September 20, 2004

Bill Moyers on Journalism

I love journalism and I love curmudgeons, and I love it best when the qualities of both combine as they do in Bill Moyers. He spoke to the Society of Professional Journalists last week and Tom printed the speech. Here are some sections I liked (all emphasis added):

 On the essence of journalism: "To gather, weigh, organize, analyze and present information people need to know in order to make sense of the world."

 On journalistic ethics: "Good newsrooms “'re marinated in ethical conversations…What should this lead say? What I should I tell that source?' (Moyer is quoting journalism professor Ed Wasserman.) We practice this craft inside 'concentric rings of duty and obligations: Obligations to sources, our colleagues, our bosses, our readers, our profession, and our community”—and we function under a system of values “in which we try to understand and reconcile strong competing claims.' Our obligation is to sift patiently and fairly through untidy realities, measure the claims of affected people, and present honestly the best available approximation of the truth."

 On reporting on religious fundamentalism: "You think Ann Coulter is right to aim her bony knee at my groin and that O’Reilly should get a Peabody for barfing all over me for saying there’s more to American politics than meets the Foxy eye. But this is just the point: Journalists who try to tell these stories, connect these dots, and examine these links are demeaned, disparaged and dismissed."

 On freedom of information: There is a " 'zeal for secrecy' pulsating through government at every level, shutting off the flow of information from sources such as routine hospital reports to what one United States senator calls the 'single greatest rollback of the Freedom of Information Act in history.' "

 On defining news: "I am reminded of the answer the veteran journalist Richard Reeves gave when asked by a college student to define 'real news.' 'Real news,' said Richard Reeves 'is the news you and I need to keep our freedoms.'"

 On penurious publishers: "In Cumberland, Md., the police reporter had so many duties piled upon him that he no longer had time to go to the police station for the daily reports. But management had a cost-saving solution: Put a fax machine in the police station and let the cops send over the news they thought the paper should have. ('Any police brutality today, officer?' 'No, if there is, we’ll fax a report of it over to you.')"

 On blogging: "In one sense we are discovering all over again the feisty spirit of our earliest days as a nation when the republic and a free press were growing up together."

 On journalism as a human endeavor: "I don’t want to claim too much for our craft; because we journalists are human, our work is shot through with the stain of fallibility that taints the species. "

 On the "contract" between journalists and the public: Moyers quotes Martha Gellhorn: "Serious, careful, honest journalism is essential, not because it is a guiding light but because it is a form of honorable behavior, involving the reporter and the reader.”

Posted by Tim Porter at September 20, 2004 08:04 AM

I just took you off my bookmarks. Any journalist who thinks Bill Moyers a) is ethical, b) is fair, c) seeks the truth, has impaired judgment. He's not even a journalist, just a partisan hack from Texas who parlayed his brief press secretaryship into a sinecure on PBS.

Posted by: rivlax on September 20, 2004 01:28 PM


There is a time to be intellectual, academic, and even poetic in one's writing. However, there is also a time to be blunt, and even vulgar. This is one of the latter. You are a fucking imbecile.

Posted by: pb on October 14, 2004 02:47 PM
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