Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bill Moyers

 Oh how I miss Bill Moyers and his Journal.  Thank goodness that he hasn't "gone gentle into that good night".  (Bob Dylan quote is "Do not go gentle into ----)

Bill Moyers was the keynote speaker at the organization History Makers dedicated to factual broadcasting.  I will leave the link of the long transcript of the speech for those of you who have not read it.  Click on   Bill Moyers. for the full transcript.

Because the speech was so long, I am just posting a few paragraphs that I want to emphasize.  (Okay, a lot more than a few.  I highlighted the parts I want to stress so you can just read those if time is of the essence.)

Bill Moyers as duplicated on Alter Net

- we (Moyers and Fred Friendly) were naïve, but in those days many of us still assumed that an informed public is preferable to an uninformed one. Hadn't Thomas Jefferson proclaimed that, "Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government"? And wasn't a free press essential to that end?

Maybe not. As Joe Keohane reported last year in The Boston Globe, political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency "deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information." He was reporting on research at the University of Michigan, which found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in new stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts were not curing misinformation. "Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger."

 Then -
While "most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence," the research found that actually "we often base our opinions on our beliefs ... and rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions." 

These studies help to explain why America seems more and more unable to deal with reality. -  that they pick and choose only those facts that will serve as building blocks for walling them off from uncomfortable truths. Any journalist whose reporting threatens that belief system gets sliced and diced by its apologists and polemicists (say, the fabulists at Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the yahoos of talk radio.) Remember when Limbaugh, for one, took journalists on for their reporting about torture at Abu Ghraib? He attempted to dismiss the cruelty inflicted on their captives by American soldiers as a little necessary "sport" for soldiers under stress, saying on air: "This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation ... you [ever] heard of need to blow some steam off?" As so often happens, the Limbaugh line became a drumbeat in the nether reaches of the right-wing echo chamber. So, it was not surprising that in a nationwide survey conducted by The Chicago Tribune on First Amendment issues, half of the respondents said there should be some kind of press restraint on reporting about the prison abuse. According to Charles Madigan, the editor of the Tribune's Perspective section, 50 or 60 percent of the respondents said they "would embrace government controls of some kind on free speech, particularly when it has sexual content or is heard as unpatriotic."

No wonder many people still believe Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, as his birth certificate shows; or that he is a Muslim, when in fact he is a Christian; or that he is a socialist when day by day he shows an eager solicitude for corporate capitalism. Partisans in particular - and the audiences for Murdoch's Fox News and talk radio - are particularly susceptible to such scurrilous disinformation. In a Harris survey last spring, 67 percent of Republicans said Obama is a socialist; 57 percent believed him to be a Muslim; 45 percent refused to believe he was born in America; and 24 percent said he "may be the antichrist."

The bigger the smear, the more it sticks.  Last year, Forbes Magazine, obviously bent on mischief, allowed the right-wing fantasist Dinesh D'Souza to tar Obama with a toxic brew so odious it triggered memories of racist babble - a perverted combination of half-baked psychology, biology and sociology - that marked the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan. Seizing upon the anti-colonial views of Obama's Kenyan father, who had deserted the family when the boy was two years old and whose absence from his life Obama meditated upon in his best-selling book "Dreams of My Father," D'Souza wrote that, "Incredibly, the US is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation's agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son."

In a sane political world, you might think at least a few Republican notables would have denounced such hogwash by their own kind for what it was. But no. Newt Gingrich, once their speaker of the House, whose own fantasies include succeeding Obama in the White House, set the tone by praising D'Souza's claptrap as the "most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama." D'Souza, said Gingrich, has made a "stunning insight" and had unlocked the mystery of Obama. November 2010." Once again, the right-wing media machine had popularized a false narrative and made of it a destructive political weapon.

