05/19/2005: PBS's finger on the Wrong "Mute" Button...
In a follow up to Len’s Gem of the Day post from yesterday and featured quote from Bill Moyers' article Muting The Conversation Of Democracy here (below the fold) is a more extended quote and (Courtesy of US News Wire) a blurb about this upcoming event:
”In a speech at the National Press Club on Tuesday, May 24, Pat Mitchell will lay out a vision for the future of PBS and how it will continue to play a crucial role in the nation's civic and cultural life. Mitchell will address why PBS' unique cultural, educational and public affairs programming and outreach initiatives are more necessary than ever in today's 500 channel world. She will also discuss PBS's efforts and future plans to broaden and deepen the services it provides the public.”
Pat Mitchell (President and CEO of PBS) speaking on the future of Public broadcasting. Hmmm-- Given Moyers comments, this ought to be an interesting development to watch.
Click on the “more” button to read below the fold.
Muting The Conversation Of Democracy
by Bill Moyers
”….We’re seeing unfold a contemporary example of the age-old ambition of power and ideology to squelch and punish journalists who tell the stories that make princes and priests uncomfortable.
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 remind them, however, that one of our boys pulled it off some two thousand years ago—after the Pharisees, Sadducees and Caesar’s surrogates thought they had shut him up for good. Of course 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.
Who are they? I mean the people obsessed with control, using the government to threaten and intimidate. I mean the people who are hollowing out middle-class security even as they enlist the sons and daughters of the working class in a war to make sure Ahmed Chalabi winds up controlling Iraq’s oil. I mean the people who turn faith-based initiatives into a slush fund and who encourage the pious to look heavenward and pray so as not to see the long arm of privilege and power picking their pockets. I mean the people who squelch free speech in an effort to obliterate dissent and consolidate their orthodoxy into the official view of reality from which any deviation becomes unpatriotic heresy.
These “rules of the game” permit Washington officials to set the agenda for journalism, leaving the press all too often simply to recount what officials say instead of subjecting their words and deeds to critical scrutiny. Instead of acting as filters for readers and viewers, sifting the truth from the propaganda, reporters and anchors attentively transcribe both sides of the spin invariably failing to provide context, background or any sense of which claims hold up and which are misleading.
I decided long ago that this wasn’t healthy for democracy. I came to see that “news is what people want to keep hidden and everything else is publicity.” In my documentaries—whether on the Watergate scandals 30 years ago or the Iran Contra conspiracy 20 years ago or Bill Clinton’s fundraising scandals 10 years ago or, five years ago, the chemical industry’s long and despicable cover up of its cynical and unspeakable withholding of critical data about its toxic products from its workers, I realized that investigative journalism could not be a collaboration between the journalist and the subject. Objectivity is not satisfied by two opposing people offering competing opinions, leaving the viewer to split the difference.
I came to believe that objective journalism means describing the object being reported on, including the little fibs and fantasies as well as the Big Lie of the people in power. In no way does this permit journalists to make accusations and allegations. It means, instead, making sure that your reporting and your conclusions can be nailed to the post with confirming evidence.
An unconscious people, an indoctrinated people, a people fed only on partisan information and opinion that confirm their own bias, a people made morbidly obese in mind and spirit by the junk food of propaganda, is less inclined to put up a fight, to ask questions and be skeptical. That kind of orthodoxy can kill a democracy—or worse.
Extensive research on the content of public television over a decade found that political discussions on our public affairs programs generally included a limited set of voices that offer a narrow range of perspectives on current issues and events. Instead of far-ranging discussions and debates, the kind that might engage viewers as citizens, not simply as audiences, this research found that public affairs programs on PBS stations were populated by the standard set of elite news sources. Whether government officials and Washington journalists (talking about political strategy) or corporate sources (talking about stock prices or the economy from the investor’s viewpoint), public television, unfortunately, all too often was offering the same kind of discussions, and a similar brand of insider discourse, that is featured regularly on commercial television.
Who didn’t appear was also revealing. Hoynes and his team found that in contrast to the conservative mantra that public television routinely featured the voices of anti-establishment critics, “alternative perspectives were rare on public television and were effectively drowned out by the stream of government and corporate views that represented the vast majority of sources on our broadcasts.” The so-called ‘experts’ who got most of the face time came primarily from mainstream news organizations and Washington think tanks rather than diverse interests. Economic news, for example, was almost entirely refracted through the views of business people, investors and business journalists. Voices outside the corporate/Wall Street universe—nonprofessional workers, labor representatives, consumer advocates and the general public were rarely heard. In sum, these two studies concluded, the economic coverage was so narrow that the views and the activities of most citizens became irrelevant.
