Moyers, Bill 1934–
Moyers, Bill 1934–
PERSONAL: Original given name Billy Don; name legally changed; born June 5, 1934, in Hugo, OK; son of John Henry (a laborer) and Ruby (Johnson) Moyers; married Judith Suzanne Davidson, December 18, 1954; children: William Cope, Alice Suzanne, John Davidson. Education: Attended North Texas State University, 1952–54; University of Texas, Austin, B.J. (with honors), 1956; attended University of Edinburgh, 1956–57; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, B.D., 1959.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Anchor Books, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY, 10019.
CAREER: News Messenger, Marshall, TX, reporter and sports editor, 1949–54; KTBC Radio and Television, Austin, TX, assistant news editor, 1954–56; assistant pastor of churches in Texas and Oklahoma, 1956–59; special assistant to Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, 1959–60; executive assistant for vice presidential campaign, 1960–61; Peace Corps, Washington, DC, director of public affairs, 1961, deputy director, 1962–63; special assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–65, White House press secretary, 1965–67; Newsday, Garden City, NY, publisher, 1967–70; television executive and series host, beginning 1970; host of "This Week," National Educational Television, 1970, and of "Bill Moyers' Journal," Educational Broadcasting Corp., 1971–76, 1978–81; editor and chief correspondent, "CBS Reports," Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), 1976–80, senior news analyst and commentator, "CBS News," 1981–86; executive editor, Public Affairs TV, Inc., beginning 1987; commentator on "NBC Nightly News," National Broadcasting Company (NBC), 1995–2004; host and editor of "Now with Bill Moyers," PBS, 2002–04; host of Wide Angle, 2002–04; host of Now, 2002–04. Founder, Public Affairs Television (independent production company), 1986. Creator of programs "The Fire Next Door," and "The Vanishing Family." Host or creator of public television series: The Arab World, Public Affairs Television, April, 1991; and Listening to America with Bill Moyers, April, 1992. Also host or creator of the following public television specials: "All Our Children," 1991; "Moyers: Project Censored," 1991; "The Home Front," 1991; "Sports for Sale," 1991; "Moyers: Beyond Hate," Public Affairs Television, May, 1991; "Special Report: After the War with Bill Moyers," Public Affairs Television, June, 1991; "Moyers: Hate on Trial," 1992; "Minimum Wages: The New Economy," 1992; "What Can We Do about Violence?: A Bill Moyers Special," 1995; and "Trade Secrets," PBS, 2001. President, Rockefeller Foundation and Florence and John Schumann Foundation and Schumann Foundation of New Jersey.
AWARDS, HONORS: Emmy Award, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for outstanding broadcaster, 1974, 1978, 1980, and 1982–87; Silver Gavel Award, American Bar Association (ABA), 1974, for distinguished service to the American law system; Certificate of Merit, ABA, 1975; Ralph Lowell Medal for contributions to public television, 1975; George Peabody Awards, 1976, 1980, 1985, 1986–89, 1998–99, and 2004; Monte Carlo Television Festival Grand Prize, Jurors Prize, and Nymph Award, all 1977, all for "The Fire Next Door"; Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Grand Prize, 1978, 1988; Christopher Award, 1978; Sidney Hillman Prize for Distinguished Service, 1978, 1981, and 1987; Distinguished Urban Journalism Award, National Urban Coalition, 1978; George Polk awards, 1981, 1986, and 1987; Alfred I. du Pont-Columbia University Award, 1981, 1987, 1988, 1991, and 1992; Medal of Excellence from University of the State of New York, 1984; Overseas Press Award, 1986; fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1991; Gold Baton, Alfred I. du Pont-Columbia University, 1992, for the body of work; Silver Baton, Alfred I. du Pont-Columbia University, 1992, for documentaries; Global Environmental Citizen Award, Center for Health and Global Environment, Harvard Medical School, 2004; Outstanding Informational Series distinction, Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Listening to America: A Traveler Rediscovers His Country, Harper Magazine Press, 1971.
Genesis: A Living Conversation, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.
(Editor) Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft, Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.