Disinformation is not unique to the right, of course.  - the "9/11 truthers" (spread disinformation) that the Bush administration conspired to bring about the attacks on the World Trade Center).
 How did they discover this conspiracy? As the independent journalist Robert Parry has written, "the truthers" threw out all the evidence of al-Qaeda's involvement such as using long lists of supposed evidence to overcome the lack of any real evidence, the "truthers" cherry-picked a few supposed "anomalies" to build an "inside-job" story line. Fortunately, this Big Lie never took hold in the public mind. 

George Orwell had warned six decades ago that the corrosion of language goes hand in hand with the corruption of democracy. If he were around today, he would remind us that "like the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket," this kind of propaganda engenders a "protective stupidity" almost impossible for facts to penetrate.
But you, my colleagues, can't give up. If you do, there's no chance any public memory of everyday truths - the tangible, touchable, palpable realities so vital to democracy - will survive. We would be left to the mercy of the agitated amnesiacs who "make" their own reality, as one of them boasted at the time America invaded Iraq, in order to maintain their hold on the public mind and the levers of power.  

Control of the present rests on obliteration of the past. - The bureaucrats in the Ministry of Truth destroy the records of the past and publish new versions. . History is obliterated.

Memory is crucial to democracy; historical amnesia, its nemesis.

However, there's always another round; the sharks are always circling. Sherry Jones and I spent more than a year working on a PBS documentary called "Trade Secrets," a two-hour investigative special based on revelations - found in the industry's own archives - that big chemical companies had deliberately withheld from workers and consumers damaging information about toxic chemicals in their products. These internal industry documents are a fact. They exist. They are not a matter of opinion or point of view. They state what the companies knew, when they knew it and what they did with what they knew (namely to deep-six it) at peril to those who worked with and consumed the potentially lethal products.

The revelations portrayed deep and pervasive corruption in a major American
industry and raised critical policy implications about the safety of living under a regulatory system manipulated by the industry itself. If the public and government regulators had known what the industry knew about the health risks of its products when the industry knew it, America's laws and regulations governing chemical manufacturing would have been far more protective of human health. But the industry didn't want us to know. That's what the documents revealed and that was the story the industry fought to keep us from telling.
The industry hired as an ally a public relations firm in Washington noted for using private detectives and former CIA, FBI and drug enforcement officers to conduct investigations for corporations under critical scrutiny. One of the company's founders acknowledged that corporations may need to resort to "deceit" and other unconventional resources to counter public scrutiny. Given the scurrilous campaign that was conducted to smear our journalism, his comments were an understatement. To complicate matters, the Congressman, who for years had been the single biggest recipient of campaign contributions from the chemical industry, was the very member of Congress whose committee had jurisdiction over public broadcasting's appropriations. As an independent production firm, we had not used public funds to produce the document
ary. But even our independence didn't stop the corporate mercenaries from bringing relentless pressure on PBS not to air the broadcast. The then president of PBS, Pat Mitchell, stood tall in resisting the pressure and was vindicated: one year later, The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded "Trade Secrets" an Emmy for outstanding investigative journalism.

I am sad when I hear or read that factual broadcasting is passé - that television as a venue for forensic journalism is on its way out and that trying to find out "what really happened" - which is our mandate - is but a quaint relic in an age of post-structuralism and cyberspace. But despite all our personal electronic devices, people are watching more television than ever. 

I was pleased to discover that the web sites most frequented by educators are those of PBS and that our own sites were among the most popular destinations. That's what keeps us going, isn't it? The knowledge that all the bias and ignorance notwithstanding, facts still matter to critical thinking, that if we respect and honor, even revere them, they just might help us right the ship of state before it rams the iceberg. 

That's why, on balance, I count WikiLeaks a plus for democracy. Whatever side you take on the controversy, whether or not you think this information should be disclosed, all parties - those who want it released and those who don't - acknowledge that information matters.

At the Johnson White House, we circled the wagons and grew intolerant of news that didn't conform to our hopes, expectations and strategies for Vietnam, with terrible, tragic results for Americans and Vietnamese, north and south. I say: "Never again!"

