill at doing what liberal magazines such as Time and Newsweek have done repeatedly. Knowing that the public craves discussions about our questions of faith, meaning and values, “The Power of Myth” hints at deep answers to such questions. But because PBS and Moyers’ Democratic Party also have a large constituency of atheists, agnostics and secular humanists who ridicule all religious belief, “The Power of Myth” was painted on a Carl Jung-like canvas of psychology, sociology and anthropology echoing liberal multiculturalism.
Moyers’ “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth” depicted the human sacrifice rituals and drug-induced visions of primitive tribal peoples as morally equivalent, or indeed superior, to Western Judeo-Christian faith and culture. And out of that moral equivalency comes an implicit dethroning of Western religion, and a debasing of the Judeo-Christian God to something that, in Bob Dylan's phrase, is “only in your head,” a universal quirk that DNA causes in humankind’s neural biological perceptions in this materialist universe.
From 1986 to his final series “Now with Bill Moyers,” his PBS programs have been done and owned by this company whose current President is his wife. “Now” will continue, airing Friday nights at only half its hour length, hosted by Moyers’ hand-picked successor David Brancaccio.
“Being on ‘Now,’” Brancaccio told the liberal Village Voice in November 2004, “feels like somebody stuck you in an episode of The West Wing, only it’s real. Everyone here is overly briefed, overly articulate, and – here’s the key – trying to change the world.” [“The West Wing” is a television drama set in a White House so liberal that friend and foe alike call this show “The Left Wing.”]
Moyers has always been more propagandist than journalist, more bent on changing the world than reporting facts with fairness or objectivity. Even his programs dealing with religion and culture seem designed to undermine traditional values and beliefs. His guests over the years have been disproportionately from the left, including radicals such as Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Carlos Fuentes and Cornel West.
One should never confuse the agitprop done for a third of a century by Moyers with fairness, balance or serious journalism. As Howard Kurtz, media reporter for the Washington Post and host of “Reliable Sources” on Cable News Network (CNN), wrote of one Moyers one-sided “documentary” attacking the chemical industry: “Unlike the most routine news story, the 90-minute documentary includes not a single comment from the industry under fire.”
Moyers announced in February 2004 that he would retire after that November’s election. With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and the White House, PBS was feeling pressure to provide what it called “balance” for Moyers in the form of new shows starring conservatives Tucker Carlson and the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot.
As many as 30 PBS affiliates had ceased airing Moyers’ partisan show “Now” during pledge drives, apparently in part because its blatant bias alienated many potential contributors. “Now” had also become an ethical embarrassment because Moyers as of 2003 had used his taxpayer-subsidized PBS show to promote guests from at least 16 left organizations that had gotten at least $4.8 million in grants from the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy. Moyers neglected to inform his audience of this conflict of interest involving an organization of which he was President and from which he personally pocketed $200,000 per year.
“Imagine how Moyers would react,” wrote Stephen Hayes in the Weekly Standard, “if, say, Rush Limbaugh gave $1 million to the Heritage Foundation and then repeatedly interviewed its experts for his nationwide audience, and did so over a taxpayer-funded medium, like NPR [National Public Radio].”
As President of the Schumann Center since 1990, Moyers according to reporter Frank Greve of the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain “is using his control over money and media to influence public policy in ways that would be the envy of the special interests he deplores.”
Schumann Center money has gone to support a host of leftwing media outlets. These, wrote Hayes in an investigation titled “PBS’s Televangelist: Bill Moyers Preaches On…and On,” include such publications as “the Washington Monthly [at least $52,000], The Nation Magazine, Mother Jones [at least $100,000], In These Times, Tom Paine.com (run [then] by Moyers’ son John), and, most generously, The American Prospect. In some cases, this support runs well into the millions.”
Other Schumann Center beneficiaries, wrote Jack Shafer at Slate.com, included at least $500,000 to the leftwing magazine Sojourners and $277,785 to Democratic Party-boosting Salon.com. A grant for $15,000 went to the leftwing media “watchdog” group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). The Schumann Center under Moyers provided the seed money to create the Institute for Public Accuracy, which sent actor Sean Penn to Iraq to embrace and support the regime of Saddam Hussein. Schumann also helps bankroll its sister foundation named for Florence Schumann, The Florence Fund is run by Moyers’ son John and has ties to Fenton Communications and its many related left groups. In some recent cases, John Moyers requested that there be an assurance in writing that groups for which he helped raise money would spend it on “more ads on the war or more related anti-war activities.”
