About Bill Moyers

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Bill Moyers was one of the chief inheritors of the Edward R. Murrow tradition of "deep-think" journalism. Working alternately on CBS and PBS in the 1970s and early 1980s, and then almost exclusively on PBS. His achievements were principally in the areas of investigative documentary and long-form conversations with some of the world's leading thinkers. Moyers, who had been a print journalist, ordained Baptist minister, press secretary to President Lyndon Johnson, and newspaper publisher before coming to television in 1970, gained public and private foundation support for producing some of television's most incisive investigative documentaries. Each was delivered in the elegantly written and deceptively soft-spoken narrations that came, Moyers later said, out of the story-telling traditions of his East Texas upbringing. Where Edward R. Murrow had taken on Joseph McCarthy on See It Now and the agri-business industry in his famous Harvest of Shame documentary, Moyers examined the failings of constitutional democracy in his 1974 Essay on Watergate and exposed governmental illegalities and cover-up during the Iran Contra scandal. He looked at issues of race, class and gender, at the power media images held for a nation of "consumers," not citizens, and explored virtually every aspect of American political, economic and social life in his documentaries.

Equally influential were Moyers' World of Ideas series. Again, Edward R. Murrow had paved the way in his trans-Atlantic conversations with political leaders, thinkers and artist on his Small World program in the late 1950s, but Moyers used his soft, probing style to talk to a remarkable range of articulate intellectuals on his two foundation supported interview series on PBS. In discussions that ranged from an hour to, in the case of mythology scholar Joseph Campbell, six hours on the air, Moyers brought to television what he called the "conversation of democracy." He spoke with social critics like Noam Chomsky and Cornel West, writers like Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, Mexican poet and novelist Carlos Fuentes and American novelist Toni Morrison, and social analysts like philosopher Mortimer Adler and University of Chicago sociologist William Julius Wilson. Moyers engaged voices and ideas that had been seldom if ever heard on television, and transcribed versions of many of his series often became best selling books as well (Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, 1988; The Secret Government, 1988; A World of Ideas, 1989; A World of Ideas II, 1990, Healing the Mind, 1992). The Joseph Campbell book was on the New York Times best seller list for more than a year and sold 750,000 copies within the first four years of its publication.

Moyers' television work was as prolific as his publishing record. In all he produced over six hundred hours of programming (filmed and videotaped conversations and documentaries) between 1971 and 1989, which comes out to 33 hours of programming a year or the equivalent of more than half an hour of programming a week for eighteen years. Moyers broadcast another one hundred and twenty-five programs between 1989 and 1992 working with a series of producers--27 of them on the first two World of Ideas series alone. He formed his own company, Public Affairs Television, in 1986, and distributed many of his own shows.

By the early 1990s Bill Moyers had established himself as a significant figure of television talk, his power and influence providing him access to corridors of power and policy. In January of 1993 he was invited for a rare overnight visit with President elect Bill Clinton to discuss the nation's problems before the Clinton Inaugural. Bill Moyers had by this time become one of the few broadcast journalists who might be said to approach the stature of Edward R. Murrow. If Murrow had founded broadcast journalism, Moyers had significantly extended its traditions.

-Bernard Timberg

(Since publication of this biographical sketch by The Museum of Broadcast Communications, Bill Moyers concluded production of Bill Moyers Journal, developed and hosted NOW with Bill Moyers, and developed Moyers & Company, which debuted nationally in January, 2012.  Moyers & Company airs on OETA Saturdays at 5:00 pm and again on OETA OKLA Sundays at 6:00 pm.  Moyers & Company is distributed through American Public Television).