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Bill Moyers’ faulty Journal

What does it mean to operate “in the public interest”?

I don’t think Bill Moyers knows.

I have the greatest respect for Moyers and I’m a fan of his work. His program, Bill Moyers Journal, is an example of advocacy journalism, where facts are collected which support a point of view – usually a point of view which is outside the general media conversation.

There is nothing wrong with this, of course. Plenty of journalism falls into this category, and listeners and viewers tend to like it this way, whether they acknowledge it or not.

But this past weekend Moyers ran a story about media consolidation as the FCC ponders changing the rules yet again and allowing more concentration of media ownership. Now I’m not so sure more consolidation is a good idea, really. But that’s beside the point.

Because I think Moyers veered from advocacy into propaganda.

And here’s why:

His point was essentially that in a more consolidated world there will be even less room for small media operators and local, independent voices. His poster child was a small Chicago station providing Talk programming targeted to an African American audience.

Now I’m glad that this station, and many like it, exist. And they do so in spite of commercial temptations which would otherwise lead them to other, more profitable formats. They do so because it’s their mission and their passion to do so.

Moyers’ point seems to be that the opposite of more consolidation is the existence of more stations like this one in Chicago.

This is absolutely false and Mr. Moyers should know it.

The opposite of more consolidation is, in fact, more ownership by smaller owners who have exactly the same profit motivation as the larger owners. More of the same, in other words. With a different company name on the letterhead.

Now I know what you’re thinking: Radio companies don’t own the airwaves, we Americans do. And those stations are licensed to serve “in the public interest.” But what could be more in the public interest than content which is interesting to the public? And in Chicago there are 32 examples of this ranked higher than the poster child Moyers chose.

Moyers’ argument that halting consolidation will enable more examples like the one he illustrated is quaint, naive, misleading, and wrong.

And he’s a good enough journalist to know it.

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