Bill Moyers: Americans are caught in a dire position

The veteran public broadcaster and author talks about Republicans, Obama, journalism, and the faltering prospects for Americans in a society ever more dominated by wealth: "Look, this is serious. America is practically self-destructing."

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Bill Moyers (2005)

The veteran public broadcaster and author talks about Republicans, Obama, journalism, and the faltering prospects for Americans in a society ever more dominated by wealth: "Look, this is serious. America is practically self-destructing."

This article is reprinted with permission from George Mason University's History News Network. The longer History News article is here.

Bill Moyers has devoted his career to educating, informing and inspiring the American public, in the conviction that, as he put it, “the gravediggers of democracy will not have the last word.”  He is best known for his groundbreaking television documentaries, which have earned him more than 40 Emmy and Peabody awards, including lifetime achievement honors from both, and virtually every other major television journalism award. But he has also helped make history. Moyers grew up in Texas, earned a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (he was ordained as a minister at the age of 20), and worked on then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson's 1960 presidential campaign. He helped found the Peace Corps under President John F. Kennedy and ultimately became its deputy director. He served President Lyndon B. Johnson as special assistant and press secretary from 1963 to 1967 and played a key role in many of Johnson's innovative anti-poverty and civil rights intiatives. that came out of the LBJ’s Great Society. The American Journalism Review named him “the best White House press secretary ever."

After leaving the White House, Moyers became publisher of the Long Island newspaper Newsday. He first appeared on public television in 1971 with the first iteration of Bill Moyers Journal. It ranged beyond the politics of the day to explore ethics, philosophy, and spirituality. Moyers ranged even further in his subsequent series, Creativity and A Walk Through the Twentieth Century, and several programs on American poets.

Moyers became a news analyst and correspondent for CBS News, but resigned in 1986 to form his own production company, Public Affairs Television. With his wife and creative partner, Judith Davidson Moyers, he has produced Moyers on Addiction: Close to Home, Genesis: A Living Conversation, Healing and the Mind, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, What Can We Do About Violence?, On Our Own Times: Moyers on Death and Dying, Moyers on Faith and Reason, NOW with Bill Moyers, and, once again, Bill Moyers Journal. His books include volumes based on those series as well as Listening to America, A World of Ideas I and II, The Language of Life, Fooling with Words, Moyers on America, and Moyers on Democracy.

Moyers’s work is fueled by a deep knowledge of history, a passion for justice and public service, a profound concern for his fellow citizens, a love of language, and an appreciation of the ethical underpinnings of the issues he tackles. His deft storytelling and prodigious research and erudition provide context and analysis that are sadly lacking in much of what passes for journalism. As one observer noted, Moyers has dared to imagine that members of his audience are willing to think and learn.

Despite his ostensible retirement, Moyers, now 77, continues to lend his unique voice to the national conversation and, inevitably, to speak truth to power. In his new book Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues (The New Press), he presents more than 40 engaging interviews from the program's 2007 through 2010 seasons, from the waning days of the George W. Bush administration to the dawn of the Obama era. His subjects include satirist Jon Stewart, historian Howard Zinn, novelists Louise Erdrich and John Grisham, anthropologist/activist Jane Goodall, journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, actor-author John Lithgow, economist James K. Galbraith, scientist E.O. Wilson, poets W.S. Merwin and Nikki Giovanni, and many more. The topics range from democracy, justice, poverty, race, war, and predatory capitalism to religion, science and creativity. New introductions provide historical context for each conversation.

Moyers recently agreed to an exclusive interview for the History News Network. Over the course of two weeks he responded by email to questions about his new book, his career, his brushes with history, his writing process, and more.

Robin Lindley: You are a masterful interviewer and — unlike many journalists today — always scrupulous about providing historical context for each interview subject, as evidenced in your new book. How do you choose interview subjects and prepare for interviews?

Bill Moyers: Thanks for the compliment. Truth is, I’m okay at interviewing but better at editing. I prefer a long conversation that I then trim to essentials. It’s the closest I ever get as a journalist to craftsmanship. Remember Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth? Those six broadcasts came from 26 rambling hours of conversation during which I got lost more than once. I enjoyed the lengthy sessions with him but they would have been incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in the lingo of mythology. By leaving the excess, including much of the lingo, on the cutting room floor — well, it was a cutting room floor before digital editing came along — we got to the essence of his ideas, to the stories, and the series became one of the most popular ever on public television.  

