Day Two of the National Conference for Media Reform opened with a slam/dunk speech by Bill Moyers that reminded conference goers what, exactly, is at stake for our democracy. If the fourth estate does not remain diligent in our mandate, which is written into the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, we run the risk of becoming an impotent “fifth column.” Imagine a great experiment in democracy that becomes yesterday’s news.
Moyers came out of the gate swinging while the FOX News cameras were whirring in the mezzanine. Moyers warned that media consolidation is a “corrosive social force,” and that “refusal to speak the truth is the reason our country is being plundered.” Moyers cited the manipulation of public opinion that let to the disaster in Iraq “with thousands of American lives lost, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens lost,” and trillions of dollars squandered that could have been allocated to repairing the crumbling infrastructure of the United States. With pieces of the Interstate 35 Bridge still lying in the Mississippi River bed a few miles away, that statement was not lost on the Minnesota alternative media advocates in the audience.
Moyers hit all of the high points of media reform, but his best moment came when he read a Native American proverb to the audience. To paraphrase, a young warrior asked the old chief what made him the man that he was. The chief replied that his personality was formed by a continual internal battle between two wolves. One wolf was evil and epitomized greed, pride, revenge, ego, and selfishness. The other wolf was good and exhibited characteristics of empathy, truth, hope and love.
“Which wolf won?” the young warrior asked.
Moyers let that sink in for a millisecond and then boomed, “Media is the fodder.”
Moyers somewhat sheepishly inserted a plea for support for Public Broadcasting, saying that he, like all journalists was human—a “fallen creature.” PBS has done both good and poor reporting, he said, admitting that the programming is often bland and "safe." But, there is something wrong when PBS receives only a “whisper” of the public funding available to public media.
By 2011, market analysts predict that advertising dollars spent on the Internet will surpass all that is being spent in traditional media now. This is not news to many, but Moyers asked the audience to reflect upon what our society will look like when “branded content” takes over and there is no longer a distinction between advertising and content. MYSPACE could very well become ALLSPACE if Moyers is correct, and he most always is.
Former FBI whistleblower, Coleen Rowley, was overhead after the speech. “Moyers is one of the great orators of our time. He writes what he reads and he nailed it.”
Day one was just plain old depressing, with a couple of exceptions.
Let’s begin with the good stuff.