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'The Challenge of Journalism… Is to Survive in the Pressure Cooker of Plutocracy'


'The Challenge of Journalism… Is to Survive in the Pressure Cooker of Plutocracy'

Bill Moyers

The following remarks were made by Bill Moyers at the presentation of the Helen Bernstein Book Awards for Excellence in Journalism. The ceremony took place at the New York Public Library on May 26, 2015.

Thank you for allowing me to share this evening with you. I’m delighted to meet these exceptional journalists whose achievements you honor with the Helen Bernstein Book Award.


Wonderful article. Bill Moyers is as articulate and mentally agile now as he was decades ago.

To the handful of posters who always blame journalists for not reporting TRUE news, I hope they take the myriad messages of this article to heart. It explains the calculus that is underway.


The marriage of journalism with PR starts with the fact that many journalism schools dovetail their programs with the PR programs, usually under the umbrella of “Mass Communications.” Funding and corporate visibility play a part in how students are subsumed to the corporations if hired after graduating. Internships and donations to schools are provided by corporations. Those who get jobs with them after graduating aren’t going to rock the boat and be out of a job. They don’t want to lose exposure, risk blacklisting, or have their BMW repo’ed.
Many of those drawn to this business carry the same personality traits as wannabe actors, musicians and other celebrities. They are the embodiment of the “look at me” Facebook culture - they’re not there because they have altruism and the public’s best interest at heart.
Funding independent media is crucial - not just the mainstreamers who manage to get past the gatekeepers. Firstlook/The Intercept is one which has a major player, Pierre Omidyar (e-Bay founder) backing it as publisher.
But to be hired by even the most independent outlets one needs to carry a certain level of prestige to their name. It is a vocation dominated by elitists. It’s a cutthroat industry - the environment in newsrooms is like a shark pit.
The internet has made it possible for anyone with a blog to call oneself a journalist or reporter. The competition was fierce enough before people had to gauge the importance of their work by number of views, likes, and try to channel traffic toward their blog or website.
Websites for established newspapers are sadly lacking in content - at times their articles are hard to distinguish between links to articles that take readers offsite. Info-tainment has made a mockery out of the journalism business. Free advertising for McDonald’s or the latest i-Phone, presented as news is another example of this devolution.
Now that the platforms for disseminating news are manifold, I think that investigative reporting will trend more toward renegade organizations such as WikiLeaks, as well as individuals producing their own blogs, and networking them. WL, The Intercept and the Guardian have done a great job in getting the word out to a broad audience. It’s just a matter of finding the avenue for exposure so the article or exposé will reach the relevance of “news”.


The capture of the news delivery systems by the prestitutes is a VERY dire situation. It is,a key strategy for dictators, along with surveillance. And we have all of this in the United States. First you need to know how the Russians in the USSR got their news. They knew anything in Pravda (the official newspaper—the name means ‘truth’) was a lie. They had to read between the lines to figure out some idea of what was going on. Same thing here. If you read it in the newspaper or see in on the TV, or worse yet hear it from a politician, it is a lie. You know how to tell if a politician is lying don’t you? His or her lips are moving.

You have to go on line and read lots of the sites that post the opinions of many people. This way you will get a lot of information and hopefully, can come to some idea of what is going on. Best thing you need to know now is that Russia did not invade Ukraine. The war mongers in our nation are all hot to trot into world war III. We, the people have to join together to stop this—and stop TPP too.

After you find out what is going on—that is not all. You have to get active and try to get some democracy in our nation. The plutocracy only wants more money for themselves. We the people want a peaceful life where all of us share in the wealth of our nation.


I’ve given up on trying to educate my fellow Amerikans. They’re just too willfully ignorant and arrogant to waste my breath on anymore. The best thing that can happen to the planet is the collapse of the ignorant, arrogant empire before it takes the rest of the world with it.


Why can’t we have a war on climate change instead of any other nation. Our meteorological weather at least should improve slowly if we spend $200billion/year on beefing up and hardening against electro-magnetic pulse our electric grid AND replacing fossil fuel with renewable energy. AND our military industrial complex firms can make most of that equipment for us instead of more weapons than our military can use.


Last week I wrote the following letter to my local paper. I sent the info contained therein to another local paper that originally reported the story, and have seen nothing from them concerning that info. I realized that the only way other local readers might hear of this was to write a letter myself - the local media will not touch this hot potato.

If - and this is a very long shot - this lone letter ignites some sort of “established” journalistic scrutiny then I may be in for a very stormy ride. Everyone from the ALEC funded tea-party US Reps of the local districts to the construction trade unions will come after me and anyone who raises these questions, with a pitchfork. But what I reported were facts, easily and quickly obtainable via the internet. I made no accusations, and If Marubeni follows its historically established business model we will only learn of wrongdoing after the fact, when or if, they might be prosecuted. Yesterday the editor confirmed my authorship and the letter will be published this coming Sunday:

"To the Editor:

Several weeks ago all the local media reported the news that several major investors had selected Shadyside as the site of a multi-billion dollar ethane cracking plant. Those investors were PTT of Thailand and Marubeni Corporation of Tokyo. Since these local reports did not offer any profiles of these investors I decided to do a simple on-line search.

