Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Moyers and Journalism's Mission

The NYTs is reporting that the researcher used by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson, to monitor "NOW with Bill Moyers" was employed, unsurprisingly, by the National Journalism Center. The center was partly founded by the American Conservative Union.

Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey is rightly calling for Tomlinson's resignation.

If you're not familiar with this story, it's extremely important considering the ways conservatives have inserted themselves into every corner of this society in an effort to consolidate their worldview while simultaneously trying to squelch any opposing perspectives. Tomlinson hired Fred Mann to monitor NOW for liberal bias, approving over $14,000 to conduct the research without the CPB board's knowledge. Tomlinson is currently under investigation by the CPB's investigator general.

I should note as well that this story hits close to home because I worked for Mr. Moyers as his personal researcher for nearly two years as well as his special researcher on an hour special detailing the chasm of inequality in this country on which I also acted as a production assistant --quite badly I might add. I'm happy to report our special particularly pissed off Tomlinson because we had the gall to point our cameras at a little town in Pennsylvania called Tamaqua where the last manufacturing factory closed leaving the citizens desperate for jobs with living wages. As Bill told the folks at the Take Back America conference:
I want to tell you something. When that broadcast aired, Kenneth Tomlinson was watching. Now some of you know that Kenneth Tomlinson is the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. (Boos.) He's Karl Rove's ally and the right wing?s point man on keeping tabs on public broadcasting. And I'm not making this up, you've heard that he and I have been involved in a little dispute of late.(Laughter.) I didn't know until I read it in the Washington Post a few days ago, but Mr.Tomlinson himself told a reporter that when that broadcast aired, he was watching and it was too much for him. Reaching into that well-worn book of mindless right wing cliches, he called it liberal advocacy journalism and he decided quote "right then and there" to bring some balance to the public TV and radio airwaves. In other words, to counter what real people were saying about their lives.
This is an important point, Tomlinson wanted to "counter what real people were saying about their lives." Reporting is about recording a subject's subjective interpretation of events, not disregarding them. Tomlinson should know this, he was an editor-in-chief of Reader's Digest for awhile. Yet, Tomlinson is merely a symptom of a greater disease. What's really at stake here is the press' ability to be independent of the state and Corporate America while acting as a democratic arrowhead to those powers that rather stalk the darkness of the forest than run in the open fields. As Bill said in his keynote speech to the National Conference on Media Reform:
Stretching from the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal to the faux news of Rupert Murdoch's empire to the nattering nabobs of no-nothing radio to a legion of think tanks paid for and bought by conglomerates -- the religious, partisan and corporate right have raised a mighty megaphone for sectarian, economic, and political forces that aim to transform the egalitarian and democratic ideals embodied in our founding documents. Authoritarianism. With no strong opposition party to challenge such triumphalist hegemony, it is left to journalism to be democracy's best friend.
I, like Bill, fear we are beginning a slide toward authoritarianism with a heavy dose of plutocracy. People like CPB Chairman Tomlinson act as modern day commissars attempting to protect "the people" from subversive ideas like widening inequality or war on false pretexts or Pentagon spending on defective products. And with the little donkeys scared of being trampled by those rabid elephants, tough journalism that has the public interest as its motivating mission is our only hope of keeping democracy vibrant not brittle. As Bill said in his closing address to the Conference:
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.
But as those democracy destroying viruses of credulity and chauvinism spread, I fear journalism isn't a strong enough anti-body to cure our decrepit body politic. There just aren't enough practitioners like Moyers left to administer a truth serum of sufficient dose.