Genesis and the Millennium: An Essay on Religious Pluralism in the Twenty-First Century, J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies, 2000.
Moyers on America: A Journalist and His Times, edited by Julie Leininger Pycior, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributing editor, Newsweek.
Creativity, first broadcast by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), January, 1982.
A Walk through the Twentieth Century, first broadcast by PBS, January, 1984.
In Search of the Constitution, first broadcast by PBS, April, 1987.
Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, first broadcast by PBS, 1987.
The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis (first broadcast by PBS, 1987), Seven Locks Press (Washington, DC), 1988.
Facing Evil, first broadcast by PBS, March, 1988.
A World of Ideas, Volume 1: Conversations with Thoughtful Men and Women about American Life Today and the Ideas Shaping Our Future (first broadcast by PBS, 1988), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1989, Volume 2: Public Opinions from Private Citizens, Doubleday, 1990.
Moyers: The Power of the Word, first broadcast by PBS, September, 1989.
Global Dumping Ground: The International Traffic in Hazardous Waste (first broadcast by PBS, 1990), Seven Locks Press (Washington, DC), 1990.
Healing and the Mind (first broadcast by PBS, February, 1993), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1993.
The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets (first broadcast by PBS, 1995), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1995.
America's First River: Bill Moyers on the Hudson, broadcast on WNET, 2002.
Becoming American: The Chinese Experience, first broadcast by PBS on March 25, 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Retired broadcast journalist Bill Moyers is well known for the decades he spent providing American television audiences with "news of the mind." His erudite political commentaries, historical essays, and series on such subjects as myth and evil challenged the limits of television programming and offered educational alternatives to standard prime-time fare. "The conventional wisdom is that ideas and intelligent conversation make bad TV," Geoffrey C. Ward once wrote in American Heritage magazine. "Within the industry, human beings with something to say are dismissed as 'talking heads.' Moyers knows better and has proved it time and again. His is an earnest presence … but it is also intelligent, humane, and intensely curious. He seems genuinely affected by what he sees and hears, and more important, he possesses the mysterious power to pass along his amusement or astonishment or horror intact to the viewer." Many of Moyers's work, including his series Creativity: A Walk through the Twentieth Century, and Facing Evil, have appeared on public television, a forum well-suited to his intellectual style and scope. He has also served as a commentator and investigative reporter for CBS Television, both on the nightly news and in specials. According to Saturday Review contributor Katherine Bouton, Moyers "asks the questions we ourselves would like to [ask] and, unlike most of us, never interrupts the answer. His passing comment seems designed not to draw attention to himself,… but to bring out something in the interviewee that a direct question might not evoke…. He's an intellectual…. He's a man of political acuity…. He's moral but not a preacher, political but not a politician."
Moyers was born in 1934 and christened Billy Don. The younger of two sons, he grew up in Marshall, Texas, where his father held a variety of blue collar jobs. In People magazine, Moyers reminisced about his youth. Marshall, he said, "was a wonderful place to be poor if you had to be poor. It was a genteel poverty in which people knew who you were and kind of looked after you. Status was important in Marshall, but more important was being part of the community." As a child during the World War II, Moyers was particularly drawn to the overseas broadcasts of journalist Edward R. Murrow. "This stout voice coming across the ocean night after night, describing the horrors of war," he told People. "He brought history alive for me." A good student who also found time to work and engage in extracurricular activities, Moyers began his own journalism career at the Marshall News Messenger in 1949. He changed his name to Bill because he thought the name more appropriate for a budding sports writer. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at North Texas State University, where he met his future wife, Judith Suzanne Davidson.
