Bill Moyers: America Can't Deal With Reality -- We Must Be Exposed to the Truth, Even If It Hurts
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Now, you can understand how it is that journalism became for me a continuing course in adult education. It enabled me to produce documentaries like "Trade Secrets" and out-of-the-box series like "Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth." It enabled me to cover the summits of world leaders and the daily lives of struggling families in Newark. It empowered me to explain how public elections are subverted by private money, and to how to make a poem. Journalism also provided me a passport into the world of ideas, which became my favorite beat, in no small part because I never met anyone - philosopher or physicist, historian, artist, writer, scientist, entrepreneur or social critic - who didn't teach me something I hadn't known, something that enlarged my life.
Here's an example: One of my favorite of all interviews was with my sainted fellow Texan, the writer and broadcaster John Henry Faulk, who had many years earlier, been the target of a right-wing smear campaign that resulted in his firing by CBS from his job as a radio host here in New York, one of the low moments in that network's history. But John Henry fought back in court and won a landmark legal victory against his tormentors. After he returned home to Texas, I did the last interview with him before his death in 1990. He told me the story of how he and his friend Boots Cooper were playing in the chicken coop when they were about 12 years old. They spied a chicken snake in the top tier of nests, so close it looked like a boa constrictor. As John Henry put it, "All our frontier courage drained out our heels - actually it trickled down our overall legs - and Boots and I made a new door through that henhouse wall." Hearing all the commotion Boots' momma came out and said, "Don't you boys know chicken snakes are harmless? They can't harm you." And Boots, rubbing his forehead and behind at the same time, said, "Yes, Mrs. Faulk, I know that, but they can scare you so bad, it'll cause you to hurt yourself." John Henry Faulk told me that's a lesson he never forgot. Over and again I've tried to remember it, too, calling on it to restore my resolve and my soul.
I've had a wonderful life in broadcasting, matriculating as a perpetual student in the school of journalism. Other people have paid the tuition and travel and I've never really had to grow up and get a day job. I think it's because journalism has been so good to me that I am sad when I hear or read that factual broadcasting is passé - that television as a venue for forensic journalism is on its way out and that trying to find out "what really happened" - which is our mandate - is but a quaint relic in an age of post-structuralism and cyberspace. But despite all our personal electronic devices, people are watching more television than ever. Much of this programming is posted online; I believe at least half the audience for my last two weekly series on Friday night came over the weekend via streaming video, iPods and TIVO. I was pleased to discover that the web sites most frequented by educators are those of PBS and that our own sites were among the most popular destinations. That's what keeps us going, isn't it? The knowledge that all the bias and ignorance notwithstanding, facts still matter to critical thinking, that if we respect and honor, even revere them, they just might help us right the ship of state before it rams the iceberg.