Other Schumann beneficiaries include a spate of left environmental activist organizations such as the Sierra Club. Ironically, the Schumann endowment derives its enormous wealth from stock held mostly in oil companies.
And the Schumann Center gave many hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to fund and shape specific programming at NPR and PBS. In effect, Moyers was using this money not only to support public broadcasting but also to purchase the kind of programming he wanted.
“I practice journalism as a form of public education,” Moyers told Greve when asked about the ethics of his multiple roles, “and I practice grantmaking as a form of public education. I think a journalist is a citizen and you have to be honest with yourself about what you care about as a citizen as well as what you do as a journalist.”
“In other words,” wrote L. Brent Bozell III, head of the Media Research Center, in translating Moyers’ statement, “Moyers believes that whatever furthers the revolution…is ethical…. The villains of his rhetoric are the free-market greedheads of for-profit businesses. But when Moyers and his foundation friends perform the same role for the left – manipulating millions throughout Washington advocacy groups and public television – it’s not ‘influence-peddling’ or ‘referee-buying,” it’s ‘public education.’”
Faced with his 70th birthday, Bill Moyers has dropped any pretense of objectivity.
“I’m going out telling the story that I think is the biggest story of our time: how the right-wing media has become a partisan propaganda arm of the Republican National Committee,” said Moyers. “We have an ideological press that’s interested in the election of Republicans, and a mainstream press that’s interested in the bottom line. Therefore, we don’t have a vigilant, independent press whose interest is the American people.”
“Not just religious true believers threaten our democracy,” said Moyers in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. “It’s true believers in the God of the market who would leave us to the ruthless forces of unfettered monopolistic capital where even the laws of the jungle break down. And they’re counting on your patriotism to distract you from their plunder. While you’re standing at attention with your hand over your heart pledging allegiance to the flag, they’re picking your pocket. I know we’re not supposed to be raising criticisms right now. This is a national emergency. But what if this emergency lasts a decade? What happens to democracy?”
“Conservatives – or better, pro-corporate apologists – hijacked the vocabulary of Jeffersonian liberalism and turned words like ‘progress,’ ‘opportunity,’ and ‘individualism’ into tools for making the plunder of America sound like divine right,” Moyers in a speech titled “The Progressive Story of America” told the 2003 “Take Back America” conference of the Campaign for America’s Future. “Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was hijacked, too, so that conservative politicians, judges, and publicists promoted, as if it were, the natural order, the notion that progress resulted from the elimination of the weak and the ‘survival of the fittest.’ This ‘degenerate and unlovely age,’ as one historian calls it, exists in the mind of Karl Rove – the reputed brain of George W. Bush – as the seminal age of inspiration for the politics and governance of America today.”
President George W. Bush’s Administration and its allies, Moyers told a conference in 2003, are “rightwing wrecking crews” and “part of an unholy alliance between government and wealth.”
President Bush’s appointees to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) that oversees PBS and NPR are “ideological warriors,” Moyers told reporter Ken Auletta. “This is the first time in my thirty-two years in public broadcasting that C.P.B. has ordered up programs for ideological instead of journalistic reasons.”
But Moyers, with false teeth, was biting the hand that paid him. During decades of Democratic Party rule, nearly everything CPB funded had a left ideological spin – but because Moyers shared this world view, to him it seemed proper.
“What they’re really objecting to is not my ideology,” he told Associated Press reporter Frazier Moore. “It’s not that I’m a liberal, it really isn’t. It’s the fact that I’m doing journalism that isn’t determined by the establishment….you do not get rewarded for telling the hard truths about America in a profit-seeking environment.”
“It’s definitely the end of an era,” said Jay Rosen, chair of New York University’s Department of Journalism to the Village Voice, “because the kind of liberalism [Moyers] came out of does not exist anymore.”
Moyers says he is going to write a book about his years with Lyndon Johnson. “It isn’t because I feel old,” he told Moore. “It’s because I feel compelled to do something else now, that only I can do – which is that book.”
Moyers long ago rejected a publisher request for such a book about President Johnson. “That would make me a thief of his confidences,” said Moyers. “Johnson spent hours and hours with me in unguarded moments. He could not have done so had he ever thought I would write what he was saying.” But with the kind of integrity that has always been Moyers’ opportunistic hallmark, he now has changed his mind.