Bill Moyers' Retirement from Television "Lays Down a Challenge" for Next Generation of Journalists

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Bill Moyers' Retirement from Television "Lays Down a Challenge" for Next Generation of Journalists

After more than forty years as celebrated and progressive voice in broadcast news, veteran journalist says... "Over to you, welcome to the fight."

Bill Moyers has now ended his broadcast television career after more than four decades producing documentaries, hosting his iconic shows on PBS, and interviewing some of the most influential progressive voices from this century and the last on a wide range of issues related to news, history, politics, and culture. (Photo: Moyers & Company)

Now available online and airing on PBS stations across the country over the weekend, the final episode of the weekly commentary and news show Moyers & Company will mark the official television retirement (though not the career) of veteran journalist Bill Moyers.

In the fall of last year, Moyers announced with little fanfare that the show would be ending and he would retire from television (yes, this time he means it) after more than forty years working in print and broadcast media. Though Moyers will end his near- weekly appearance in the homes of millions of Americans,  the website which he created in 2012, BillMoyers.com will continue to operate—creating both familiar and new kinds of content.

"Democracy is a public trust – a reciprocal agreement between generations to keep it in good repair and pass along... So to this new generation I say: over to you, welcome to the fight." —Bill MoyersCelebrating his long career but lamenting the impact of his departure, historian Peter Dreier, in a piece posted to Common Dreams this week, argues that Moyers' retirement from the airwaves will "leave a huge hole" not easily filled by others. "No other program has journalistic breadth and depth, as well as the progressive viewpoint, that Moyers' show has provided viewers for over four decades," Dreier wrote.

John Nichols, who in addition to writing for The Nation magazine has written several books on the history and current state of U.S. journalism, told Common Dreams that though Moyers "cannot be replaced, his legacy must be maintained."

What has made Moyers' presence on television so unique, explained Nichols, was the creation of a journalistic forum that largely lacking across the U.S. media landscape, especially in broadcast news.

"At a point when broadcast media tends increasingly to narrow rather than expand the discourse," Nichols explained, "Bill Moyers has been virtually alone in recognizing the possibility and the necessity of a broader debate on economic and social issues —and on the critical questions of war and peace. It is not too much to say that his show kept the democratic flame lit for tens of millions of Americans. I do not know what we will do without him, but I recognize that his departure from the airwaves lays down a challenge for all of us."

Profiled in the Washington Post on Friday, Moyers told the paper's media reporter Paul Farhi via email there was a conscious decision not to produce a retrospective episode or otherwise make "a big deal" of his retirement. "If my work doesn’t speak for itself after all these years," Moyers reportedly said as he turned down an offer for an in-depth interview, "I have failed and no amount of interpretation can help."

Still, Farhi was able to summarize Moyers' brand of journalism in recent years as being driven by various "passions"—delivered in an "avuncular and Texas-inflicted" style—which focused largely on exploring the political and cultural battles surrounding "the corrupting influence of money in politics... the environment and civil rights... [and] against growing economic inequality."

In the final episode, titled The Children's Climate Crusade, Moyers spends most of his half-hour in conversation with law professor Mary Christina Wood—an author and founder of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law program at the University of Oregon—talking about a series of lawsuits brought by young people who charge that government officials are betraying future generations by not aggressively addressing the threat of global warming and climate change.

Though he consciously refused to make the final M&C episode about himself, it was hard to mistake Moyers' final remarks as anything other than a parting—if not final—missive to his many viewers about the foundational importance of democratic principles and the necessary struggle that defending such principles demands.

"Democracy," he says during the show's final minutes, "is a public trust – a reciprocal agreement between generations to keep it in good repair and pass it along. Our country’s DNA carries an inherent promise for every citizen of an equal opportunity at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our history resonates with the hallowed idea – hallowed by blood – of government of, by, and for the people. Our great progressive struggles have been waged to make sure ordinary citizens, and not just the rich and privileged, share in the benefits of a free society. In the words of Louis Brandeis, one of the greatest of our Supreme Court justices, 'We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.'"

And finally, signing-off on this televised chapter of life, Moyers concludes:

So as the next generation steps forward, I am tempted to think that the only thing my generation can say to them is: we’re sorry. Sorry for the mess you’re inheriting. Sorry we broke the trust. But I know in my heart that’s not what they ask or expect. So instead I recommend to them the example of Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin, another of my heroes from the past. He battled the excesses of the first Gilded Age a century ago so boldly and proudly that he went down in history as “Fighting Bob.” He told us, “…democracy is a life; and involves continual struggle.” I keep asking myself, what if that struggle is the palpable reality without which this world would be truly barren?

So to this new generation I say: over to you, welcome to the fight.

And to all of you who have been loyal to these broadcasts, and to my colleagues who produced them and our funders who kept on giving despite my foibles and flaws, I say: thank you. This series ends, but not our website -- BillMoyers.com. I’ll see you there, and I’ll see you around.

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