After being blasted by PBS ombudsman Michael Getler for failing to provide an opposing view in his calls to oust Bush, Bill Moyers countered the attack with:
July 24, 2007
Dear Mr. Getler:
I respect your work and your role, but I disagree with you about “balance.” The journalist’s job is not to achieve some mythical state of equilibrium between two opposing opinions out of some misshapen respect — sometimes, alas, reverence — for the prevailing consensus among the powers-that-be. The journalist’s job is to seek out and offer the public the best thinking on an issue, event, or story. That’s what I did regarding the argument for impeachment.
Official Washington may not want to hear the best arguments for impeachment — or any at all — but a lot of America does. More than four out of ten people indicated in that recent national poll that they favor impeaching President Bush and more than five out of ten, Vice President Cheney. They’re talking impeachment out there and that dynamic in public opinion is news. There’s a movement for impeachment, not one against impeachment, and to fail to explore the arguments driving that movement would be as foolish as when Washington journalists in the months before the invasion of Iraq dared not talk about “occupation” because official sources only wanted to talk about “liberation.” Letting the official consensus govern the conversation is also to let it decide the subject.
So to hear the best arguments driving public sentiment, I invited on my broadcast a conservative scholar who reveres the Constitution, Bruce Fein, and a liberal political journalist, John Nichols, who has written a fine book on the historical roots of impeachment. That two men of different philosophies come to the same conclusion on this issue is in itself newsworthy, and they made a valuable contribution to the public dialogue, as confirmed by the roughly 20:1 positive response to the broadcast. Of course I could have aired a Beltway-like “debate” between a Democrat and a Republican, or a conservative and a liberal, but that’s usually conventional wisdom and standard practice, and public broadcasting was meant to be an alternative, not an echo. If a debate about impeachment becomes the story, I’ll come back with different guests to explore it. Right now it’s the argument for impeachment that is shaping public opinion, and that’s why I chose to interview two informed thinkers who have arrived at the same destination from very different directions.
A personal note: Pinned to the bulletin board on the wall behind my computer — I am looking at it now — is the column you wrote in January calling on public broadcasting to “be more…aggressive,” including on the issue of, yes, impeachment. I took encouragement from that column over these months as I tracked grassroots activity and the growing public conversation on the subject across the country. I was cheered by your assertion in the same column that “‘on-the-one-hand/on-the-other hand’ type of journalism that is much more common can be less than enlightening at times such as these…” In thinking that you imagined public broadcasting as a service, not a sedative, I trust I wasn’t misreading your New Year’s resolution.
By the way, we did not remove any controversial postings from our Web site, as indicated in your critique. We welcome all points of view and responses to our programs on our blog.