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APRIL 29, 2010 8:20AM

Thank You, Bill Moyers

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(from pbs.org)

I am a creature of habit.  Routine gives me comfort and security.  When I have a sure thing to look forward to, I find it easier to get through weekly challenges and let minor irritations roll off my back.

For the past several years, my Friday night routine has involved three things: take-out pizza, a Cosmopolitan, and Bill Moyers Journal on PBS.  (Yes, my life really is that exciting.)

But tomorrow, April 30, 2010, marks the end of the healthiest and most socially redeeming part of my weekly routine.

As of tomorrow night, Bill Moyers is retiring from weekly television, and Bill Moyers Journal will be no more.

There are those who characterize Moyers as "too partisan".  They say that the Journal is "too liberal".  And while it is true that Moyers' point of view is decidedly left of center,  I have to wonder if his critics have ever watched one episode.  If not, then they definitely missed these memorable (and thoroughly non-partisan) pieces:

  • Mark Johnson, Chairman of the Board of the Playing For Change Foundation.  You might remember a viral video that made the rounds several months back - a version of "Stand By Me", played and sung by musicians from around the world.  This was the beginning of the movement.  Playing For Change seeks to unite the world and bring peace through music, by building music schools and supplying instruments and music education to people all over the globe.  I first learned about it from this segment of the Journal.
  • Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, the first African-American woman to have an endowed professorship named in her honor at Harvard University.  She was on the Journal discussing her recent book, The Third Chapter:  Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50, in which she posits that the period after age 50 can be the most productive and creative time of a person's life.
  • Jane Goodall joined Moyers for an entire hour, discussing her fifty-year career studying Chimpanzees in the wild, and championing the causes of conservation and species preservation.  She describes an early encounter with David Greybeard, one of the first Chimpanzees she ever made contact with, in the Gombe preserve:  "This was this wonderful situation when right in the early days, I was following David Greybeard. And I thought I'd lost him in a tangle of undergrowth. And I found him sitting as though he was waiting, maybe he was. He was on his own. I don't know. And I picked up this red palm nut and held it out on my palm. And he turned his face away. So, I held my palm closer, and then he turned; he looked directly into my eyes. He reached out-- hold out your hand with a nut on it. He took it. He didn't want it. He dropped it. But at the same time, he very gently squeezed my fingers, which is how a chimp reassures. So, there was this communication. He understood that I was acting in good faith. He didn't want it, but he wanted me to reassure me that he understood. So, we understood each other without the use of words."  This description brought tears to my eyes.  She is a fascinating woman and a true pioneer in the field of primate research and conservation.
  • An inspiring interview with humanitarian Greg Mortenson, author of the book "Three Cups of Tea:  One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School At a Time."  Mortenson has helped establish over 131 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, providing for the education of nearly 60,000 children, three-quarters of them girls. You can watch the interview or read the transcript here.
  • I almost didn't watch The Journal on February 12th.  Moyers' guest was Bill T. Jones, dancer, choreographer, and recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award.  He was going to be discussing his latest work, a ballet about the life of Abraham Lincoln (believe me, I could hardly picture it either) called "Fondly Do We Hope...Fervently Do We Pray."  (The title is taken from a line in Lincoln's second inaugural address.)  I had my doubts about this one, but I'm so glad I ended up watching the entire broadcast.  I encourage you to watch the video.  There is a scene from the ballet, a very stylized slave auction, set to a reading of a portion of Walt Whitman's "I Sing the Body Electric", that is absolutely stunning.
  • Poetry anyone?  More time has been devoted to poets and poetry on the Journal than to any other art form.  Guests have included W.S. Merwin, Nikki Giovanni, Robert Bly, and Coleman Barks (reading the works of Rumi), as well as a tribute to Lucille Clifton, segments on the Dodge Poetry Festival and the Poets House in New York City, and a very entertaining discussion about poetry with actor John Lithgow.  You won't find a more passionate advocate for poetry than Bill Moyers.
  • A discussion of global food and hunger issues with clergyman and economist David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World.
  • A fascinating conversation with author Louise Erdrichabout everything from writing, to  spirituality, to preserving the Ojibwe language, to a child's experience of shame.  She read from one of her works, a passage which I think will resonate with all writers, but especially women writers:  "Leave the dishes.  Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator and earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.  Leave the black crumbs at the bottom of the toaster.  Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.  Don't patch anything.  Don't mend.  Buy safety pins.  Don't even sew in a button.  Let the wind have its way, then the earth that invades as dust and then the dead foaming up in gray rolls under the couch.  Talk to them.  Tell them they are welcome.  Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzle or the doll's tiny shoes, don't worry who uses whose toothbrush or if anything matches, at all.  Except one word to another.  Or a thought.  Pursue the authentic.  Go after it with all your heart.  Your heart, that place you don't even think of cleaning out.  That closet stuffed with savage mementoes.  Don't sort the paperclips from screws from saved baby teeth or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner again.  Don't answer the telephone, ever, or weep over anything that breaks.  Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons in the refrigerator.  Accept new forms of life and talk to the dead who drift in through screened windows, who collect patiently on tops of food jars and books.  Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything except what destroys the insulation between yourself and your experience."
  • An interview with Leymah Gbowee, who led the women of Liberia in the struggle to end to the civil war in that country.  The recipient of a John F. Kennedy Profile In Courage Award, her story is told in the award-winning film, "Pray the Devil Back to Hell".

