Bill Moyers

Posted: January 15, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, this blog explores intersections of life and work in “Sabbath.”]

Bill Moyers retired from his PBS show Bill Moyers Journal a couple of years ago.  However, Moyers, now 77, has not retired.  He is back with a new venture called Moyers & Company.  Over the past years, he has also continued to write and give interviews.

Many on the right and some in the mushy middle condemn Moyers as a “liberal,” as if that label made someone not worth listening or respecting.  Moyers, on the other hand, presents his ideas without insult or name-calling.  If someone disagrees with his position, he listens and engages them in dialogue, a quality lacking in American politics and society today.

Moyers criticizes a political model of “winner take all” and argues that inequality is not simply the result of market forces, but political scheming.  Are these positions liberal?  Yes.  But, unlike many of his critics, Moyers and his guests lay out ideas in clear language, not talking points and phony statistics.  In another video essay, Moyers ponders the contemporary relevance of the folk singer Woody Guthrie.

In a time of simplified ideas and political campaigns based on finger-pointing TV commercials, Bill Moyers is a welcome antidote to the poison that threatens our democracy.  He wants his audience to think about an issue and understand its full complexity.  Agree with him or disagree, love him or hate him, Moyers offers his viewers real news, something we don’t get from corporate news readers. 

When Bill Moyers left PBS, American lost an important voice.  Now that he is back on TV and the Internet, we have more ways to engage with this interesting thinker. That’s a good thing to do on the Sabbath – Think about how to make life better for others and how to live a better life.

Posted: May 22, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, this blog explores different perspectives on work in “Sabbath.”]

Listening, Talking, and Exploring

We were a Twitter society long before the first tweet was posted.  Newspaper articles and TV news stories have grown shorter, and they are written in language for a lower and lower grade level.  We read headlines instead of stories.  The spin is much easier to understand than a story with multiple levels of meaning.

Thank God (or Al Gore) for the Internet.  It is possible to access great interviews and lectures that entertainment TV will not touch.  Some might ask, “What about PBS?”  The focus of PBS is corporate and mainstream.  To replace Bill Moyers with an insider like Jon Meachem is a big bow to conventional wisdom.  Similarly, Charlie Rose is a great interviewer, but his guests are the same crowd saying the same things.  The one exception on PBS is Tavis Smiley.  Anyone who thinks that Tavis only talks about race would be sadly mistaken.  Sometimes he talks too much about Tavis, but that is a small flaw in an otherwise wonderful exchange of ideas.

We in Chicago were lucky for many years to have had Studs Terkel talking with artists and authors on WFMT.  Some of those interviews are available through the Chicago History Museum.  What I always enjoyed about Studs was the enthusiasm he brought to any topic.  Like a great teacher, he drew his listeners into new ways of thinking, something we have too little of today. 

On the political side, Jon Stewart and Thom Hartmann interview guests in very different ways.  Stewart is first and foremost a comedian.  But, like Shakespeare’s fools, he often makes his strongest critical points through a joke, often a non-verbal gesture.  At the same time, even when he disagrees with a guest, Stewart is very respectful and gives all of his guests time to make their point.  The website often includes longer versions of interviews on the Daily Show.  Thom Hartmann is more cerebral and more set in his politics.  His series Conversations with Great Minds would not win praise from conservatives.  However, it is a great resources for those of us who find Barack Obama and most Democratic leaders too conservative for our tastes.

My favorite website for smart talk is TED, a collection of presentations by leading scholars, scientists, business leaders, and politicians.  I know nothing about cricket, but I once watched a 30 minute lecture on cricket and marketing.  It was fascinating.  Unlike the cooler than cool network newsreaders (What do they anchor?), TED presenters are knowledgeable about their subjects, and they speak with a passion and humor that is totally lacking in the mainstream media.  TED invites its viewers to think, not just pick one side of a simplistic argument.

Great speakers and interviewers transfer their ideas and curiosity to an audience.  They bring a commitment that is often personal.  When people say our education system is failing, they should look at Jon Stewart or TED.  Find a teacher that makes people want to learn.  They’re out there – just a mouse click away.

Posted: May 2, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, Career Calling ponders work and life in “Sabbath.”]

The Work of Living Long – and Well

Bill Moyers wrote an open letter recently to discuss his retirement from the long-running PBS program Bill Moyers Journal.  Moyers is now 76, so his retirement might seem natural.  That assumption would be wrong.  Moyers is leaving his program because “there are some things left to do that the deadlines and demands of a weekly broadcast don’t permit.”  His decision to leave a TV program that has existed (with sabbaticals) since 1971 has nothing to do with taking it easy. 

Moyers gives us another example of a world where people don’t stop living – or working – when they retire.  I belong to a local Kiwanis club in Chicago.  Several of our retired members are active in volunteer activities, often with several groups.  Ed volunteers as a reader at local schools.  Phyllis sings with Sweet Adelines, a group that performs at public events.  Gloria knits and served for several years on the board of a local food pantry.  Life doesn’t end with retirement, and these good people help others while staying vital and active.

The late Studs Terkel embodied a life lived long and well.  He never stopped working.  Terkel loved listening to people and writing their stories.  He even found time to write memoirs of his interesting life.  He’d frequently tell interviewers that he wanted his epitaph to be: “Curiosity did not kill this cat.”  Similarly, the great coach John Wooden has produced several books – in his nineties!  While Wooden’s books touch many bases, his primary concern is leadership, bringing principles that made him a great basketball coach to all aspects of life. 

There was a time when retirement meant golf or shuffleboard.  Longer life spans and better medical care allow many seniors to live active lives into their eighties and nineties.  Moyers captures this spirit when he writes, “‘Time brings everything,” an ancient wise man said.  Including new beginnings.”  A young 76, Moyers is following his heart to pursue new beginnings.  What a lesson for those of us who are younger!  Happy Sabbath.