There’s a figure in every stone, if only the sculptor can pare away the excess, right?  Well, there’s a shape in every conversation. You carve a little, step back and look at it, then take the scalpel and carve again until — eureka!  That’s the part of my work I most enjoy. Over all these years, I’m pleased to say, not a single guest has complained about the result. Now I’m jealous of my peers who do live interviews so well. But I’m not nimble on the high wire with the clock ticking. I need to listen at length, then sit with my team and edit as faithfully as possible until we find the inner arc of the experience.

How do I choose my guests?  By preparation, intuition, and convergence. I read widely — magazines of every stripe. By midnight my bedside is strewn with clippings from the stack on the floor. There are books in various stages of reading all over the place — some by my chair, some on the floor, a couple on my desk, always a paperback at the ready if there’s a traffic jam or the train is slow. I scour  Web sites.

Newspapers are my daily bread. I started as a cub reporter on my local paper. The publisher paid me extra to help him prepare a widely circulated newsletter called “News Tips” — gleanings from many sources — so it became a habit for me to read and rip. Now I read six or seven papers a day — at least two from abroad, two or three big ones here at home, as well as the weekly in the small town where we retreat on the weekends. Not every story in every paper, obviously. Every newspaper is full of surprises. The article you didn’t intend to read — right next to the one you felt you must read — turns out to be the most interesting of all, and you weren’t even looking for it.

I also watch several newscasts, mainly out of habit but also because I want to know what several million other people are watching. I listen to public radio. Especially programs like Planet Money, Radio Lab, On Being with Krista TippetOn The Media, and some of the local interview shows on our first-rate public radio station here in New York. You can’t beat these people for story telling. Their radio does for the ear what 3-D movies do for the eye.  And I tune in to a right-wing radio show occasionally. Most of them use the same talking points so you don’t have to listen long to get the conservative line of the day.

As you can tell, I’m a junkie. And I write down in my little black notebooks the name of people who strike my fancy as I read and listen. Everything goes into the mix master in my head, which keeps churning while I’m sleeping. Then one day, triggered by an incident in the news or desperation against a deadline, I get a flash of insight:  Time to talk to X, Y, or Z. Maybe it’s just someone I want to meet for my own continuing education. I have my own “Ah, ha” moments in every interview when I learn some things I didn’t know. That’s always a good day.

Robin Lindley:  Thank you for that description of your process. You make a point of including a wide variety of voices in your book, from political commentators to teachers and poets, all who share a willingness to speak truth to power. The book begins with a delightful interview of satirist and commentator Jon Stewart. How did you decide to talk with him?

Bill Moyers: Well, as I say in the book, Mark Twain wasn’t available. Seriously, Stewart’s in the tradition of the satirists and humorists —Twain, Ambrose Bierce, Will Rogers — who take us to the truth in or behind the news and marinate it with humor so that it goes down more easily. Jon has a way of juxtaposing events to expose the absurdity of the stuffed shirts and pooh-bahs of politics and the media. I saw him do that to John McCain in 2008 when McCain came back from using our soldiers in Iraq as a photo op. Stewart just lifted McCain on his own petard, and McCain never recovered.

Robin Lindley: Your independent voice in broadcast news is sorely missed. While the mainstream press focuses on celebrity missteps or an odd homicide case, two wars rage, the middle class shrinks, jobs disappear, poverty grows, unions are eviscerated, and the rich get richer. Do you see any improvement in news coverage since the days when the press “rolled over" for Bush and Cheney, as described a few years ago by Eric Boehlert in Lapdogs?

Bill Moyers: First, there’s never been a Golden Age of journalism. But even in the tawdriest of times some world-class journalists exalt our craft. Think of the muckrakers a century or more ago: Ray Stannard Baker, Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair. Lincoln Steffens. David Graham Phillips. 

There’s great journalism happening today although it’s often lost in the smog of news and information that constantly rolls over us. If everyone could read the McClatchy News Service, we’d have a better-informed citizenry. When the Washington press corps as a whole was swallowing and regurgitating the propaganda of the Bush administration in preparation for attacking Iraq, reporters for Knight-Ridder — the precursor to McClatchy — kept coming up with evidence to the contrary. But because Knight-Ridder didn’t have a newspaper in Washington, the reporting didn’t resonate in the echo chamber there and the policymakers could choose to ignore it.

