Bill Moyers continues to rebuke PBS over network's decision not to air impeachment proceedings in prime time
The Public Broadcasting Service is our country’s channel. When President Richard Nixon’s impeachment hearings took place in 1973, PBS ran replays of the hearings all evening long. It proved a rousing success as millions of American households, home from work, watched as the ugly inner workings of Nixon’s administration came into focus. One would expect PBS to not simply do the national service of rebroadcasting the upcoming public impeachment hearings of Donald Trump, but also jump at the chance to drive that kind of traffic to their channel. Unfortunately, PBS says it will not change its normal prime time programming to replay the day’s hearings, opting to send the hearings onto the internet for people to pull up and find for themselves.
American treasure Bill Moyers and writer Michael Winship have taken exception to this and put out a full page ad in Friday’s New York Times, calling for PBS to do the right thing and mark these historic proceedings correctly. Moyers and Winship gave a history of how PBS’ advocacy of the democratic process during the Watergate hearings shaped not only the channel, but the national conscience.
Over the course of 51 days and nights, millions of viewers watched as the story of the Watergate break-in, the cover-up, payoffs, and dirty tricks unfolded before their eyes. The evidence was undeniable: Richard Nixon, the President of the United States, had abused the power of his office, corrupted the rule of law, lied persistently, and obstructed justice.
Other networks carried the hearings, too, but what set public broadcasting apart was the decision to air them twice a day: live, in real time as they happened, and then via videotape in prime time every evening, when people who had spent all day working could come home, watch the drama play out without intrusive commentary, and become a part of the process of judgement. One viewer wrote: “I arrive red-eyed and sleepy to work and I don’t care.”
Moyers also remembered that the Nixon administration put a lot of pressure on the Public Broadcasting Service not to participate in showing the news, using a very familiar attack on the institution as being biased and trying to do away with all the funding that allowed PBS to do its work. With a plea to “contact your local public station or PBS directly,” Moyers and Winship remind PBS that you don’t make history without being an honest part of it.
In response to the uproar Moyers and Winship sparked, PBS announced on Saturday that it would rebroadcast the hearings on one of their digital sub channels, PBS World. Bill Moyers released a statement saying he was not impressed. At all.
Our friends at PBS are saying they will not carry the hearings in prime time — period. Instead, they will throw them in the river and viewers can dive for it, because that’s what WORLD is, a place where important programs are sent to die. Raise your hand if you have ever found a show on World? How in the world — no pun intended — does it serve democracy to hide the hearings from people who come home from work to see them but don’t have cable, satellite, and internet access? If PBS were truly an alternative to corporate networks, it would repeat the hearings in prime time for the mass audience. Period.
Moyers is not finished. He’s taken his case to print, the web, and the airways because it is that important. Speaking with Brian Stelter on CNN, Moyers said, “Our job as journalists is to slice and dice the events of the day as they occur or the day after, usually. But you don't get the whole story there. If you wanted to get the whole story, the frame of the narrative of Watergate, you needed to watch the whole hearings. If you want to get the whole story of Trumpgate, you need to watch the whole hearings." Moyers explained that while only 10% of the people might want to watch these hearings when they get home from a long day, those 10% deserve that easy access, and providing that is the job of journalists and outlets like PBS.
We all have many jobs in this life. But one of the jobs we all share is trying to maintain our integrity, as well as the integrity of our home and the institutions that offer us the hope of a free human race.