from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Bill Moyers: "A Moral Transactions" 

A Moral Transaction is the title of a piece written by Bill Moyers that appeared online yesterday at [FreePress htttp://www.freepress.org].  Today the same thing appeared under the title "A Message from Bill Moyers" in pages A10-11 (that's rigth -- two full pages) in the Washington Post.

The piece is strongly in support of an independent PBS.  It is absolutely a must read.   And the link I have provided will take you to the FreePress version which allows for email it to everyone you know.

Selections below the jump, offered w/o comment.   Go read the whole thing.

It begins:

A moral transaction

Henry Thoreau got it right: "To affect the quality of the day, is the highest of the arts."

From Free Press, June 20, 2005

By Bill Moyers

I must be the luckiest man in television for having been a part of the public broadcasting community for over half my life. I was present at the creation. As a 30-year-old White House policy assistant in 1964, I attended the first meeting at the Office of Education to discuss the potential of "educational television," which in turn led to the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. When I left the White House that year to become publisher of Newsday, I did fund-raising chores for Channel Thirteen in New York and appeared on its local newscasts. Then in 1971, through a series of serendipitous events, I came to public television as the correspondent and anchor for a new weekly series called This Week.

after some background about public television,

This is a big, sprawling, polymorphic community: in our best days an extended family; in our worst days, a dysfunctional one. Right now, however, we're facing some hard choices. Competitive forces are razing the landscape around us and turf wars are breaking out the way they once did between sheepherders and cattlemen. Funds for new programming are hard to come by. And fevered agents of an angry ideology wage war on all things public, including public broadcasting.

key ideas about public tv:

The best thing we have going for us is a strong and consistent constituency. Millions of Americans look to us as the best alternative to commercial broadcasting, and even when we let them down, they seem to keep the faith and grant us a second chance. Deep down, the public harbors an intuitive understanding that for all the flaws of public television; our fundamental assumptions come down on their side, and on the side of democracy.

What are those assumptions?


That public television is an open classroom for people who believe in lifelong learning


That the medium can dignify life instead of debase it


That it can help us to see more clearly, understand more deeply, and laugh more joyously


That human creativity and this incredible technology can provide us with a fuller awareness of the wonder and the variety of the arts and sciences, of scholarship and craftsmanship and innovation, of politics and government and economics and religion and all those mutual endeavors that shape our consciousness


That commercial broadcasting, having made its peace with "the little lies and fantasies that are the by-products of the merchandising process," is too firmly fixed within the rules of the economic game to rise more than occasionally above the lowest common denominator


That Americans are citizens and not just consumers; in the words of the educator Herbert Kohl, "if we do not provide time for the consideration of people and events in depth, we may end up training another generation of TV adults who know what kind of toilet paper to buy, who know how to argue and humiliate others, but who are thoroughly incapable of discussing, much less dealing with, the major social and economic problems that are tearing America apart."

Some additional supporting info:

I keep on my desk a report delivered a few years ago by Gale Metzger of Statistical Research. It found that:

  • When people look for a program on science or the arts, or a program their children can watch, they look first to public television.

  • We rated higher with people who want to understand issues that are important to society.

  • Two-thirds of the people see our news and public affairs as a mixture of political persuasions--they think we are fair.

  • As for the charge of elitism, public television rated about the same with people who have a high school education or less as with people who have college degree or higher.

  • Most important, two out of three people said it would make a difference to their lives if public television did not exist.

framing some key issues:

This was the Founders' idea of an informed citizenry: that people in a democracy can be entrusted to decide all-important matters for themselves because they can communicate and deliberate with one another. "Economic issues can be discussed in public. The moral dilemmas of new medical knowledge can be weighed. The broad implications of technological change can become subjects of informed public disclosure," writes Hirsch. We might even begin to understand how--and for whom--politics really works. A few years ago, we produced a special on money and politics. We showed how private money continues to drive public policy and how our campaigns have become auctions instead of elections. As the broadcast came to a close, we put on the screen the 800 number of a non-partisan group called Project Vote Smart. When you call the number, they send you a printout showing the campaign donors to every representative in Congress. In response to that one broadcast, almost 30,000 Americans got up from their chairs and couches, went over to their phones and dialed the number!

But informing citizens is not all we're about.

Americans are assaulted on every front today by what the scholar Cleanth Brooks called "the bastard muses":


propaganda, which pleads, sometimes unscrupulously, for a special cause at the expense of the total truth


sentimentaliy, which works up emotional responses unwarranted by and in excess of the occasion


pornography, which focuses on one powerful drive at the expense of the total human personality.


How to counter the debasement which comemrcial television and other media have become:

How do we counter it? Not with censorship, which is always counterproductive in a democracy, but with an alternative strategy of affirmation. Public broadcasting is part of that strategy. We are free to regard human beings as more than mere appetites and America as more than an economic machine. Leo Strauss once wrote, "Liberal education is liberation from vulgarity." He reminded us that the Greek word for vulgarity is apeirokalia , the lack of experience in things beautiful. A liberal eucation supplies us with that experience and nurtures the moral imagination. I believe a liberal education is what we're about. Performing arts, good conversation, history, travel, nature, critical documentaries, public affairs, children's programs--at their best, they open us to other lives and other realms of knowing.

There is much more.   Go read.

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