This list barely scratches the surface.  (Seriously, if I listed every segment that affected me deeply in some way, this post would be ten times longer than it already is.)  The breadth of issues discussed on the Journal, and the depth and intelligence with which they are presented, makes subsequent viewing of any network news program, CNN, and most especially Fox, almost unbearable.  The list of authors, historians, journalists (real journalists - the kind who write for McClatchy or who have won Pulitzer prizes), humanitarians, activists, community organizers, filmmakers, scientists, labor leaders, educators, theologians, policy experts, media analysts, physicians, economists, artists and scholars who have appeared on the Journal is as dizzying as it is impressive.  These are people you rarely see anywhere else on television, and I would encourage anyone reading here to explore the program's archive to see what you may have missed.  Most of the guests on the Journal aren't particularly telegenic or "sexy", but damn they are smart and passionate, and they are the kind of people we need to hear from more often.  (After they appeared on the show, Moyers asked each of his guests to summarize what the American dream means to them. A collection of those summaries, along with beautiful black and white portraits by Robin Holland, can be found here.)

I know that many conservatives were upset when Moyers welcomed the Reverend Jeremiah Wright as a guest before the 2008 presidential election.  Wright certainly was a polarizing figure during the months leading up to that election.  But was there any other broadcast journalist in America who actually had the courage to let us hear more from Reverend Wright than the same video clip that we saw over and over and over again? (And ask yourself this:  Can anyone's entire worldview and philosophy be summed up in a short video clip?  Can yours?  If the answer is no, then why in the world would that be enough for you to form an opinion of anyone else?)

You could continue disagree with Jeremiah Wright all you want, but after watching the interview, at least you had enough information to make up your own mind, instead of being fed a pre-digested opinion by the mainstream media.

Moyers has also tackled issues on which liberals and conservatives can find common ground, as in this discussion featuring Ted Olson and David Boies, who were oppposing counsels before the United States Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore.  They appeared together to talk about the case they are bringing in an effort to overturn Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California. 

I blogged last November about an appearance on the Journal by Richard Brookhiser, a conservative's conservative, and how refreshing it was to see these two men, from completely opposite sides of the political spectrum, sit at a table and have a challenging but respectful discussion.  This is what is almost completely missing from broadcast journalism today, and with Moyers' retirement, there will be one less example of how it should be done.

And that's what I love most about the Journal.  There are no "gotcha" moments, no shouting or bullying.  Just civil, intelligent conversation that respects the viewer and that takes enough time to completely explore a subject.  I suppose this might seem a little boring if one has become used to what passes for discussion on most "news" programs, but it's worth the effort and concentration.

I know that I have become a better-informed person - a better citizen too - by spending my Friday nights watching the Journal.  The list of books I want to read has grown longer every week, and my understanding of the world has expanded in immeasurable ways. 

But now I wonder if there is anyone else out there who will fill the void.  I fear that a program like the Journal is considered old-fashioned, and that once it's gone, it will be just one more nail in the coffin of rational discourse and integrity in broadcast journalism.  I hope that I am wrong.  

(Photo from seattlemet.com)

And so I raise my glass one final time to you, Bill Moyers.  May you enjoy a long, healthy and happy retirement! 

