Broadcast Journalist, Public Servant, Baptist Minister: b. 1934
- Elected to the Television Hall of Fame in 1995
- Recipient of a Lifetime Emmy Award in 2006
- Other awards include more than 30 Emmys, a lifetime Peabody Award, and a George Polk Career Award
Billy Don Moyers was born in Hugo, Oklahoma on June 5, 1934 to John Moyers and Ruby Johnson Moyers. Shortly after he was born, the family relocated to Texas and settled in the town of Marshall. The Marshall News Messenger gave Moyers his first job in journalism, hiring him to be a cub reporter at 16. Moyers went on to study journalism at North Texas State College,and the University of Texas at Austin where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in 1956. He was also ordained as a minister while an undergraduate and went on to earn a Master of Divinity in 1959 from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary following a year of study at the University of Edinburgh as a Rotary International Fellow. Moyers even served for a time as a Baptist minister in Weir, Texas.
Moyers connection to Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson began during his undergraduate years when he was an intern in Senator Johnson’s office and worked as an assistant news editor for radio and television stations owned by Lady Bird. Moyers deepened his ties to the Johnsons by working as an aide on Johnson’s 1960 presidential campaign and continued on to work for Vice President Johnson. During the John F. Kennedy administration, Moyers was one of the organizers and early staff members of the Peace Corps; he rose to the position of Deputy Director before Johnson became President after Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. During the Johnson administration, Moyers served in various capacities from aide to interim White House chief of staff, but Moyers’ most notable position under Johnson was as White House press secretary from 1965 to 1967.
Moyers left the Johnson administration in 1967 to return to journalism, serving as publisher of the New York newspaper Newsday. Moyers transformed the politically conservative daily into a more liberal publication, highlighting writers such as Saul Bellow and Daniel Patrick Moynihan and engaging in more in-depth and investigative reporting. Under his direction, the paper won two Pulitzer prizes.
Bill Moyers first worked for the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in 1971, when he hosted the news program Bill Moyers Journal. In 1976, Moyers worked as an editor and senior correspondent for the program CBS Reports andas a senior news analyst for the CBS Evening News.
“News,” he said, “is what people want to keep hidden and everything else is publicity.” With that sentiment, it seemed a logical step for Moyers and his wife Judith Davidson Moyers to create an independent production company, Public Affairs Television, in 1986.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Moyers produced a variety of new programs, documentaries and special projects, including The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis and A World of Ideas. In 1995, Moyers was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame and became a senior analyst with NBC News. And with his program Insight, Moyers became the first program host on the cable news channel MSNBC.
In the 21st century, Moyers has continued to provide his audiences with news but believes that, in general, providing news is no longer the primary objective of American media. “I’m going out telling the story that I think is the biggest story or our time: how the right wing media has become a partisan propaganda arm of the Republican National Committee. We have an ideological press that’s interested in the election of Republicans, and a mainstream press that’s interested in the bottom line. Therefore, we don’t have a vigilant, independent press whose interest is the American people.” As Moyers notes, “democracy belongs to those who exercise it,” however, that process is hindered when the electorate is misinformed.
Moyers has hosted a number of shows with PBS, including NOW with Bill Moyers, Moyers on America, Bill Moyers Journal and, most recently, Moyers & Company. Through each of these programs, Moyers has given his audiences intelligent and thoughtful commentary, insightful discussions, and, most importantly, news.
In October 2013, Moyers announced his retirement. To the relief of his audiences, Moyers decided not to follow through with his retirement plans at that time, saying that he “felt like a deserter abandoning his comrades in the heat of battle.” However, in a letter posted to his website on September 29, 2014, Moyers announced that Moyers & Company would come to an end on January 2, 2015.
Moyers’ contributions to the American investigative journalistic tradition put him in the company of the likes of Upton Sinclair and Ida B. Wells-Barnett. But he fears that this independent tradition is in danger of disappearing as American journalism continues becoming less adversarial and more complicit with corporations and government. In a May 2014 interview, Moyers offered the following: “The most important thing the giant philanthropies could do – Gates, Rockefeller, Ford, Open Society Institute and new ones emerging – would be to create a $2-to-$3 billion Trust for Independent Journalism. They wouldn’t miss the money and democracy would still have a fighting chance because of their investment.”