Here's a sidebar: I remember vividly the day President Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): July 4, 1966. He signed it "with a deep sense of pride," declaring in almost lyrical language "that the United States is an open society in which the people's right to know is cherished and guarded." That's what he said. The truth is, the president had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the signing ceremony. He hated the very idea of journalists rummaging in government closets, hated them challenging the authorized view of reality, hated them knowing what he didn't want them to know. He dug in his heels and even threatened to pocket veto the bill after it reached the White House. Only the courage and political skill of a Congressman named John Moss got the bill passed at all and that was after a 12-year battle against his Congressional elders, who blinked every time the sun shined on the dark corners of power. They managed to cripple the bill Moss had drafted and, even then, only some last-minute calls to LBJ from a handful of influential newspaper editors overcame the president's reluctance. He signed "the f------ thing," as he called it and then, lo and behold, went out to claim credit for it.

It's always a fight to find out what the government doesn't want us to know. The official obsession with secrecy is all the more disturbing today because the war on terrorism is a war without limits, without a visible enemy or decisive encounters. We don't know where the clandestine war is going on or how much it's costing and whether it's in the least effective. Even in Afghanistan, most of what we know comes from official, usually military, sources.  

Thus, a relative handful of people have enormous power to keep us in the dark. And when those people are in league with their counterparts in powerful corporations, the public is hit with a double whammy. We're usually told the issue is national security, but keeping us from finding out about the danger of accidents at chemical plants is not about national security; it's about covering up an industry's indiscretions and liabilities. Locking up the secrets of meetings with energy executives is not about national security; it's about hiding confidential memos sent to the White House showing the influence of oil companies on policies of global warming We only learned about that memo from the Bush White House, by the way, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act.

I will close with an urgent appeal to you about one fight we won't win unless all of us join it. I'm sure everyone here agrees that we will eventually be moving to the web, all of us and that "free, instant, worldwide connectivity" is the future. But I'm sure you know that this incredible, free, open Internet highway is at risk, that corporations are on the brink of muscling their way to the front of the line. Media companies want the power to censor Internet content they don't like, to put toll booths on the web so they can charge more for the privilege of driving in the fast lanes, to turn it into a private preserve. 

You may have heard that last month the FCC decided to protect free/open Internet access only on landline connections, not wireless - which is to say, there's no net neutrality in most of the online world. As Jenn Ettinger of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Free Press reported in Yes! magazine just two days ago:

The rules that the FCC passed in December are vague and weak. The limited protections that were placed on wired connections, the kind you access through your home computer, leave the door open for the phone and cable companies to develop fast and slow lanes on the Web and to favor their own content or applications.
Worse, the rules also explicitly allow wireless carriers ... to block applications for any reason and to degrade and de-prioritize websites you access using your cell phone or a device like an iPad.

 . We can't relax our vigilance. In Ettinger's words:

The FCC still has the opportunity to put in place a solid framework that would put the public interest above the profit motive of the phone and cable companies that it is supposed to regulate. And the FCC should take immediate steps to close the loopholes it created, to strengthen its rules and to include wireless protections. The fight is far from over. We can work to change the rules, demand better oversight and consumer protections and make sure that the big companies can't pad their bottom lines on the backs of their customers.

Joseph Campbell told me years ago for my series "The Power of Myth." It seems a fellow rounding the corner saw a fight break out down the block. Running up to one of the bystanders, he shouted: "Is this a private fight or can anyone get in it?"
The Internet fight for democracy is a public fight. Come on in!

Obviously I was unable to cut as much as I had originally planned.  I thought his comments on the danger that  the Internet faces is one that should concern us all.  

It is no wonder that the Republican right wing want to silence NPR and PBS.  That media is not owned by, and under the thumb of, big corporations.


Anonymous said...

"many people still believe Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, as his birth certificate shows."
Please help put an end to all of the right wing crazies and post a copy of the President's birth certificate that the newly elected Democratic Governor of Hawaii promised he would find and share with us.

