The Times Salutes Bill Moyers, Hard-Left 'Lion of PBS,' Finds Few Critics

The paper's usual labeling imbalance was on display in how it treated left-wing vs right-wing critics of PBS.

Two Times stories related to the (perhaps temporary) retirement of PBS's left-wing sage Bill Moyers both soft-pedaled the host's weekly attacks on business and government issued from his money-lined, taxpayer-funded PBS perch.

Elizabeth Jensen's contribution to the Sunday Arts page asked a question perhaps only the Times' liberal readership is asking: "How, Exactly, Do You Follow Bill Moyers?"

Jensen focused on left-wing complaints about Newsweek editor Jon Meachem, the host of the program replacing Moyers' "Now on PBS," without ever delving into conservative complaints about Moyers and his history of neo-Marxist rhetoric delivered in a jus'-folks Texas accent. Moyers was merely called "the lion of PBS." Not even the "liberal lion."

While Meachem's left-wing critics from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting were merely termed an "advocacy group" by Jensen, she found that Meachem was also a "frequent target of conservatives, who decry what they say are Newsweek's 'liberal' leanings."

Jensen forwarded complaints from unlabeled left-wingers:

"Need to Know," which will tape at a new studio at Lincoln Center, arrives to plenty of apprehension from PBS viewers, thousands of whom, riled up by the advocacy group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, have already protested. Their fear: the new hourlong show will fail to live up to the programs it is replacing: "Bill Moyers Journal" and "Now on PBS," which ran a combined 90 minutes. Mr. Moyers, the lion of PBS, wanted, at 75, to step back from the grind of a weekly show, and was set to sign off on Friday, promising to return with specials. "Now" was cancelled.

In a March 25 online column Michael Getler, the PBS ombudsman, called the new program "a pretty big gamble for PBS" given the "fear, as expressed by many viewers in recent months, that PBS may be pulling in its horns and shying away from controversy." One letter writer said, "I have the distinct impression that PBS is moving towards kinder, gentler documentary programming so as to avoid offending the powerful and upsetting the political right." Another complained of Mr. Meacham's "right-of-center stance on world events," as evidenced in Newsweek, of which he is the editor.

Mr. Meacham, the winner of a 2009 Pulitzer Prize for his biography "American Lion: Andrew Jackson and the White House," dismissed talk of his supposed partisan leanings: "I'm a journalist and a biographer who calls them as I see them." Mr. Meacham, who is a regular on MSNBC - where he mostly stays out of the fray when the partisan shouting gets too intense - is a frequent target of conservatives, who decry what they say are Newsweek's "liberal" leanings.

Media reporter Brian Stelter briefly acknowledged the conservative beef with Moyers, but fell down on the labeling front in his Monday Arts page story.

Mr. Moyers has long been a controversial figure. In a column in the May 10 issue of The Nation, the media columnist Eric Alterman called Mr. Moyers the "last unapologetic liberal anywhere in broadcast television." Conservative critics have long accused Mr. Moyers and his programs of being one-sided.

Again the Times skimped on the "liberal" label. While Stelter couldn't spare a "liberal" or "left-wing" label for the hard-left Nation magazine, he managed to uncover unidentified "conservative critics"of Moyers.

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