Monday, June 09, 2003

You can never go wrong beating up on Bill Moyers, its like shooting fish in a barrel. Enjoy.

Who Is Bill Moyers and How Does He Sleep at Night? by Benjamin Kerstein

Billy Don Moyers has a considerable cachet in certain parts of this country. Among the dedicated minority of PBS watchers who buy his books and videotapes, who look upon the greater media universe with a casual, almost instinctual disdain, Mr. Moyers is a sacred cow, an enlightening and uplifting presence in an otherwise debased and callow medium. Certainly, on the East Coast at least, it is difficult to find any dissenters from the view of Moyers as the doyen of intelligent, insightful television.

This affection is, however, not reciprocated. Moyers looks upon his admiring throng and sees lost souls in need of the cleansing powers of hellfire. Like the tent preacher he once was, Bill Moyers has spent his career marketing auto-de-fes, political exorcisms for the tortured liberal soul. Racism, intolerance, sexism, spiritual emptiness, rampant materialism, neglect of the nation’s democratic values, for all these and a myriad other sins Moyers’ programs provide a measure of catharsis and respite. One can watch Mr. Moyers commiserate with Noam Chomsky over the atrocities of Columbus’ conquistadors and lament together over the evils of America’s origins and the origination of its perpetual evils and feel, at least in some measure, healed, cured, made pure again. At the very least, more healed and more purified then the philistines next door, who have no taste for such exercises in self-flagellation.

Moyers’ certainly covets his status as America’s First Confessor. He appears with almost relentless regularity on PBS pledge drives, demanding, with typical humility, that viewers help to preserve this last bastion of honesty and integrity in American media. Without you, he is saying, these good works cannot continue. With the alacrity of a televangelist, he threatens a cessation of God’s work if the money stops flowing. What he does not say, however, is telling. For if the money stopped flowing, not merely from viewer donations but also from taxpayers and underwriting corporations, Bill Moyers might cease to be a very rich man indeed.

Bill Moyers never discloses much about his own lifestyle, and this is not surprising. The fact that this self-appointed inquisitor of the national integrity is, in fact, a multi-millionaire of questionable financial practices might interfere with the rumpled, sweater and shirt collar, community college professor image Moyers has worked so hard to perfect and protect.

The lion’s share of Moyers’ fortune has been made from the sales of ancillary merchandise related to the many successful miniseries he has produced for PBS. Most prominent among them was The Power of Myth a starry-eyed, uncritical exploration of the ideas of Joseph Campbell, a professor of comparative mythology and sometime admirer of fascism – Moyers left this fact unmentioned – which became wildly popular with PBS’s small but loyal audience, producing a spinoff book and video series, both of which sold briskly. The proceeds have been divided, reportedly – Moyers refuses to disclose the actual numbers – between Moyers and Campbell’s estate. All perfectly normal by television standards, with this caveat: not a single penny to produce the series came out of Moyers’ and Campbell’s pockets, the entire series was financed with taxpayer money. The profits, needless to say, have not been directed back to the public coffers. They have, rather, made Bill Moyers a millionare.

Of course, these shady business practices are typical of public television – and indeed of Moyers’ other programs as well – and a certain level of political corruption is perhaps inevitable when government programs insulated by large and unresponsive beaurocracies begin to deal with very large amounts of money. In the case of Moyers, however, conditions are unique, for Moyers is not merely a reporter or a television producer, he is also a staunch and outspokenly political personality, a tireless advocate of Left-of-center political ideas whose cause of choice for the past decade or more has been none other then the influence of money on the media and political systems.

In numerous specials, his own prime-time newsmagazine Bill Moyers Now, the website – which regularly purchases hugely expensive advertising space on the New York Time’s Op-Ed page – and numerous smaller outlets founded or financed by the alphabet soup of Leftwing foundations and organizations with which Moyers is involved as advisor or board member, Moyers denounces, with the fire and brimstone of the Biblical Prophets, the insidious influence of money on the American democracy. His clarion calls for campaign finance reform, curbing corporate power, and reform of the electoral system have resonated strongly with PBS’s elite – and strongly left of center – audience.

The only problem, of course, is that, were he to be held to the very standards he demands for everyone else, Bill Moyers would not be taken seriously by anyone. He is, first and foremost, a charlatan, the purveyor of ideas and ideologies appealing to the liberal-minded elite which has sustained him as its court jester, a shucking song and dance man who exists purely to sustain and solidify the pieties of the tiny minority to which he panders. The irony is that Moyers entire career is a rebuke to these pieties. They praise public integrity yet Moyers has made himself rich at taxpayer’s expense, they reject intolerance and fetishize the open minded yet Moyers has spent his life denouncing all criticism of his narrow ideology, they praise uplift and idealism yet Moyers directs his energies towards proving all of American society shallow, debased, and irredeemably corrupted. His career is a monument to the power of brazen hypocrisy, for he is, in every way, that self-obsessed, narcississtic, spiritually bankrupt exploiter of the public trust he has spent his whole career condemning in the most sonorous of tones. He is the thinking man's con artist, the resident sermonizer of the PBS elite, the intoner of immutable truths who cannot be questioned, let alone exposed, without shattering the very foundations of their ideological complacency, without bursting the sureties of the self-satisfied bubble that 30 years of misbegotten social policy has built around the rotting edifice of public broadcasting. PBS needs Bill Moyers as badly as Moyers needs PBS, without him who will assure them of the intrinsic superiority which entitles them to the permanent misappropriation of other people’s money? Without him, who will assure them that they are doing the Lord’s work? Without him, how will they sleep at night?

June, 2003


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