MediaWatch: January 1988

Vol. Two No. 1

Janet Cooke Award: Bill Moyers and His PBS Series

Bill Moyers, now with PBS, is at it again. And his new three part series, "God and Politics" has earned him the January "Janet Cooke Award." In the series, Moyers took a look at the growing fundamentalist movement. In Part One, "The Kingdom Divided," which aired December 9, Moyers offered both a confusing and slanted picture of the union of political and religious action in Nicaragua. Seeming to offer a balanced look at the fundamentalist and liberation theology movements, Moyers blatantly mis-represented Sandinista commitment to religious freedom.

In a Good Morning America interview, Moyers claimed: "We really can't judge the Sandinista revolution by the Marxist revolution in Russia or any other communist movement. This is a movement that is fueled with Christian passion and Christian commitment." Not once in the PBS show did Moyers speak with a member of the Catholic Church hierarchy in Nicaragua, nor did he ever mention the grievous actions of the totalitarian government against religious freedom: imprisonment of priests opposed to the government, and the censorship of all Catholic radio stations and newspapers.

Pablo Antonio Vega, an exiled Roman Catholic bishop from Nicaragua, described any Sandinista religion campaign as "deceptive," explaining to MediaWatch: "The communists simply want to profit from the religiosity of the people, and submit the people to their regime." Contacted by MediaWatch, the Producer/ Director of the program, Elena Mannes, refused to comment on specifics, declaring: "I really don't want to comment on particular issues and I've said before the broadcast speaks for itself."

The second show, "Battle for the Bible," centered on Moyers' one-sided look at the recent conservative genesis of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest U.S. Protestant denomination. Dismissing any idea that the Baptists may have wanted a conservative leadership, he concluded: "By 1987, the fundamentalists controlled the denomination's superstructure. Their biblical agenda and the social agenda of the New Right had become indistinguishable." Moyers went to great lengths to attack SBC resolutions on abortion and school prayer, as well as to condemn ties to conservative politics. Of Judge Paul Pressler, a SBC leader, Moyers asked: "But aren't you a member of the Council for National Policy?...Shouldn't people out there know about your political connections?" Moyers' conclusion clearly showed his disdain: "[the SBC can now] enroll God in partisan politics and make one party the sole party of truth....Of all people, Baptists must know that making biblical doctrine the test of political opinion is democratic heresy."

Interestingly, Moyers failed to mention that one of his chief sources on the show, liberal minister James Dunn, is a former director of People for the American Way, a liberal lobby. What about liberal religious groups and their involvement? He had plenty of criticism for the SBC's endorsement of Robert Bork for the Supreme Court, but had nothing to say about liberal church groups like the National Council of Churches and the Progressive Baptist Association, both of which opposed Bork. When asked about this obvious double standard, Executive Producer Joan Konner avoided MediaWatch's questions, claiming: "We at some point would love the opportunity to examine all these issues further....That doesn't mean we are actively seeking to do the other side of the story."

Pressler called Moyers' presentation a "very inaccurate, narrow, and limited viewpoint of what is going on in the SBC." But indeed, all this comes as little surprise. As a CBS analyst during the 1984 GOP Convention Moyers spent most of his time disparaging conservatives, referring to them as "the fringe exotic radicals" with an "authoritarian" goal. Incredibly, the December 7 USA Today quotes CBS News President Howard Stringer as yearning for Moyers to return since he's such "a great resource to have in an election year." That reveals a lot about CBS News concern for accuracy and fairness.