So, yes, the herd mentality still prevails. I read that there were 800 journalists in Iowa for that Republican debate the other night. They swarmed all over the Ames Straw Poll like bees on a honeycomb. And what for? A faux jousting tournament that had all the lasting effect of a single drop of rain on a sandy beach. As soon as Gov. (Rick) Perry leaped into the race, Michelle Bachmann was a relic from the past despite having won the straw poll. By the way, people had to pay $30 to vote in the straw ballot. So much for “one person, one vote.”  But quite a metaphorical statement about what it takes to be heard today.      

The journalist Chris Hedges is a unique force today, because of his fierce independence and candor. He’s been writing about how politics is a charade aimed at making voters think the personal narrative of the candidate is the story although it never affects the operation of the corporate state. No matter which candidate wins, the money power in Washington reigns. That nails it, don’t you think?

Robin Lindley: And the role of money in our politics has been a longtime concern of yours.

Bill Moyers: Over the past three decades our politicians and their bankrollers have written and rewritten the rules of politics and the economy in ways to benefit the people at the top at the expense of everyday people. That’s the story of our time, but the mainstream press — public broadcasting included — has paid little attention to it. To do justice to that story you would have to be more than a scribe for the official players of the ruling ideology, which holds that politics is essentially about which of the two parties wins elections.

I was once in the Washington bubble, you’ll recall, during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. For two years I was LBJ’s press secretary. When I left it took me awhile to get my footing back in journalism. I had to learn all over again that what’s important for the journalist is not how close you are to power but how close you are to reality. When I went back to reporting — covering famine in Africa and civil war in Central America and inner-city families in Newark and middle-class families downsized in Milwaukee— I encountered plenty of reality. Sad to say, official Washington remains far removed from realities on the ground where most people live out their lives.

Stop and think of how little reality we see even in our local news. It’s a travesty how local reporting is dwindling because advertising no longer supports newspapers with the means to pay to do the hard digging required for civic honesty. And of course local television news is a hall of mirrors in a freak show. So local government is at the mercy of rogues, scoundrels, and incompetents who don’t have to look over their shoulders for watchdogs on their trail.   

Robin Lindley: Where do you look for reliable news coverage? 

Bill Moyers: Oh, all over the place. Especially in long-form reporting. Check out The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New Yorker. There’s some stunning investigative work in The New York Times. Vanity Fair can be counted on for some eye-popping reportage. I trust the contrarian evidence-driven analysis of a Paul Krugman, Gretchen Morgenson, Joe Nocera, and Lloyd Norris. They write about economics and finance and business for The New York Times and don’t bother on the contradictory quotes — “he said, she said” — of the “experts” on Wall Street or in government.

The Washington Monthly nurtures some talented young reporters. I read The Guardian on line every day, and not just because it’s been a bulldog reporting how Murdoch and his minions had corrupted the famed London police, Parliament, and the prime minister’s office during both Tory and Labour governments. If that isn’t a wake-up call about the dangers of concentrating power in media monopolies, I don’t know what is. The Guardian — one of the best newspapers in the world because it was put into a trust by the founding family that was determined to preserve its independence to act in the public interest — put everything on the line to expose the conspiracy. Just imagine the risks of taking on one of the most powerful and ruthless men in the world, a man with no ethical compass, who has poured arsenic in the drinking water all around the world and got away with it. Until now.

Where else do I go for news?  A lot of independent reporters, for sure.  There’s Jeremy Scahill’s indefatigable reporting in The Nation. Josh Marshall and his team at Talking Points Memo are invaluable. The Washington bureau of Mother Jones — actually, MOJO leads the pack in investigative journalism right now. I find outstanding reporting on the blog of The Washington Monthly and Tom Engelhardt’s  TomDispatch.  There’s where you find the true picture of our wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. It’s breathtaking how little the mainstream press is paying attention to what the Obama administration is doing, especially in Pakistan, where there’s a slow boil rising about American policies. This, in a country bigger than Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan. There’s serious blowback coming from there and our government doesn’t want to talk about it publicly.    

Robin Lindley: In his interview in your new book, Iraq war opponent Prof. Andrew Bacevich somewhat ironically said that the war could be our “salvation.”  Is that happening now with opposition in both political parties to the war in Afghanistan and the Libyan incursion?

Bill Moyers: If only! I suppose Bacevich meant that redemption begins with learning from our mistakes:  saving ourselves from repeating ourselves. But here’s the conundrum:  Public opinion “gets it” about both Afghanistan and Libya; the majority of people learned from Bush’s invasion of Iraq about the folly of spending lives and treasure trying to remake complex cultures in far-away places when we can’t even put our own house in order. And why Libya and not Syria?  Or Bahrain, where the autocrats of Saudi Arabia cracked down on the Arab Spring because it threatened their royal mafia?  One journalist who continues to pay attention to the back-story in Libya, by the way, is the muckraker Russ Baker on his site Who, What, Why. I read him daily.