In the spring of his sophomore year of college, Moyers wrote to Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, offering to help with Johnson's reelection campaign. Johnson hired Moyers for a summer internship, then, impressed with the young man's work habits, persuaded Moyers to transfer to the University of Texas at Austin. There Moyers studied journalism and theology, worked as assistant news director at KTBC-TV, and preached at two small Baptist churches two Sundays per month. He received his bachelor's degree in journalism in 1956 and spent the following year at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland as a Rotary International fellow. In 1957 he entered the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to train for the ministry, and he earned another bachelor's degree with honors in 1959. Moyers never served as a full-time minister, however. He told People: "I knew I couldn't be a preacher. I thought that my talents lay elsewhere." Apparently Lyndon Johnson agreed with that assessment, offering Moyers a position as special assistant in Washington, DC. Soon after Johnson was elected vice president, Moyers was appointed associate director of public affairs of the newly created Peace Corps. He was made deputy director in 1962—one of the youngest presidential appointees ever approved by Congress.
Moyers returned to the White House in 1963, when John F. Kennedy's assassination elevated Johnson to the presidency. Moyers first served as one of Johnson's advisors on domestic affairs, overseeing the far-reaching Great Society legislation. Then, in 1964, he became White House chief of staff, and in 1965 he assumed the position of press secretary. As the Saturday Review reporter noted, the Washington press corps "was fascinated by the young man who seemed to have Lyndon Johnson's full confidence. Part of the appeal was his background—son of an East Texas dirt farmer, former divinity student, and ordained Baptist teacher. Part was his age—30. Part was his already impressive political credentials…. And part was his character—he was bright, and he was calm and efficient. This inner fortitude took its toll. Moyers suffered from a chronic ulcer when he worked for Johnson, and the strain is obvious even in photographs, which show a tense, skinny young man with heavy, black-rimmed glasses." Indeed, Moyers became increasingly disillusioned as Johnson intensified America's military involvement in Southeast Asia while placing less stress on domestic improvements. In 1967 he left public service, over Johnson's strenuous objections, to become publisher of Newsday, one of the nation's largest suburban daily newspapers.
Under Moyers's tenure at Newsday, the paper garnered thirty-three major journalism awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes. Still, Moyers quit Newsday in the summer of 1970 for a more leisurely adventure. He boarded a bus with a notebook and tape recorder and embarked on a 13,000-mile trip across the United States. Claiming that he had been out of touch with Americans for too long, he interviewed numerous ordinary folk from all walks of life and described his subjects in Listening to America: A Traveler Rediscovers His Country, published in 1971. The book became a best-seller, as well as a critical success.
Moyers also began his long association with public television in 1970. He recognized the then-fledgling medium as the perfect forum for a free and unhurried discussion of important issues. "You know that your [public television] viewer has a tolerance for ideas, a willingness to be patient, a mind that wants to be stretched," Moyers commented in Saturday Review. "Commercial television paces itself so rapidly that it's hard to absorb. It's racing—it wants to keep the action flowing like the Indianapolis speedway…. My work on public broadcasting wants to almost infiltrate—to insinuate itself into the consciousness of the viewer." In 1971 Moyers became host of Bill Moyers' Journal, a weekly show that addressed the political and social issues of the time. To quote the Saturday Review reporter, the program "epitomized public-affairs broadcasting at its best"; it won its host a total of five Emmy Awards. After a decade in commercial television at CBS, he returned to public television.
Returning to public television, Moyers worked through PBS and Public Affairs TV, a production company, to create programs that focus on ideas and issues. These programs often involve an interview format in which Moyers engaged, questioned, provoked, and listened to thinkers, experts, policy-makers, and others. As James Gardner observed in Commentary, "The popular success of … projects with which Bill Moyers has been associated over the years, evidently results from the distinctive chemistry generated among the three parts in the equation—Moyers, his subjects, and his audience." Programs which have used this interview format include series such as Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, A World of Ideas with Bill Moyers, The Arab World, Listening to America with Bill Moyers, and The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets. Moyers was also the host or driving force for numerous documentaries and special reports aired on PBS on subjects such as government excess, toxic pollution, violence, and hate crimes.
Several of Moyers's television projects had a more permanent impact and reach a wider audience through books published as companions to the television series. Among these, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, the two volumes of A World of Ideas, Healing and the Mind, and The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets have received significant audience attention.