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Jeanette, thanks for posting this! I also watched nearly every show of the Bill Moyers Journal. I am sorry to see the show end and it will leave a large gap for many of us. I taped a lot of his shows so I can always watch them as reruns, however. It's very nice to read how this show was as important to you as it was to me!
This is sad. He had an impossible job as Lyndon Johnson's press secretary. His second career was outstanding.
Jeanette, I thank you enough for this post. It is an excellent tribute to Bill Moyers. Like you, I wondered, what now? Who can possibly fill his shoes. His show was where you could go for that excellent interview and "real' news. No one will ever replace him, but let's hope someone tries.
I can't imagine anyone filling his shoes, sad to say. Who else in America has that gravitas?
Really, they don't have to watch it just shout out about the "bias". It's a lot like those folks on medicare screaming about how much they fear government run healthcare. Why worry about the truth when you can get a big adrenaline boost from anger and hate.
I am sad to see him retire, but no doubt his work will continue away from the public eye..to some extent. Thanks for a lovely, informative post on a great journalist/author.
This is marvelous, jeanette. I haven't watched many of his shows; now I feel lucky, in that I have so much to look forward to. Thanks!
"But tomorrow, April 30, 2010, marks the end of the healthiest and most socially redeeming part of my weekly routine."

Sorry you have to give up the pizza.
Thanks everyone. I have a feeling I'm going to get kind of teary-eyed tomorrow night. This is a really big deal for me. I'm very sad.

And now, I will quote my good friend, KatC:

If Bill leaves me now
He'll take away the very heart of me
Ooo ooo ooo no
Moyers please don't go

(Hope you're feeling better, Kat!)
No, Gordon, I'll probably continue my pizza habit. But without old Bill, I'm likely to just end up a fat drunk.

Thanks for stopping by - always a pleasure to hear from you! (Goodness, I must be channeling Moyers!)
I love Bill Moyers. The thing about advocacy journalism is that, regardless of viewpoint, it espouses rigorous reporting after investigation, so that even though the political lens, whether liberal or conservative, was instructive in choosing the topic, the journalistic standards are impeccable in publishing the findings.

Re the Reverend Wright: You've hit the nail on the head. Critics should have hailed Moyers for exposing Wright's true self. The point of consuming news is to find the most of it--as honestly portrayed--as we can. It was only good that Moyers gave us a slice of the real Wright. That the right couldn't make mischief from it only spoiled their storyline; it did nothing to tarnish, and indeed furthered the cause of, real journalism.

I worry, too, about what's to come after such excellent journalism. Thanks for this excellent post, Jeanette.
He's such a class act. I grew up watching him, and listen to him on a podcast every chance I get. this was a great tribute to his work, his sanity, and his positive and thoughtful contribution in a world of screamers and spinners. The Erdrich quote is going on my desktop directly.
I'll miss him too. He was so intelligent and chose such amazing people to interview. Your list was right on. Thank you.
I, too, regard Bill Moyers as invaluable, irreplaceable. We'll just have to watch reruns on the computer, or on DVD. I fear no one will even be allowed to step into his shoes.
It does create a hole in civil discourse that may not be filled.
But it could be worse.
What if Gordon O knew where you lived and liked pizza?
aka, you've got a point. I should count my blessings!
I have been following Moyers' career since his days as Press Secretary to President Johnson. A consummate professional, he has brought honor to broadcast journalism. The wonder is that he was able to survive on the air for so long. Sail safely on Mr. Moyers.
Thanks for this wonderful tribute to a modern day Renaissance man and outstanding journalist. I have joked about my having "date-night" with Bill Moyers on Fridays, and sometimes I even took notes while I watched. (Yes, I am a geek.)
Great tribute. I too am sad to see Moyers go.
Wow, what a wonderful tribute to Moyers and his show, Jeanette. I doubt anything written this week by a pro journalist on the same subject tops this one! You really convey what Moyers brought that is sadly lacking on the airwaves. I confess that I only watched his show very occasionally (esp since our Friday evenings involve pizza, too, but going out for it). Now I'm very sorry I didn't make time for him all these years. That's where those internet archives come in handy!
Wonderful - thanks. And thank you for sharing the Erdritch quote here - I so needed another excuse.
It is a loss to television and to journalism, but only for its value as a refreshment from mainstream media. We no longer have a representative government and democratic institutions. Jounalists, like Moyers, Amy Goodman, Tom Englehardt, Alexander Cockburn, et al., help us to know what is really happening. Regrettably, there is not much we can do with the truth. It is drowned out by the corportate media. Even if more Americans were better informed, the institutions of government have been so corrupted that a better informed citizenry would only mean more business for the gastoenterologists and cardiologists. Most Americans cannot handle the truth about our country and would develop ulcers and heart conditions. So, adieu Bill Moyers! We, the minority, shall miss you, but the country's course will continue unperturbed in its decline as it has been doing in spite of your best efforts.
Jeanette, thank you for this wonderful tribute to Bill Moyers, one of the world's great journalists. My, will I miss him! He did far more than his part to leave the place better than he found it. xox
I want to thank you all so much for reading and commenting. Tomorrow night is going to be sad for me, no doubt, but it makes me feel much happier knowing that so many of you have appreciated the Journal.

