It is fitting that Bill Moyers—one of TV’s most honored—is getting his Century Award at the same time PBS President and CEO Pat Mitchell is getting hers.
It was Mitchell who brought the only regular series of Moyers’ career, NOW, to PBS in 2002, and now both are feeling heat for it. Recently, Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—the funding arm of public broadcasting—wrote that the “left-wing bias” Moyers exhibited “jeopardized essential support for public TV” by conservative viewers and underwriters.
Moyers later called Tomlinson’s remarks “dangerous.” Clearly that is Moyers’ view of the state of the nation at this moment, too.
Speaking at commencement exercises at the City University of New York recently, Moyers, as quoted in The New York Times, said, “This is no ordinary time. [The] basic constitutional principles of America are under assault: an independent press and judiciary, the separation of church and state, progressive taxation, and the social contract.” On the final season of NOW, Moyers hammered away at media consolidation and also attacked big media in his commencement speech.
Moyers does not consider NOW to be his best forum; he always preferred diving deep into one subject at a time. And he did it well. His documentaries—including A Walk Through the 20th Century, The Power of Myth (with Joseph Campbell), A World of Ideas and Healing and the Mind—have won more than 30 Emmys and 10 Peabodys.
“I was fortunate enough not ever to be hostage to the news of the day,” Moyers told the Austin American-Statesman late last year.
Moyers hit the national spotlight as a special assistant and press secretary to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Serving with Moyers was Jack Valenti, who went on to become president of the Motion Picture Association of America.
Says Valenti of Moyers, “He is an astonishing talent—with persuasive skills that President Johnson saw and used to the benefit of the country. As a television communicator, he knew how to get inside a complex issue, dress it in clarity, and wrap it in a dramatic narrative that engaged and enticed audiences. That’s a gift that’s hard to clone. Maybe that’s why there’s only one Moyers.”
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