A World of Ideas is just the kind of project that Bill Moyers is known for creating. The first volume, subtitled Conversations with Thoughtful Men and Women about American Life Today and the Ideas Shaping Our Future, contains over forty interviews with authors, poets, scientists, social scientists, policy-makers, and other thinkers and doers from a variety of social groups, countries, and walks of life. The second volume, subtitled Public Opinions from Private Citizens, adds almost thirty similar interviews. "Although Mr. Moyers imposes few constraints, he does have an overall agenda, albeit a broad one," noted Alison Friesinger Hill in the New York Times Book Review. "He is inquiring into contemporary values and concerns, within the United States and in global society." Characteristically, in exploring these issues "Moyers doesn't lower the level of the dialogue for TV."
Publishing the transcripts of these interviews in a book form not only made them permanent, but also gave the reader a chance to savor some of the comments and Moyers a chance to further highlight some of the issues. "This new format is generally more satisfying than the original broadcasts because it permits us to study more closely those arguments that possess real substance, and to skip over much cant and attitudinizing," Gardner pointed out. "Thus, while the broadcasts were generally duller than polite people were willing to concede at the time, these transcripts do provide some moments of genuine intelligence and illumination."
In Healing and the Mind Moyers explores Chinese medicine, psychoneuroimmunology, meditation, and other unconventional approaches to healing, as well as old-fashioned, personal, and humane medicine in traditional settings. Moyers's investigation of the growing interest in alternative approaches to healing "frequently reinforces Western medicine's domination and underscores how little is really known about the mind's effect on the body," admitted M.S. Mason in the Christian Science Monitor. "He is scrupulously careful not to undermine the biomedical model. Yet implicit in all the information provided is an important challenge to the medical establishment's mechanistic approach to curing: A human being is more than a 'ghost in a machine.'" Mason concluded that "the most important insights Healing and the Mind has to offer concern the importance of community, the importance of respect for the whole person, and the direct effect of thought on the body."
The Language of Life is Moyers's celebration of poetry and its place in American life. The book brings together Moyers's public television series of the same name with two television specials, one on Rita Dove and another on Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon. Here again Moyers employs his characteristic interviewing style to probe the issues, public and personal, on the minds and in the poetry of twenty-nine poets. He also includes short speeches given by five other poets at the Doge Poetry Festival, a regular gathering in Stanhope, New Jersey. Helen Vendler found fault with the companion book in a New York Times Book Review piece. "Mr. Moyers's earnestly proclaimed love for poetry turns out to be a love of its human narratives, its therapeutic power and its unifying messages," she observed. "The poets themselves try to return Mr. Moyers to what he is missing: to imagination, to language, to rhythms, to structure," she added. "But these are not grist for television, with its abhorrence of analytic talk. So each interview is relentlessly diverted from the discussion of poetry itself to human-interest topics, which usually produce statements of thoughtless banality." Vendler also found that "the poems quoted are strikingly uneven in worth," but she admitted "everyone will find something to like."
In Moyers on America, the distinguished journalist "offers a thoughtful and caustic look at American politics," commented Vanessa Bush in Booklist. In his collection of essays, speeches, and related material, Moyers covers a wide breadth of topics that have concerned him over the years, and that he still considers of critical importance today. He provides essays on subjects such as the increasing influence of the wealthy at the expense of the poor; how a more progressive government of the past took a more active and genuine interest in protecting the welfare of citizens; and how journalists were more dedicated to breaching the smokescreen surrounding business and government corruption. "Moyers's ability to communicate history, philosophy and personal experience simultaneously is impressive," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. He tells personal stories of his boyhood in Texas and of his role in the Lyndon Johnson presidency. He points out that Johnson, brusque and pugnacious though he might have been, knew the difference between right and wrong and sought to ensure that right was done, as when he integrated the Faculty Club of the University of Texas in 1964. The Publishers Weekly critic concluded that "Moyers's wisdom, common sense and deeply felt principles should inspire and energize many readers in the very best way."
