Friday, June 03, 2005

Bill Moyers, patron saint of the Roanoke Times?

“I share the sentiments of Bill Moyers, one of my journalistic heroes.”

So wrote Tommy Denton, Editorial Page Editor of the Roanoke Times, for an address ("Why Not Blame the Media?") he delivered as a visiting scholar last year at Tarleton State University. Denton wasn't speaking lightly. His address mentions Moyers nine times.

Tommy Denton's admiration for Moyers isn't surprising. Besides being journalists, both are Texans and Texas political insiders, having served powerful Democratic politicans -- Denton as a press aide to Senator Lloyd Bentsen, arch rival of another Texas political family -- the Bushes -- and Moyers as press secretary for President Lyndon Johnson. While Denton appears to have labored in relative obscurity and only for a few years, Moyers served Johnson in some of his most heady and troubled times. In fact, Moyers headed the Johnson campaign team responsible for the infamous "daisy" ad which insinuated a vote for Goldwater was a vote for nuclear war. At the time, Moyers wrote Johnson, "[W]hile we paid for the ad only once on NBC last Monday night, ABC and CBS both ran it on their news shows Friday. So we got it shown on all three networks for the price of one." Some believe that ad and Moyers' subsequent career helped create today's toxic take-no-prisoners politics.

It's likely that the Roanoke Times' Bill Moyers' fan club includes more staff than just Tommy Denton. Moyers once praised the work of recent Roanoke Times hire and Tommy Denton admirer, "Yes, I am a liberal" Dan Radmacher. Moreover, long-time Roanoke Times readers often see Moyers quoted in the Times' editorials as if he were an important authority. So, for anyone wanting to understand the Roanoke Times, it's important to ask -- just who is Bill Moyers?

Bill Moyers Posted by Hello

If you are totally unfamiliar with Moyers, a good place to start is the basic information in the on-line encylopedia Wikipedia. Most folks, however, know Moyers as the moderator and producer of a variety of PBS documentaries, and most recently, the PBS weekly program "NOW with Bill Moyers." He retired last year but has been in the news lately expressing his outrage that Kenneth Tomlinson, the new Chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, has launched a personal crusade aimed at "eliminating the perception of political bias" in PBS programs.

(Here's something that makes Salt Lick chuckle -- Kenneth Tomlinson grew up just outside of Galax, Virginia! Tomlinson and Salt Lick! Southwest Virginia against Texas! IT'S A VAST RIGHT-WING CONSPIRACY! Read about it here. )

Tomlinson is not alone. For some time now, many -- other -- people have said Moyers has used PBS not only to broadcast his own left-wing ideology, but to enrich himself and his family. Others simply note the imbalance in PBS programing and cite Moyers as a chief example.

It does indeed seem that the original PBS logo has changed slightly over the years.

The Donkey in PBS Posted by Hello

As mentioned, Moyers is often quoted in Roanoke Times' editorials. And there are many similarities in how Moyers and editor Tommy Denton express their ideas. Both frequently cite famous figures. Moyers can name-drop an astounding number of intellectuals into anything he writes or speaks, no doubt the harvest of his many documentaries. Ben Franklin appears to be a favorite of Denton's.

Likewise, as the "new media" of cable news, talk radio, and bloggers raised serious doubts of "old media's" objectivity and accuracy, both men have recently sounded an almost apocalyptic note about America's future. Last December, Moyers bewailed the new challenges to old media and said,

What I know to be real is that we are in for the fight of our lives. I am not a romantic about democracy or journalism... journalism and democracy are deeply linked in whatever chance we human beings have to redress our grievances, renew our politics, and reclaim our revolutionary ideals. Those are difficult tasks at any time, and they are even more difficult in a cynical age as this, when a deep and pervasive corruption has settled upon the republic. But too much is at stake for our spirits to flag...

While Tommy Denton ended his "Why not Blame the Media?" with,

...freedom and democracy are hard labor — yours and mine, not just the politicians’ and not just the media’s. So I invite you to ponder the response of Ben Franklin in 1787 as he left Constitution Hall after completion of the new Constitution, to the woman who asked: “What, Dr. Franklin, have you wrought?”
“A republic, madam,” he said, “if you can keep it.”

Another interesting similarity in Moyers' and Denton's style is their use of religion. While both condemn an intolerant "Religious Right," each cites faith, morals, and "authorities" of the "Religious Left" in support of their arguments. Denton, for example, once grounded the better part of a column on the words of Religious Left leader Jim Wallis. Similarly, Moyers weaves religious quotations and imagery into his work so often that some have dubbed him "PBS's Evangelist."

Lately, Moyers seems to have gone off the deep end of this theme. He got so worked up in one speech this year he smeared James Watt, Ronald Reagan's first Secretary of the Interior, by saying Watt and many other Republicans wanted to cut down all trees to hasten the second coming of Christ. To his credit, Moyers apologized.

But perhaps weirdest of all was Moyers' comparison of himself to Jesus Christ and his claim of having God on his side. In an interview widely quoted, but often parsed to eliminate the weirder parts, Moyers reacted to Tomlinson's investigation of PBS bias:

First, let me assure you that I take in stride attacks by the radical right wingers who have not given up demonizing me although I retired over six months ago. They’ve been after me for years now, and I suspect they will be stomping on my grave to make sure I don’t come back from the dead. I should point out to them that one of our boys pulled it off some two thousand years ago after the Pharisees, the Sadducees and Caesar surrogates thought they had shut him up for good. I won’t be expecting that kind of miracle, but I should put my detractors on notice, they might just compel me out of the rocking chair and back into the anchor chair.

"...stomping on my grave... to make sure I don't come back ... one of our boys pulled it off..." (?)

Woo boy. At 70, Moyers probably doesn't have too many years left in his first life. Get ready for the Rapture.

There's plenty vintage Moyers' invective here and here and here and here, if you want to read it. If you are a long-time reader of the Roanoke Times, you'll recognize some of it as having been repeated there word for word. And you'll begin to understand one source of the Roanoke Times' left-wing tone.

So there you have it. Tommy Denton admires the work of Bill Moyers, who admires the work of Dan Radmacher, who admires the work of Tommy Denton. And they're all pursued by Salt Lick and his newfound journalistic hero, Kenneth Tomlinson.

Which reminds me of something Benjamin Franklin said which applies to preachy, invective-ladling journalists who simultaneously call for more "diversity" and civil public dialogue.

"The bell calls others to Church, but itself never minds the sermon."

Good man, old Ben.