Kay Dennison said...

I miss Bill Moyers, too. He's a voice of reason in the asylum this country has become.

And the quote is from Dylan Thomas -- Do not go gentle into that good night. Old ahe should rage against the fading light.

And I think you and I do a great job of raging, don't you?

naomi dagen bloom said...

Missing Bill Moyers reminds me how singular his presence was on public television. I'm sure he would have endorsed the notion of other intelligent commentators having a place in PBS. Though I support what we have, have to agree with those who have found both PBS and NPR less adventurous in programming over the last 15 years.

On the narrow way we develop our opinions one problem is our isolation from one another in public spaces. Where have you (speaking to all out there) been recently where an idea was presented, then questions asked by an audience, followed by informal exchange among participants? I'm lucky to live in a city with an unusual bookstore where authors of newly-released books regularly appear. Wish there were more!

Darlene said...

* Anonymous - Without spending too much time searching for Obama's birth certificate I found a video of the Chris Matthews show in which he shows a copy of Obama's birth certificate and a copy of the birth announcement in the newspaper in Hawaii. Here's the link:

Darlene said...

To Anonymous - Copy and paste the link into your browser.

Joy Des Jardins said...

I've always liked Bill Moyers too...and I miss him as well. My husband watched he a lot on public tv.

What is with this whole Obama birth certificate fiasco with some people? Geesh, give it up already.

joared said...

I, too, miss Bill Moyers on PBS. Have long been concerned with the whole Net Neutrality issue. Have been disappointed the current FCC commissioners weren't stronger, but thank heavens for the change from the previous membership.

I think recognizing truth has become increasingly difficult for those who don't want to expend any effort to sort out fact from fiction, especially when distortions and omissions are so deliberately prevalent.

Hope some of those with differing viewpoints take the time to read what you've written here. Finding a way to get others with disagreeing points of view to listen, then re-consider their position is the challenge.

Darlene said...

*Naomi Dagen Bloom - I am unable to attend the type of meetings and interaction that you mention due to my hearing loss. I am sure there are such meetings in Tucson, but I haven't sought them out because I can't participate.

*Joy Des Jardins - It's a way the loonies try to discredit his right to be president I guess. Glenn Beck and Limbaugh just spread a crazy ideas and they spread like wildflowers.

*Joared - Unfortunately facts don't matter to the radicals. My favorite bumper sticker is "Don't confuse me with the facts my mind's made up."

Xtreme English said...

great post, darlene!

Darlene said...

*Xtreme English - Thank you.

Nance said...

Wow, Dar! A helluva post and an Anon-magnet, too! I appreciate all your hard work on this.

I liked: "an underpowered antibiotic." That metaphor is entirely apt and timely.

Who's the next Moyers? We need him to hurry up.

Darlene said...

*Nance - Thank you for your kind words. I would settle for getting Bill Moyers back.

Looking to the Stars said...

Wow, this was a great post with a great punch! Good work and thank you for all the info :)

Darlene said...

*Looking to the Stars - You're welcome. I'm glad it was informative.

Anne said...

A wonderful, if depressing, post.

Darlene said...

*Anne - Everything political is depressing now, isn't it?

Vagabonde said...

A great post Darlene, but the problem is that it is us the people who agree with it who read it – it’s impossible to have the Conservatives or Tea Baggers to read it – they are the ones who need to read it – it’s a lost cause trying to have an intelligent conversation with them or having them read something by Bill Moyers unfortunately. Sadly this paper shows it too.

Darlene said...

*Vagabonde - Thank you for reading all of my old posts. You are a very good friend.

The part that was most discouraging to me was the information that studies have shown that giving facts to ideologues just makes them dig their heels in deeper. You are right; there is no use trying to have an intelligent conversation with them. I often quote the old bumper sticker, "Don't confuse me with the facts. My mind is made up."