He’s coming back, and viewers will be the richer for it.
Self-proclaimed “citizen journalist” Bill Moyers, who tore himself away from the TV grind a little more than two years ago with the explanation “maybe finally I’ve broken the habit,” is returning to weekly television.
“Bill Moyers Journal” premieres Friday at 9 p.m. EDT with the first of a scheduled 99 hours airing through February 2009, by which time Moyers will be within sight of his 75th birthday.
So what? He’s long since journeyed past retirement age with no sign of slowing down.
Though aswirl in “round-the-clock scripting, narrating and editing sessions against implacable deadlines” (as Moyers outlined it in a hasty e-mail), he stole a few moments to text some musings on what lies ahead.
Fourth anniversary of ‘Mission Accomplished’
To describe the overarching mission of “Bill Moyers Journal,” he paraphrased Benjamin Harris, editor of America’s first newspaper in the 1690s: “To give an account of such considerable things as have come to my attention.”
On Friday’s edition, his attention will be focused on such things as the Justice Department’s questionable firing of eight federal prosecutors — and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ role in what could be political skulduggery.
The program will also mark the fourth anniversary of “Mission Accomplished” — President Bush’s landing on the banner-sporting aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and his pronouncement that “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended” — with help from investigative reporter Carlo Bonini, author of “Collusion: International Espionage and the War on Terror.”
“Week in and week out, it’s Moyers & Friends on politics, culture, religion, books, media and money,” he says.
Such a robust recipe is no surprise. This veteran journalist has always been at home with subjects ranging from the power of myth to drug addiction and the environment, from modern dance to government corruption. His humanist advocacy has been honored with more than 30 Emmys and 10 Peabody awards.
Marketing the war
But even before “Bill Moyers Journal” claims its Friday slot, it will present a special examination of how the Bush administration marketed the war to the American people — and how the media, with few exceptions, played along.
“Buying the War,” which airs Wednesday at 9 p.m., asks: How did the evidence disputing the existence of weapons of mass destruction and the link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 go largely unreported?
The 90-minute film includes interviews with Dan Rather, formerly of CBS News; Tim Russert of NBC’s “Meet the Press”; Bob Simon of CBS’ “60 Minutes”; Walter Isaacson, former president of CNN; John Walcott, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel of Knight Ridder newspapers; and Associated Press reporter Charles Hanley.
“Four years after shock and awe, the press has yet to come to terms with its role in enabling the Bush administration to go to war on false pretenses,” says Moyers in the documentary.
‘$1 trillion and counting’
And he concludes: “The American number of troops killed in Iraq now exceeds the number of victims on 9/11. We have been fighting there longer than it took us to defeat the Nazis in World War II. The costs of the war are reckoned at $1 trillion and counting.”
“Buying the War” follows a trio of documentaries titled “Moyers on America” on PBS last fall, and, before that, “Bill Moyers on Faith & Reason,” seven hour-long programs examining belief and disbelief he hosted last summer.
In short, it hasn’t been much of a break, despite Moyers’ intentions voiced in December 2004 that he was signing off for good.
That was when he left “Now,” a weekly magazine show he had created, produced and anchored (and which continues on PBS with host David Brancaccio).
He then plunged into writing a memoir about his years with President Lyndon Johnson, whom he served as special assistant and press secretary.
Moyers a Baptist minister to boot
Moyers also was deputy director of the Peace Corps, publisher of the Long Island newspaper Newsday, and, apart from his lengthy affiliation with public television, had a stint in TV news as senior analyst for CBS. The Texas native’s resume also includes a divinity degree (he’s an ordained Baptist minister).
In short, he’s not easily pigeonholed, however persistently a certain swath of right-wing critics have tried.
Moyers has never denied being a liberal, but, in his decades of interviews, he has provided a forum for people of all stripes. Many of them were individuals — both prominent and unknown — who TV otherwise overlooked.
“We threw the conversation of democracy open to all comers,” he said when he left “Now.”
Since then, work on his Johnson book has progressed, but “the temptations of the world proved too enticing,” Moyers concedes. “I realized that the present is far more interesting to me than the past, and I decided that with the election coming on, I should have one Last hurrah.”
Under the aegis of Public Affairs Television (the production company he founded two decades ago with his wife, Judith Davidson Moyers), he raised the money he needed, and with no financial support sought from PBS. (The new series “truly is independent journalism,” says Moyers.)
Then he dusted off the name of the very first series he did for public television back in 1971, which “seemed fitting for this last round.”
Last round? Don’t count on it. Indispensable television? That’s a safe bet.