'Mr. Rogers' of news gets edgy
Bill Moyers combines fireside chat style with penchant for in-depth news.
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The "he said, she said" debate styles that are the order of the day are ineffective, says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communications, who has been a guest on "Now."Skip to next paragraph
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"Moyers presents a framework through which you see something from an ideologically coherent perspective," says Ms. Jamieson, coauthor of "The Press Effect," "and if you don't like what you're seeing, there are places you can go to listen to the other side.... What makes 'Now' important is that it provides a regular menu of the unexpected, presented in a complex fashion by a good interviewer."
As for Lichter's "spinach," Jamieson adds, "There are people who like spinach - and you can develop a taste for it."
An average interview on "Now" runs a lengthy 16 minutes, and some have been stretched to 20. "Now" executive producer John Siceloff admits that the program makes larger demands of its viewers, but believes it's a matter of adjusting to the high level of discussion: "We've grown an audience that delights in that complexity and that insight because they don't get it anywhere else."
Not everyone watching "Now" is delighting in its complexity. The conservative Media Research Center awarded Moyers with the quote of the year at their annual "dishonor" awards in March, for a November statement criticizing the Bush administration: "... If you like God in government, get ready for the Rapture."
Conservatives' main objection is that Moyers delivers liberal commentary on PBS - publicly funded television. "Even if he's marshaling facts," says Media Research's Tim Graham, "he's marshaling facts at the service of his agenda ... and he's got this enormous tax-payer-funded megaphone."
"Now" - which has had a number of conservative guests - sees its programming not as liberal but as alternative. "We don't say, 'How can we beat up on Bush this week?' " says Mr. Siceloff. "We think it is indeed the duty of good journalists to say, 'OK, let's understand this issue in a deep way.'... Sometimes that will be in praise of what's going on and sometimes in criticism - we do think that just because Bush said it, doesn't make it right."
In addition to stints at Newsday and the CBS evening news, Moyers's early career included working for Lyndon Johnson from 1963-1967, with two years as White House press secretary. Moyers says that what he learned in those early years has helped to shape his interests as a journalist. Of his time in the White House during the Vietnam War, Moyers remembers: "Our credibility was so bad that we couldn't believe our own leaks, and I decided right then that I should've been on the other side."
Moyers feels the pressure of challenging the official line in a politically charged post-9/11 atmosphere. "It's a time when exercising your normal civil liberties brings an abnormal and excessive response to them," Moyers says.
In this atmosphere, he's felt a degree of personal attack, which - though he is considering retiring after 2003 - only seems to add fuel to his fire.
"Unless you're prepared to take hit after unfair hit accusing you of bias and even of having an opinion," he explains, "you have to love it. And I do."