Again, there’s just such a huge disconnect between Washington and reality. You have to wonder how long our leaders and policymakers can delude themselves into thinking we can have both democracy and empire.

And the human cost: my wife Judith and I were watching the newscast of the latest casualties in Afghanistan the week the Chinook went down. We had to surf the whole spectrum to find anyone trying to explain, “What did they die for?”  Official voices could only respond to that question with platitudes, because they don’t any longer know. It’s what happened in Vietnam:  We have to send more soldiers to protect the soldiers we have already sent. As the casualties mount no one can remember why we were there in the first place. Or why the soldiers continue to die. 

Robin Lindley: As described in your book by author and social critic Barbara Ehrenreich and the creator of The Wire, David Simon, the gap between rich and poor in our country is ever widening in a class conflict initiated by the rich. What can average Americans do to make a difference and reverse this trend in what James K. Galbraith calls a predator society?

Bill Moyers: You can only counter organized money with organized people:  that’s a truism, but truisms are true and clichés mean what they say. And it’s a phenomenon I’ve reported on often over the years. There’s no place I’d rather my producers be than out with our cameras among people trying to hold powerful officials accountable. We did that consistently on the last three years of the Journal, and it’s what a lot of people keep telling me they miss today.

I wish there were a simpler answer, because organizing is s-o-o-o hard. And you have to stay at it, day in and day out. Look at those people in Wisconsin who took on the money and power of the right wing to stand up for public services and public workers. They’ve been at it for months now, which is hard on anyone who has a job to do, bills to pay, children to raise, and sore feet to nurse. The other side — buttressed by the bottomless wealth of the Koch brothers and other billionaires — aims to outlast and wear them down. Those people who are hanging in there are obviously infected with the spirit of the great progressive senator from Wisconsin, Robert LaFollette — a Republican, by the way — who said that democracy is “a life of daily struggle.”  They’re living it.

But when representative government has been bought and paid for by the predator class, there’s no easy way to get it back. The conservatives have been brilliant at this.  They took over the Republican Party, remade it in their image, and employ it as their Trojan horse for the protection of the rich:  GOP — Guardians of Privilege. As for Democrats:  their everyday working people — as well as their practicing progressives and liberals — only have a party when the lobbyists aren't using it. The Washington Post ran a story just the other day on the rivers of money from K Street lobbyists now pouring into the coffers of Democratic incumbents preparing for the 20l2 elections.

It’s  an unbelievable state of affairs we’ve reached. Garden-variety folks — the John Q. and Jane Q. Americans — can no longer count on either of our parties to champion their interests.

Robin Lindley: Do you sense any shift in the political winds?  It seems the Republican Party is tilting further rightward while President Obama is criticized for failing challenge them and speak out strongly on behalf of working Americans. Many of his 2008 supporters are very disappointed.

Bill Moyers: Watching that Republican debate in Iowa the other night was unnerving. Everyone on the stage was exhibiting the closed mentality of religious fundamentalism: their fanatical convictions are more important to them than the full credit and faith of the United States government. Yet the White House seems more obsessed with accommodating or appeasing them than with the despair of working men and women. They’ve drawn the president into the argument on their terms. Otherwise John Boehner wouldn’t have been crowing that he got 98 percent of what we wanted in the deficit debacle.

(Sigh) My heart sank when I heard Obama’s response to Gov. Perry’s accusation that Ben Bernanke is “almost treasonous” as head of the Federal Reserve and would be treated “ugly” if he visited Texas. What did Obama say?  “I’ll cut him [Perry] some slack” because he’s new to presidential politics. But Perry has been in politics as long as Obama. That was no unintentional remark on his part. I’m old enough, mind you, to remember the posters in Texas labeling John F. Kennedy a “traitor.”  All Obama had to say was, “Let’s not call other Americans traitors because we don’t agree with their policies. I hope Gov. Perry will help us keep this campaign on the high ground of what’s best for America in these tough times.” Instead he cuts him slack.

Obama! When he does something like that — and he does it too often, unfortunately — I’m reminded of how one historian described Stephen Douglas, another Illinois politician, as a man “who refused on principle to stand on principle.”

