Moyers to Examine Soul of Democracy

Famous broadcast journalist Bill Moyers is honest and open about his bias.

“[Edward Murrow] once said bias in a journalist is OK, if you admit it and it’s open and it’s honest,” Moyers said. “My bias is that plutocracy — the rule of a few wealthy — and democracy don’t mix. The rich have the right to buy more homes than anyone else, more vacations than anyone else, more cars than anyone else, more gizmos and gadgets than anyone else, but they don’t have the right to buy more democracy than anyone else.”

At 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Moyers will give a lecture titled “The Soul of Democracy,” to close this week’s Interfaith Lecture Series “Money and Power Through a Spiritual and Ethical Lens.”

A cultural leader with background in journalism, politics and religion, Moyers’ lecture will provide unique insight into how money impacts the world’s democracy and fuels inequality. Moyers is famous for his vast contribution of award-winning, investigative journalism work.

Moyers started his journalism career at his high school newspaper and at age 16 as a cub reporter at a local newspaper in east Texas. He said he liked journalism because it exposed him to new experiences and made him a more involved, respected member of his community. It gave him, he said, a sense of fulfillment, satisfaction and pride.

“We journalists are licensed to explain things we don’t understand, and there’s a lot I don’t understand. To be a good journalist you have to be a good student, and I was a good student. I could prepare for any test, make an A on it, and then promptly forget what I had learned,” Moyers said. “And that’s in a sense what journalists, what we reporters, do in particular. We are beachcombers on the shores of other people’s knowledge and experience.”

Moyers went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and later a master’s degree in divinity at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was ordained a minister in 1954, but soon afterward began working in politics, serving as a top aide during Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson’s unsuccessful bid for the 1960 Democratic U.S. presidential nomination.

Moyers began writing letters for Johnson while he was an aspiring political journalist during his sophomore year of college, but soon gained Johnson’s respect after diligent, successful work. He said the experience taught him the basics of politics.

Moyers went on to work as associate director of public affairs for the Peace Corps and subsequently as deputy director during the Kennedy Administration. He worked as special assistant and later as press secretary for Johnson when he became president.

But Moyers still became a journalist, and his work won him more than 30 Emmys, two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, nine Peabodys and three George Polk Awards. When he was publisher of Newsday from 1967 to 1970, the publication received two Pulitzer Prizes under his leadership.

Although Moyers loves newspapers, he did his most important work through broadcast television and film. He was the senior correspondent for CBS Reports documentary series and later a news analyst for the CBS Evening News. He produced series such as NOW with Bill Moyers, Bill Moyers Journal and Moyers & Co., a company he retired from in 2015.

Moyers felt that broadcasting let him tell stories in a way that newspapers couldn’t. And although he started in journalism because he enjoyed it, the experience became much more meaningful. He said he realized you can save lives with journalism.

“ ‘Real news is the news we need to keep our freedom,’ ” Moyers said, quoting his friend Richard Reeves. “It’s a flawed craft, it’s an imperfect medium — television in particular — but it gives people just enough exposure to the world. If they care to take it, it helps them be engaged in the issues that matter.”

Moyers’ background in religion shaped his journalism career in a way that politics couldn’t. After a secular early childhood, Moyers began practicing Christianity with his family at age 12, which exposed him to a new community that taught him about democracy. Moyers said his congregation treated him with respect despite his young age and family’s poor economic status.

But although his religion helped Moyers structure his life, he said it was exposure to other faiths that helped him understand the complexity of society, beliefs, worship and different ways of seeing the world. The people he met made Moyers realize that he didn’t have a claim on “the truth” because others had different principles and convictions as strong as his own.

“The more I learned, the more I was able to test my own ideas and principles that had been handed to me, which I took for granted without examining them,” Moyers said. “You’re never really free until you’ve freed yourself from your own dogma, from your own bumper stickers. … I began to see religion beyond simple faith, as a historic way of seeing the world, … so religion became an intellectual journey for me as well as a spiritual journey.”

Moyers considers religion to be essential to his beat as a journalist, because the work he did focused on investigating and understanding humanity. He said religion is as powerful a force for human motivation as economics or psychology.

“Religion seems to be behind so many of the events that are shaping the world right now, that are rattling the world right now, the insecurities of the world,” Moyers said. “While ironically and paradoxically, many people find their faith a means of security in the world.”

Madison Rossi

The author Madison Rossi

Hailing from Chicago, Madison Rossi is the 2016 Interfaith Lecture preview reporter. She is a class of 2018 journalism major at Northwestern University with minors in marketing and religious studies.