Out of Left Field: Bill Moyers

Journalism can properly be regarded as “History in a hurry.”

As a long-time teacher and writer of history, I have always admired what journalists are able to accomplish, especially working against tight deadlines.  

Many years ago, I edited a book, “William Cullen Bryant and His America,” in which I compared that long-ago Roslyn resident to Benjamin Franklin — both newspaper innovators for decades.

I was not surprised to read that Bryant complained that as editor of a newspaper he was  “chained to a daily oar.”  

Still, he did the work assiduously, and he was a model of creative journalistic leadership.  

Among Bryant’s varied efforts, he led a movement for the creation of Central Park, which he regularly referred to as “the lung of the city” (what perspicacity in the 1850s!). 

This June, Bill Moyers turned age 82.  

He is a most worthy successor to the greatest journalists of all-time, anywhere in the world.  He was my hero, even before he moved to Long Island where he resided for several decades.

Moyers has “retired” a few times.  

Emblematic of his civic sensitivity, several years ago, he commented: “I cannot remain on the sidelines while the delusional is becoming normative.” 

Recently, a major magazine story was accompanied by a picture of a tombstone, with the word “Truth” inscribed on it.  

Bill Moyers has spoken “truth to power” for five decades.

He resigned as Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary in 1967 when he disagreed with LBJ’s conduct in the Vietnam War.  

At the time, Bill was 33 and had worked with Johnson since he was 20 years old

Moyers admired many of Johnson’s social programs, and he helped lay the groundwork for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting which established PBS and NPR.  

Moyers independent, investigative, truth-telling continued everywhere he went, including a stint at CBS and many years on PBS.

Noteworthy for us on Long Island was his leadership as publisher of Newsday from 1967 to 1970.  

He made Newsday one of the best papers in the nation, but he clashed with conservative owner Harry Guggenheim.

The owner was a major supporter of the war in Vietnam and insisted that acclaimed American author John Steinbeck be sent there to give positive stories for the Newsday, Long Island and American readers.

As one of Newsday’s all-time great writers, Pulitzer-Prize winner Bob Keeler, has emphasized, Moyers had the guts — and understanding — to send our local writer, Mike McGrady, to give some doses of reality.  

Keeler highlighted these contributions when he celebrated the two men in a column after McCrady died.

The Vietnam clash was followed by differences between the publisher and owner over the 1968 election.  

Guggenheim insisted on doing a signed endorsement of Nixon while Moyers supported Humphrey (history is a good judge of those decision makers).

Moyers resigned from Newsday after Guggenheim sold the paper to the then conservative Times Mirror Company (notwithstanding vast opposition from the paper’s outstanding staff, and an offer of $10 million more than Times Mirror paid).

Since 1970, in his work on television (winning dozens of awards), Moyers, in the estimation of fellow Texan Jim Hightower should be declared “one of America’s most precious resources” by Congress.

A nice idea — but a differently constituted Congress would be needed.

At his terrific Blog: Moyers.com, Bill recently did a follow-up interview with Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson to discuss their 2012 book, “Winner Take All Politics — How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class.”

Moyers now concludes that this earlier book is “what the 2016 election should be about.”  

Hacker and Pierson’s new book is equally relevant: “American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper.”

Another recent example of the Moyers spark in the public arena was his interview with historian, Rick Shenkman about his book, “How Our Stone Age Brains Get in the Way of Having a Smart Democracy.”

Moyers concluded: “If you want to know why this is the year of Trump, you’ve got to read it.  If you want to know why millions of Republicans still believe Barack Obama is a Muslim, you’ve got to read it.  Even if you want to hold on and remain an optimist, you’ve got to read it.”

When Long Island’s premier 19th century journalist died, it was said that William Cullen Bryant “He had the wisdom of age in his youth, and the passion of youth in his age.”

Now in his ninth decade, and “retired” for the third time, I am so appreciative that Bill Moyers’ active social conscience is a redeeming feature for our challenged society.  

Website: michaeldinnocenzo.com

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