Obama seems obsessed with wanting to lead the country in what he sees as a post-partisan era while his opponents are so partisan they have only one goal in mind — to destroy him even if they have to burn down the house to do it. Well, you may want with all your heart to save your marriage but if your philandering, uncaring, unredeemable, and narcissistic partner is determined at all costs to break up the marriage, the sooner you decide not to play the fool, the better.

Obama’s impotence is scary. In a stormy sea you want a sure hand on the helm. We don’t have one and we’re entering the roughest waters in decades.

Robin Lindley: And President Obama is sure to be nominated by the Democratic Party to serve another term.

Bill Moyers: And likely win if the Republicans choose a carnival barker. You have to wonder how a modern-day Eugene McCarthy or Robert Kennedy might shake things up. Both had challenged a sitting president of their own party over Vietnam, the defining issue of their time. Maybe that’s the kind of cuffing Obama needs to snap him out of it. But just the other day — the very day the president’s wealthy friends paid $35,000 a pop to have dinner with him here in New York — an acquaintance of mine received a solicitation by mail from the Obama campaign team asking for support on grounds that the president is not an extremist. I ask you: Where are we when one party is in the grip of a medieval mindset and the other touts its leader simply because he’s not foaming at the mouth?

Look, this is serious. America is practically self-destructing. First George W. Bush wrecks the economy and the government. Then Obama fumbles trying to put both of them back together. And suddenly we’re back in the mindset of the 1850s, when politics couldn’t solve any of the great issues dividing the country, above all slavery. Like the radical Right today, there are large numbers of people who wanted nothing to do with the federal government and wanted the federal government to do nothing, and there were large numbers of people who wanted the federal government to carry out policies in the interest of all citizens. It took a bloody civil war to settle what politics couldn’t.

Today it’s the staggering inequality between top and bottom that threatens the fabric of our country. One of the greatest of our justices, the late Louis Brandeis, warned that “You can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, or democracy, but you cannot have both.”  Now the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates for millionaires and billionaires and giant corporations to pour unlimited amounts of cash into our elections, consolidating their hold on the political process and the corporate state.

We’ve already seen the political power exerted by a handful of financial predators who managed both to avoid the penalties that the so-called “free market” would have exacted on them for their role in helping to wreck the economy, and then to emerge, with taxpayer bailouts, to reap huge profits while 25 million or more people struggle to find decent work. One of the grand thefts of all time. Morally wrong and socially destructive.

Money is the liquor of politics. Our politicians are drunk from it. Without the shock of an intervention, you can’t expect them to recover. What form that intervention takes, I can’t predict. Look at what Israel’s middle-class is doing as we speak — taking to the streets, day after day, peacefully, to protest how the politicians have allowed, even colluded with, a handful of financiers who took over the economy until Israel now has one of the greatest gaps between the top and bottom in the industrialized world. It’s hard to imagine that kind of sustained resistance happening in a country that spans the continent with a capital far removed from most of its citizens. Maybe we’ll find out. Meanwhile, don’t give your heart to any candidate who won’t swear off the booze.

Robin Lindley:  You grew up in a segregated town in East Texas in what must have been a very conservative environment. Did you dream of being a minister or a reporter when you were a little boy?  Were you a contrarian?

Bill Moyers: A contrarian? Alas, no. I accepted the norms of the conservative white culture and church in which I was raised—a town that was 50 percent white and 50 percent black. It still haunts me that you can grow up well-loved, well-churched, and well-taught and still be unaware of half the people who live within walking distance. My awakening came later, and far too slowly.

No, I didn’t have dreams as a kid to be anything in particular. As I said, I went to work on our local newspaper and got the journalism itch. At 18 I joined the ROTC and briefly imagined being in the Air Force. At 20, I committed myself to some form of religious vocation — perhaps a minister, perhaps a professor at a religious university — and spent four years at seminary working for a master of divinity. Then chance intervened and I wound up in politics and government for seven years before finally returning to journalism. I have never looked back.

Robin Lindley: You are an ordained minister with a master’s degree in divinity. How has this background influenced your work as a journalist? 

Bill Moyers: I majored in seminary in social ethics under a gentle and wise scholar named T. B. Maston, who began to open my eyes about race and justice. For awhile after I unexpectedly landed in Washington, I thought I had spent those years on the wrong pursuit and would have been better prepared by going to law school. Then I realized that almost everything I was dealing with first in government and then in journalism had deep ethical connections, as Dr. Maston had insisted all along. I also knew that whether one is a believer or not, religion is a powerful force in most people’s lives and as a journalist I couldn’t ignore how it shaped personal and political behavior if I wanted to understand the world I was covering.

