Moyers in Memphis

Bill Moyers

One of the few “perks” of the consulting business is you get to listen to the radio while driving to meetings with clients. Last Monday, Martin Luther King Day, I caught most of a Bill Moyers speech broadcast on Democracy NOW! carried by WDET in Detroit. The speech was originally given as the opening plenery at the National Conference for Media Reform in Memphis, January 12, 2007.

The entire text is posted here at The audio is available at

As I listened it occurred to me I might be hearing an historic event, one that would be replayed and quoted for decades. I thought Moyers brilliantly (and passionately) summarized what’s been happening in America over the last 25 years. At 72 years, this Texas guy seems to be just hitting his stride. He’s had an amazing career, going back to deputy director of the Peace Corps during the Kennedy Administration. Most living Americans weren’t even born yet. Moyers has lived a lot of history.

Sir Winston Churchill, rather self-servingly, once said:

“Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has not heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains.”

But “Winnie” never heard Bill Moyers, never read Howard Zinn, and he sure never knew the current crop of “conservatives” such as Kristol, Wolfowitz, and Cheney.

What I liked was the way Moyers tied together different issues including economic inequality, re-segregation, public education, government secrecy, the run up to the Iraq War, and the “surge” to the consolidation of the media, which was given a boost during the Clinton Administration, as follows:

The lobby representing the broadcast, cable, and newspaper industry is extremely powerful, with an iron grip on lawmakers and regulators alike. Both parties bowed to their will when the Republican Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. That monstrous assault on democracy, with malignant consequences for journalism, was nothing but a welfare giveaway to the largest, richest and most powerful media conglomerates in the world

Moyers went on to describe what media consolidation means to democracy:

You bet something is amiss. And it goes to the core of why we are here in Memphis for this conference. We are talking about a force– media– that cuts deep to the foundation of democracy. When Teddy Roosevelt dissected the “real masters of the reactionary forces” in his time, he concluded that they “directly or indirectly control the majority of the great daily newspapers that are against us.” Those newspapers – the dominant media of the day– “choked” (his word) the channels of information ordinary people needed to understand what was being done to them.

And later in the speech:

So if we need to know what is happening, and big media won’t tell us; if we need to know why it matters, and big media won’t tell us; if we need to know what to do about it, and big media won’t tell us – it’s clear what we have to do: we have to tell the story ourselves.

Moyers has much praise for the accessibility of the Internet, which makes it possible for so many to publish their stories. He gives a warning, however, having lived the history of radio and television:

Educators, union officials, religious leaders, parents were galvanized by the promise of radio as “a classroom for the air,” serving the life of the country and the life of the mind. Then the media lobby cut a deal with the government to make certain nothing would threaten the already vested-interests of powerful radio networks and the advertising industry. Soon the public largely forgot about radio’s promise as we accepted the entertainment produced and controlled by Jell-o, Maxwell House, and Camel cigarettes. What happened to radio, happened to television and then to cable, and if we are not diligent, it will happen to the Internet.

The speech is especially good on audio. You can sense there’s some progressive fire left in an old news horse, as well as the enthuiasm of that “hot” Memphis crowd. I don’t know that it ranks up there with the Allman Brothers live at the Fillmore, but I wish I could’ve been there.

Photo credit: University of Arizona and Google Images.
Cross-posted from Sustainable Middle Class

Bookmark and Share

Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Moyers in Memphis

  1. John

    Thanks for posting this. I hven’t had a chance to listen to the speech yet, but know now I need to make a point to do so.