Critical acclaim and viewer support from a surprising cross-section of the population has assured Moyers will have a lasting impression on journalism and public television. He retired from broadcasting in 2004 to focus on writing projects that most interest him, as well as to "think about the Last Act—capital L, capital A—of my life," Moyers commented to Frazier Moore in America's Intelligence Wire. Newsweek contributor Harry F. Waters wrote that Bill Moyers "looks at America and sees freeways of the mind connecting great and complex issues, a landscape of ethical cloverleafs that affords a natural habitat for the journalist as moralist…. Along with his gifts of insight and eloquence, this Texas populist and former Baptist preacher possesses a special knack for bringing big issues down to human dimension." Waters concluded, "Besides choosing fertile thematic terrain, Moyers always brings a point of view to his craft that … at least dares to challenge and provoke. Agree with him or not, he never leaves your mind in neutral."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Film, June, 1990, interview with Bill Moyers, p. 16.
American Heritage, December, 1983, Geoffrey C. Ward, review of A Walk through the Twentieth Century, p. 12.
America's Intelligence Wire, December 10, 2004, Frazier Moore, "Prominent American TV Journalist to Retire, Blasts 'Right-Wing Media' for Pro-Bush Propaganda," profile of Bill Moyers.
Booklist, May 1, 2004, Vanessa Bush, review of Moyers on America: A Journalist and His Times, p. 1482.
Business Wire, April 18, 2005, "From Religion to Revolution, Epidemics to Economics, Wide Angle Returns for its Fourth Season of In-Depth Documentaries on the Critical Issues Shaping the World Today."
Christian Science Monitor, February 19, 1993, M. S. Mason, review of Healing and the Mind, p. 13.
Commentary, October, 1989, James Gardner, review of A World of Ideas, p. 70.
Esquire, October, 1989, David Zurawik, "The Following Myth Is Made Possible by a Grant from Bill Moyers: On the Road with the Hero of a Thousand Televisions," profile of Bill Moyers, p. 139.
Hollywood Reporter, March 24, 2003, Irv Letofsky, review of The Chinese Experience, p. 38.
National Review, March 10, 1989, Tod Lindberg and Hadley Arkes, "The World According to Moyers," profile of Bill Moyers, p. 22.
New Republic, August 19, 1991, Andrew Ferguson, "The Power of Myth: Bill Moyers, Liberal Fraud," profile of Bill Moyers, p. 22.
Newsweek, July 4, 1983, Harry F. Waters, "Travels with Charlie and Bill," profile of Bill Moyers, p. 74.
New York Times Book Review, June 4, 1989, Alison Friesinger Hill, "A World of Ideas: Conversations with Thoughtful Men and Women about American Life Today and the Ideas Shaping Our Future," interview with Bill Moyers, p. 23; November 25, 1990, Robert H. Boyle, review of Global Dumping Ground: The International Traffic in Hazardous Waste, p. 14; May 23, 1993, Eric Cassell, review of Healing and the Mind, p. 29; June 18, 1995, Helen Vendler, review of The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets, p. 14.
People, February 22, 1982, Lisa E. Smith, "Bill Moyers: A Colossus from Texas Is Bestriding Two Networks—at PBS He Explores 'Creativity'; at CBS He's the New Eric Sevareid," p. 47; August 1, 1983, "Marshall, Texas Is Deep in the Heart of TV Newsman Bill Moyers—and Vice Versa," profile of Bill Moyers, p. 41.
Publishers Weekly, April 19, 2004, review of Moyers on America, p. 55.
Saturday Review, February, 1982, Katherine Bouton, "Bill Moyers: The Quest for Quality TV," p. 16.
Texas Monthly, June, 2004, Evan Smith, "Bill Moyers: The Seventy-Year-Old Journalist—Whose New Collection of Speeches and Essays Arrives in Bookstores This Month—on Why He's Parting Ways with PBS, What It Was Like to Work for LBJ, and Whether Objectivity Is All It's Cracked up to Be," interview with Bill Moyers, p. 92.
Times Literary Supplement, November 8, 1991, review of Global Dumping Ground, p. 32.
Lucidcafe.com, http://www.lucidcafe.com/ (October 8, 2005), biography of Bill Moyers.
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (April 7, 2003), Andrew O'Hehir, interview with Bill Moyers.