Monday, May 16, 2005

The National Conference on Media Reform ended with a bang. The best speaker of the three day conference--and that's saying a lot--was Bill Moyers. His beautifully crafted speech skillfully skewered two groups.
First, Moyers pointed out that mainstream journalism uses a format that turns it into a group of mere stenographers. The conventional rules of beltway journalism "divide the world into Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and allow journalists to pretend they've done their job if - instead of reporting the truth behind the news - they merely give each side the opportunity to spin the news."
A major problem with such journalism is that it does not report on anything unless it is pegged to something a government official says first. Jim Lehrer has pointed out that news reporters before the start of the war never mentioned the occupation to come because government spokesmen never used that term. Because they spoke only of "liberation", the question of the coming occupation wasn't discussed. Nor will most newsmen pay attention even to hard facts if those are outside what the government wants discussed. Charles Hadley wrote a 2003 story about prison abuse in Iraq. That was a year before Abu Ghraib, but he was ignored by major American newspapers. Thus government officials control the news.
Second, Moyers lambasted right wingers for their attempts to control the information Americans receive. They loathe anyone who dissents: "They want your reporting to validate their belief system, and when it doesn't, God forbid." They need to squelch dissent lest it inform the ordinary people whom they daily manipulate and hornswoggle: "They encourage the pious to look heavenward and pray so they won't see the long arm of privilege and power picking their pockets."
Moyers built an argument defending his PBS series NOW and outlining the growing Republican fury with his truth telling that culminated in a rift between himself and the board. PBS is actually, according to two studies, very establishment. Guests on its political shows are usually elected officials, Wall Streets types, or other elitist insiders. The rare alternative speakers like labor organizers or community activists are drowned out by government and corporate voices. Troubled by those studies, Moyers jumped at a 2001 offer to do what he considered real news. He said that "news is what people want to keep hidden, and everything else is publicity." His fair and balanced reporting made "princes and priests uncomfortable", though. The watershed moment came on February 28, 2003, when he did a commentary piece about
lapel flags. It's short, so he read it to us. Do yourself a favor and read it. Anyway, after that night, the right wing went after Moyers in earnest.
Kenneth Tomlinson, a Rove hatchet man, was appointed chairman of the CPB board. He denies carrying out a mandate from the White House, but the evidence says otherwise. The board was originally created to be a "firewall between political influence and program content", but the wall has been breached by ideologues. In fact, the board refused three requests from Moyers himself to meet with them.
This blog is inadequate to convey what Moyers said, but you can get some more information about it from .today's Post Dispatch. Better yet, listen to his speech in its entirety on KWMU. Hearing it will make you proud to have this articulate spokesman for liberal values.
Although he retired six months ago, right wing attacks on him have not abated. They might do well to rein in some of their venom because, as Moyers says, "They might just compel me out of the rocking chair and back into the anchor chair."


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