The World According to Moyers

by Clifford D. May

Here’s what Bill Moyers said:

“I’m going out telling the story that I think is the biggest story of our time: how the right-wing media has become a partisan propaganda arm of the Republican National Committee. We have an ideological press that’s interested in the election of Republicans, and a mainstream press that’s interested in the bottom line. Therefore, we don’t have a vigilant, independent press whose interest is the American people.”

I have to comment for four reasons: 1) I began my so-called career working for Bill Moyers (whom I still like and admire), 2) I spent more than 20 years in the “mainstream press,” 3) I spent four years as the spokesman for the Republican National Committee, and 4) I now contribute to what he calls “the ideological press.”

To begin, it’s unfortunate that he’s “going out” telling a story that he hasn’t reported on in any comprehensive way and clearly doesn’t understand.

Second, yes, there is an “ideological press.” It is forthright and honest about its desire to view the world from a conservative perspective and to make the case for a conservative world view. And, yes, since Republicans are more likely to be conservatives, obviously there is interest in the election of GOP candidates.

There also is a “mainstream press” that – news flash! — is no less ideological but subscribes to an alternative ideology. That Bill and others fail to see that is beyond reason. (Perhaps it’s a matter of faith.) The “mainstream press” also has become implacably and aggressively hostile to conservatives and Republicans – but insists on denying that obvious fact.

What I’m saying is not just an analysis – it’s an eyewitness account: I worked at The New York Times as a reporter, editor and foreign correspondent. Perhaps uniquely, I went over to what Bill would see as the “dark side” when I joined the RNC as communications director. (And, recently, I clashed, rather hotly, with the top Times editor over my criticism of his front-page, eve-of-election coverage of the “missing explosives” of al Qaqaa, which was only one notch below Dan Rather’s use of forged documentation to establish that President Bush had not fulfilled his National Guard obligations.)

Look, I think Bill is correct to say that America should have a vigilant, independent press – it also should be a balanced and disinterested press. But I don’t think that’s possible until and unless the mainstream press is willing to engage in self-examination and self-criticism, is willing to re-establish the boundaries between opinion and analysis and between analysis and news.

I wish my old boss, Bill Moyers, would take on that challenge. I wish he’d at least begin a serious discussion. That doesn’t seem likely.