Must See TV: Bill Moyers is Back

A great new television series began this weekend. And it won’t just be of interest to those of us already following the broader story behind the damage done by the most anti-environmental Congress in history. Moyers & Company probes a range of the deeper issues about democracy in America by presenting riveting interviews with fascinating thinkers not usually seen on television.

It’s very good news that Bill Moyers has come out of retirement to explore the connection between money in politics (and Big Oil money is central), our failing democracy, and the rise of plutocracy in America. His one-line summary of the series, which he picked up from a tee shirt a protester was wearing at an Occupy rally: “The system is not broken; it is fixed.”

If you want to cut to the chase instead of reading my commentary and watching some short introductory clips, the first episode is the first video posted below. It provides an overture of many themes to be taken up in future shows by interviewing Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, authors of Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class.  This is one of the more important books about American democracy in recent years. Instead of offering mere partisan polemics, it is a trenchant, impeccably researched and beautifully written analysis of how “America’s vast inequality is no accident, but in fact has been politically engineered.”

OK, an old guy talking to college professors from Yale and Berkeley may not sound like fast paced entertainment, but remember, Moyers is the guy who brought us Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, one of the most popular shows ever broadcast on public television. Millions of people loved what Moyers recently described as a show whose plot-line was “Two guys in ties discussing mythology.” Here is the entire first show of the new series:

Moyers & Comapany 101: On Winner Take All Politics

Finding the show on television may be a little more difficult than it should be because, as reported by NPR last week, Moyers & Company is “not televised in a nationally standardized PBS time slot — in fact, it’s not even televised by PBS. Instead, it’s distributed by American Public Television and offered to local PBS member stations on an individual basis. And even though PBS doesn’t seem to put a high value on the return of Bill Moyers, the local stations do. Moyers & Company is being shown in 93 percent of all TV markets, including 27 out of the Top 30 — a very impressive number.”  You can find out when it airs in your neighborhood by entering your zip code into the PBS station finder widget. Or download the audio podcast here. (My own workaround: I was surprised at the high quality when I streamed the HD vimeos posted here from my ipad and iphone to the big screen in my den via AirPlay with AppleTV.)


The series begins precisely where his last series, Bill Moyers’ Journal, ended. In his editorial sign-off in 2010, Moyers warns of the dangers of money in politics, wealth inequality, and the rise of plutocracy in America. As Joe Romm noted when he posted this clip back in November, Moyers delivered these remarks long before the Occupy Movement began.


And Moyers is still funny and quick on his feet. Have a look at this exchange with Stephen Colbert last week.


Also in conjunction with the beginning of the new series, Arianna Huffington sat down with Moyers for an interview (the audience consists of Huffington Post editors). It’s a great conversation about politics and spiritualty in which Arianna and Bill bring out the best in each other. See it here.


I also like this interview he conducted with Jon Stewart in 2007 on Bill Moyers’ Journal about “fake news:”


Back to the specifically environmental side of things and Moyers’ ability to probe deeply and widely into pressing issues.  In talking with students and my own college-age children recently, I was aghast at how many of them did not know Bill Moyers’ work. A few of them to whom I showed some of these clips did recognize him from something he produced with Public Affairs Television in 1991 that I still use in environmental philosophy classes for high school and college students.  A gathering he and Laurence Rockefeller organized at Middlebury College (where Rockefeller taught religious studies) was made into an excellent documentary, Spirit and Nature. Among those featured in the discussion: The Dalai Lama; Native American Elder Audrey Shenandoah; Islamic Studies professor Sevyed Hossein Nasr; Protestant theologian Sallie McFague; Rabbi Ishmar Schorsch. And the music provided by the Paul Winter Consort is a nice touch.

Although it is not Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, many young people find Spirit and Nature engaging and thought-provoking 20 years later, as do some atheist philosophy professors.  (Watch a clip of the Dalai Lama here.) It’s too early to tell where the new series, Moyers & Company, will go during the next year or two, but it’s off to an excellent start.


About Scott Brophy
Scott Brophy is a philosophy professor whose work is focused on the intersection of philosophy and public policy, especially on environmental issues, law, and education. He has also taught philosophy of science, logic, and the history of philosophy. He has served as a consultant for educational programs and schools throughout the U.S. and abroad, and as an adviser to several philanthropic foundations.

2 Responses to Must See TV: Bill Moyers is Back

  1. Pingback: Must See TV: Bill Moyers is Back

  2. Joanne A. Schneider says:

    Steven C. Rockefeller, professor emeritus of religion at Middlebury College and Laurence Rockefeller’s nephew, arranged for the Dalai Lama’s visit to Middlebury in 1990. Actually, the invitation to the Dalai Lama was issued immediately following his first visit to Middlebury in 1984 for an interfaith symposium called The Christ and the Bodhisattva arranged by Donald S. Lopez, who was also a professor of religion, and Steven Rockefeller. As a librarian at Middlebury from 1980-2002, I helped out in various small ways for both symposia.

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