All this went against the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 that created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I know. I was there. As a young policy assistant to President Johnson, I attended my first meeting to discuss the future of public broadcasting in 1964 in the office of the Commissioner of Education. I know firsthand that the Public Broadcasting Act was meant to provide an alternative to commercial television and to reflect the diversity of the American people.
We had a second priority. We intended to do strong, honest and accurate reporting, telling stories we knew people in high places wouldn’t like.
I told our producers and correspondents that in our field reporting our job was to get as close as possible to the verifiable truth. This was all the more imperative in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. America could be entering a long war against an elusive and stateless enemy with no definable measure of victory and no limit to its duration, cost or foreboding fear. The rise of a homeland security state meant government could justify extraordinary measures in exchange for protecting citizens against unnamed, even unproven, threats.
Furthermore, increased spending during a national emergency can produce a spectacle of corruption behind a smokescreen of secrecy. I reminded our team of the words of the news photographer in Tom Stoppard’s play who said, “People do terrible things to each other, but it’s worse when everyone is kept in the dark.”
I also reminded them of how the correspondent and historian, Richard Reeves, answered a student who asked him to define real news. “Real news,” Reeves responded, “is the news you and I need to keep our freedoms.”
For these reasons and in that spirit we went about reporting on Washington as no one else in broadcasting—except occasionally “60 Minutes”—was doing. We reported on the expansion of the Justice Department’s power of surveillance. We reported on the escalating Pentagon budget and expensive weapons that didn’t work. We reported on how campaign contributions influenced legislation and policy to skew resources to the comfortable and well-connected while our troops were fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq with inadequate training and armor. We reported on how the Bush administration was shredding the Freedom of Information Act. We went around the country to report on how closed-door, backroom deals in Washington were costing ordinary workers and tax payers their livelihood and security. We reported on offshore tax havens that enable wealthy and powerful Americans to avoid their fair share of national security and the social contract.
And always—because what people know depends on who owns the press —we kept coming back to the media business itself —to how mega media corporations were pushing journalism further and further down the hierarchy of values, how giant radio cartels were silencing critics while shutting communities off from essential information, and how the mega media companies were lobbying the FCC for the right to grow ever more powerful.
The more compelling our journalism, the angrier the radical right of the Republican party became. That’s because the one thing they loathe more than liberals is the truth. And the quickest way to be damned by them as liberal is to tell the truth.
This is the point of my story: Ideologues don’t want you to go beyond the typical labels of left and right. They embrace a world view that can’t be proven wrong because they will admit no evidence to the contrary. They want your reporting to validate their belief system and when it doesn’t, God forbid. Never mind that their own stars were getting a fair shake on NOW: Gigot, Viguerie, David Keene of the American Conservative Union, Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth, and others. No, our reporting was giving the radical right fits because it wasn’t the party line. It wasn’t that we were getting it wrong. Only three times in three years did we err factually, and in each case we corrected those errors as soon as we confirmed their inaccuracy. The problem was that we were getting it right, not right-wing—telling stories that partisans in power didn’t want told.
I’ve always thought the American eagle needed a left wing and a right wing. The right wing would see to it that economic interests had their legitimate concerns addressed. The left wing would see to it that ordinary people were included in the bargain. Both would keep the great bird on course. But with two right wings or two left wings, it’s no longer an eagle and it’s going to crash.
Someone has said recently that the great raucous mob that is democracy is rarely heard and that it’s not just the fault of the current residents of the White House and the capital. There’s too great a chasm between those of us in this business and those who depend on TV and radio as their window to the world. We treat them too much as an audience and not enough as citizens. They’re invited to look through the window but too infrequently to come through the door and to participate, to make public broadcasting truly public.
To that end, five public interests groups including Common Cause and Consumers Union will be holding informational sessions around the country to “take public broadcasting back”—to take it back from threats, from interference, from those who would tell us we can only think what they command us to think.
It’s a worthy goal.
We’re big kids; we can handle controversy and diversity, whether it’s political or religious points of view or two loving lesbian moms and their kids, visited by a cartoon rabbit. We are not too fragile or insecure to see America and the world entire for all their magnificent and sometimes violent confusion. There used to be a thing or a commodity we put great store by,” John Steinbeck wrote. “It was called the people.”
Karen on 05.19.05 @ 04:07 AM CST