PTT is two-thirds owned by the Thai government, is very diversified with several branches in energy industries, and has had its share of environmental troubles. However, they are quite tame compared to Marubeni Corporation.

Since the mid-‘70’s Marubeni has been convicted in one bribery scheme after another, beginning with the “All Nippon Airlines” scandal in Japan that saw the disgracing, imprisonment, and several suicides of prominent Japanese. Prime Minister Tanaka was even arrested. About that same time Marubeni was convicted in a bribery-labor scheme of the Ferdinand Marcos regime. Researching further I found that again in 2012 and 2014 Marubeni was convicted by the Corrupt Foreign Business Activities arm of the US Justice Department in separate but similar bribery schemes, involving coincidentally, energy and petro-chemical developments similar to the Shadyside proposal.

Just yesterday, looking further I found that Marubeni is in a dispute with China involving tax evasion and there are other scattered ongoing actions against Marubeni alleging or proving tax evasion on a global scale.

It took only minutes online to learn these things. Are all of our local media so uncurious that they didn’t take the simple step I took to find this out? Or is it that they are in lock-step with the mentality of “go along to get along” and they are not going to inform the unsuspecting local communities that we are welcoming with open arms a global mega-corporation with a duly convicted history of bribery and corruption?

This lack of curiosity and obedient subservience to “don’t rock the boat” is exactly the failure of duty on display by the media when the US illegally invaded Iraq. There were many sources of truth that proved the lies of the Bush Administration and who accurately predicted the disaster in the Middle East that we are now witnessing. The obedient fourth estate ignored those telling the truth and instead actively propagated the lies.

Searching further, business periodical reporting shows that PTT and Marubeni and many other Asian investors view the current effects of the collapse of oil prices as a lucrative opportunity. The shale-gas industry’s profitability was marginal even before the collapse of oil prices and some investors are looking to bail out right now. Predatory investors with cash reserves that enable them to wait out the current low can acquire controlling interests at bargain prices.

Maybe these global mega-corporations will come to our community and will be models of labor fairness, environmental responsibility, and community responsibility and safety. And maybe I will sprout a tree in the middle of my forehead that will immediately begin to dispense $100 bills.



Was Mr. Moyers paid to research and produce this piece? Or did he do it to express his views and build his reputation… “Papers” are living off this. There is a model that works but not many have figured it out.


As an older person, I’ve watched the stunning changes in our media since the 1980s. We watched as the leading mainstream news media were overhauled, rooting out anyone and anything critical of the right wing agenda. But to me, it has been more alarming to see the steady takeover of formerly-liberal media since the Clinton administration. Of course media have a profound influence on public opinion, and we watched as liberal media successfully pulled much of this generation to the right, to the benefit of the “corporate state.”

What are the liberal media saying today? Their message is that our corporate state has reached such a level of perfection that every American is able to work, and there are jobs for all, therefore no need for poverty relief. Those who are of loyal service to the corporate state (employers) become the middle class, who are now elevated almost to god-like status. What could be more honorable than being a “hard-working American,” in service to the corporate state? Sometimes we will hear about the “hardships of the middle class.” Seriously? If you’re still in the middle class, you’re doing great! You have adequate food and shelter, and so much more.

In the real world, not everyone can work (health, etc.), and there aren’t jobs for all who urgently need one. The last I heard, there are 7 jobs for every 10 people who need one immediately. What happens to the 3 who are left out? To liberals, they simply become non-people. Lib media view those in poverty as inconsequential. Their target audience is, after all, middle class consumers and campaign donors.

We will maintain our pep rally for the middle class, and not look at the trail of destruction behind us.We will not question the consequences of the policies we chose. We will believe that our hyper-capitalist state is a shining success. All we have to do is not look at the results.


All media are dependent on advertisers, so it is a priority to avoid reporting anything that would upset those advertisers. This fact determines what news we hear, and what news we don’t hear. Media are for-profit business entities.


You make some very interesting (important) points. If you want a job in media, you must produce what the owners want, and ignore those issues that the owners don’t want mentioned. Adolph Hitler actually wrote about the need to control mass media, to shape public opinion, ensuring public compliance with the agenda of those in power. The US, since the 1980s, is a profoundly depressing example of the power of media to “shape” public opinion.


I have tremendous respect for Bill Moyers, though there are issues that (I don’t think) he would dare to closely examine. The fact is, Moyers must focus on appealing to his target audience (mainly, the middle class), and this influences what he says, and doesn’t say.


What exactly is journalism now in the United States? If you can answer that you win the prize. In high school in 1975 while on the student newspaper we laughed hysterically when someone brought a copy of People magazine in the room. Some of us were headed for studying journalism in college. How could we have known something like Fox News would cover the land-what is it? Do you really want to know?