As you can see from the date on the front page, I actually started writing this blog a couple of months ago, when I knew that Moyers' retirement was imminent. Putting it together has been a real labor of love.
What a great summary, Jeanette. I'm sure he would be gratified to know he had viewers like you.
I'll raise a glass (or two) to Bill as well. His six part interview with Joseph Campbell back in the late 80's changed my life like no other thing before or since. And that is not hyperbole. I have the book and the DVD of the series and refer back to it from time to time.
He will be missed.
i think i may cry tonight, too. i've gotta make sure i have some wine on hand! you know, i have only watched Mr. Moyers in the last couple of years, so I am looking forward to catching reruns, or maybe getting DVD's and watching them in his timeslot. i definitely want to check out his Robert Bly interview right away. and i do feel better today, thanks!

oooh oooh ooooooh, Bill, I just want you to staaaaaayyyyyy!
His show entitled "Selling the War" was not only one of the best pieces of journalism of the last decade, but was an utter condemnation of American mainstream media. The way it exposed media star "journalists" like Tim Russert as little more than celebrity hounds plainly revealed the problems with our current Fourth Estate.

Moyers' series on healthcare and the attempted reform of such was not only revelatory but prescient. Sadly, the predictions of voices such as Matt Taibbi and Wendell Potter came to pass.

Moyers will be sorely missed on my end and I'm skeptical as to an able substitute surfacing anytime soon.
This was very informative. PBS is sometimes not easy for me to get to if my cable service doesn't carry that particular channel on the island.

I am cutting and pasting and printing out that quote from Ms. Erdrich and will give it out like candy to every lady I know.

Thanks for pointing me to this post.
Bill Moyers is largely responsible for inspiring my life-long quest for spiritual and philosophical knowledge. Beginning in the early 80s with his PBS series based on Mortimer Adler’s book Six Great Ideas and continuing in 1988 with Joseph Campbell and The Power Of Myth; set me on a journey of the mind and a quest of self-actualization that will continue until a draw my last breath.

I was lucky enough to meet him three years ago when he returned home to Marshall, Texas for an event in his honor. I live just 40 miles to the east in Shreveport, Louisiana. He is a very good speaker. I was glad I finally was able to personally thank him for what his work has meant to me as he signed my cherished copy of The Power Of Myth.
Bill Moyers has always been a special journalist to me. Not only has he had an honest, clear viewpoint of currenrt events and issues but my family and his has a connection.
When I was a boy he and his father delivered Bargs' soft drinks to my dad's and my uncle's restaurants.
Many years later, when I was in high school he served as LBJ's press secretary, I went to see him when he was speaking and we reminisced about old times.
He did a story once on his TV show, about my uncle's restaurant in Marshall, Texas.
He is an inelligent and insightful journalist.
Your Friday nights sounded just like mine -- with the exception of the Cosmopolitan Magazine. Since it's been gone, it's left a void in my Friday nights.

The best part of Moyers was that his show was always interesting no matter who he had on. He also had a manner that was always respectful no matter who he was talking to. There was none of the "boy is that a stupid idea" conveyed even by the arch of an eyebrow.

He also found people to talk to about any subject who had something important to say. There was none of the calling the "usual suspects" that are the stock and trade of the Sunday morning news shows. And, I think his audience was always better for who he talked to about an issue. There were all kinds of times when I hoped that the "usual suspects" were watching because they needed to know what was talked about far more than I did.

His website is still around and still active. It's at:

http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/index-flash.html

I hope that he hasn't gone off to just go fishing for the rest of his days. I'd still like to hear what he has to say now and then.