Robin Lindley: I read that you were in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, as an advance man for President Kennedy. What do you recall about that day?  Were you in the president’s motorcade?  Were you with President Johnson when he was sworn in?

Bill Moyers: I wasn’t in the motorcade in Dallas. I was in Austin, celebrating the president’s successful trip as the forerunner of his campaign for re-election. When I heard the news I raced to the airport, took a state plane to Love Field in Dallas, landed next to Air Force One, sent a note up the ramp (by a Secret Service agent)  informing LBJ,  “I’m here if you need me.”  He summoned me in time for the swearing in and I flew back to Washington aboard the plane with him, Mrs. Johnson, Jackie Kennedy, and the body of her husband. 

What do I recall? Swiftly flowing events so incessant I have always had a hard time sorting them out. Enormous sorrow all around. Shock in the faces of everyone on that plane. But it was quiet and calm. How Lyndon Johnson took on the burdens of office under such duress and remained so sensitive of Mrs. Kennedy all the while, is still beyond me. How the Kennedy team on board struggled with such incomprehensible loss — they sat around JFK’s coffin all the way back — is one of the poignant stories of American history. Later I heard tales of hard feelings and the like, but I tell you honestly:  All I saw that day was poise, pain, and grace.

Robin Lindley: You were very close to President Johnson and instrumental in advancing his domestic policies such as the war on poverty and civil rights legislation. What was your role in the Johnson administration? Why did you leave before the end of his term?

Bill Moyers: I was at his side for a little over three years:  first as a facilitator, carrying out his instructions and making things happen that he wanted to happen, even when I didn’t understand them. Then I worked on his domestic policy. By the way, one of our proudest achievements was the enactment of Medicare. But we far underestimated the costs and counted too much on future Congresses to correct our mistakes. Democrats today are missing a great opportunity by failing to take the lead in repairing Medicare so that it conforms to the reality of need. Democrats created it, they should fix it. But making hard choices is not what distinguishes politics today.

Anyway, the year Medicare was passed (1965) LBJ insisted that I become his press secretary. I told my wife that evening, “This is the beginning of the end.” “Why?” she asked. “Because no man can serve two masters.” In this case, the press and the president. By early 1967 I had proven it. I was exhausted and no longer inspired, and I had practically abandoned my wife and three little children. It was time to go.

Robin Lindley: After your work in the White House, it seems you could have had your pick of jobs in government or the private sector. How did you choose a career in journalism?

Bill Moyers: I just went back to what I had wanted to do as a teenager: journalism. This time I started at the top — publisher of Newsday, the large newspaper on Long Island, whose owner I didn’t know and who, weirdly, hired me having watched me at press conferences on television.  But three years later, when he sold the paper, I started all over, traveling the country over thousands of miles to write my first book, Listening to America. It became a bestseller and led to my being asked to host a new little broadcast for public broadcasting called This Week. My first season was awful; I wore horn-rimmed glasses, dark suits, was too stiff, took myself too seriously. Then I started going out into the field, reporting, talking to Americans at all levels of life, piecing together their stories. I never looked back. I’ve been very, very lucky. As the Great Bard wrote: “Merit doth much, but fortune more.”

Robin Lindley: Any plans for another Journal?

Bill Moyers: When I retired the series early last year I told my audience:  “While I don’t consider myself old, there are some things left to do that the deadlines and demands of a weekly broadcast don’t permit.”

Since then Judith and I have done many of those things. We took our older grandchildren abroad. We encouraged our younger grandchildren to come and go frequently and spontaneously (they’re arriving any minute now for another sleep-over.)  We enjoyed leisurely reunions with old friends. We made some public appearances (including a joint commencement speech at Whittier College), sat for long stretches of time watching the hawks circle above our trees, attended to some deferred business, and, thanks to Netflix, caught up on a lot of movies and television we had missed while meeting those deadlines. I’ve spent considerable time working with philanthropic colleagues on some public issues. Oh, yes, we also published our book: Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues.

But every now and then those lines from Tennyson’s “Ulysses” tiptoe  into my head:

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life.

So I’ve been weighing what comes next. And by the time you publish this interview, I will have informed public television stations across the country that I am returning in January with another weekly series. The arm’s not quite what it used to be, but I surely have one more season in me. As the man says, let the conversation continue.


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