After Four Decades In TV News, Bill Moyers Retires As the PBS newsman makes his final appearance on Bill Moyers Journal, which he started hosting in 1971, Fresh Air pays tribute to the television legend by rebroadcasting several conversations with him over the years.
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After Four Decades In TV News, Bill Moyers Retires

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After Four Decades In TV News, Bill Moyers Retires

After Four Decades In TV News, Bill Moyers Retires

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

Tonight, PBS airs the last episode of "The Bill Moyers Journal." Moyers said in a recent blog post he's leaving simply because it's time to go. He's nearly 76, he said, and there are things left to do that deadlines and the demands of a weekly broadcast don't permit.

In the 1960s, Moyers was special assistant, then press secretary to President Lyndon Johnson. Over his long career in broadcasting, he's won more than 30 Emmy Awards, as well as nine Peabodys.

Assessing Moyers' work in the L.A. Times recently, Neal Gabler wrote: There's no shortage of loudmouths on television. There is, however, a very short supply of soft-spoken moralists: exactly one. Moyers can speak truth to power precisely because his motives are unimpeachable, his independence firmly established, his respect for ideas and thought amply demonstrated.

Today, we'll hear from several FRESH AIR appearances by Bill Moyers, beginning with Terry's 2004 interview, when Moyers announced he was stepping down as host of "NOW with Bill Moyers." He'd just written a book collecting his speeches and commentaries called "Moyers on America: A Journalist and His Times."


Critics of public television say that it is part of the, quote, "elite liberal media," and I'm wondering what you hear when you hear the words elite and liberal paired with media.

Mr. BILL MOYERS (Journalist): Well, first I want to know who's saying it and why they're saying it. Is Rush Limbaugh saying that? Is an adversary of public broadcasting, someone who wants to bring public broadcasting down? I don't get that from the taxi drivers who brought me here today and said with relish in his voice that his children watch public television, he watches public television. He had NPR on.

I don't consider myself an elitist. I'm from Marshall, Texas. My father had a fourth-grade education. My mother, an eighth-grade education. I've been fortunate through the years to gain a position in life from which to see a lot of things that I then feel obliged to report to my viewers. And the fact of the matter is I think the greatest travesty happening in America right now is the hollowing-out of the middle class and the exploitation of the working class. And I think it's easy for the opponents, the class warriors at the top, to dismiss that kind of reporting and that kind of journalism by calling it elite, popular opinion. I think that's bull, frankly.

GROSS: Well, what about the word liberal, you know, elite liberal media? And that's what a lot of conservative critics say about public broadcasting. I mean, you give your opinions on your show. I mean, you are a liberal. So is that - do you see that as a problem, calling public media liberal?

Mr. MOYERS: Well, I think that one of - I think the right has been allowed to steal values and read their meaning into values. I think they have tainted words by besmirching them. I mean, most people in polls say they want the same kinds of things I want for our country. Does that make them liberal?

I think that the most effective defamation that has occurred in America over the last 50 years has been the right wing's ability to make people wince when they hear the word liberal - but liberal, if it means Social Security, I'm for it. If it means public education, I'm for it. If it means protecting the environment, I'm for it.

If that makes me liberal, it makes me liberal. But I still think of liberals as being open to the conversation of democracy and trying to be inclusive in our embrace of America. And I think we've got to take that word back and not run from it just because Rush Limbaugh and Hannity and Colmes and Bill O'Reilly and others cast aspersions on it.

GROSS: You were at the meeting in 1964 that led to the creation of public broadcasting. You write about this a little bit in your new book, "Moyers on America." And this is in 1964 at the Office of Education to discuss the potential of educational TV, which became public broadcasting in 1967 after the passage of the Public Broadcasting Act.

What do you remember of the mission as it was discussed in the proto-public-broadcasting era back in 1964?

Mr. MOYERS: The Carnegie Commission put together a recommendation for what became the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, and it - we attended a meeting at the office of the education - the commissioner of education, to talk about it and to see what we could do about it.

The mission of public broadcasting was to create an alternative channel that would be free not only of commercials, but free of commercial values, a broadcasting system that would serve the life of the mind, that would encourage the imagination, that would sponsor the performing arts, documentaries, travel. It was to be an alternative to the commercial broadcasting at that time.

Now, we only had three commercial networks at that time: ABC, CBS and NBC. But they had made their peace with the little fantasies and lies of merchandizing, and the Carnegie Commission and subsequently Lyndon Johnson, who signed that act, and members of Congress believed that there should be an independent, alternative network that served what the market would not serve. That was essentially its purpose.

There are things in this country that the market will not provide: public education, public art, public schools, public broadcasting, public toilets. I mean, there are things that are not profitable, but that still serve a value.

And I think the most important thing that we can do is to continue to treat Americans as citizens, not just consumers. If you look out and see an audience of consumers, you want to sell them something. If you look out and see an audience of citizens, you want to share something with them, and there is a difference.

GROSS: You allude to this in a couple of your speeches. You served as President Johnson's press secretary for two years, and you write in one of your speeches you knew you wouldn't stay long, you couldn't stay long, because you can't serve two masters. What were the two masters you were thinking of?

Mr. MOYERS: The press and the president. I mean, my first two years in the White House, I was working on legislation and policy - the Civil Rights of '64, the Voting Rights Act of '65, the Civil Rights Act of '66. And I loved that.

President Johnson went through one press secretary and then another, and then he asked me to become his press secretary. I said I didn't want to do it. He asked me a second time a few days later. I said again I didn't want to do it. Two weeks later, he called me in and said he wanted me to do it. I tried to say no, but I couldn't, and my arm is still hurting, quite frankly, from trying to get out of that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOYERS: But I flew home that afternoon to Dallas, where my wife was visiting her parents, and that evening, I remember saying to her, as we retired for the night, well, this is the beginning of the end because no man can serve two masters.

I wanted to report to the press what the president was doing within the limits that I could, and I wanted to interpret the press to the president. I really felt my job was to be an honest broker, and yet that proved to be impossible to do. You have to take your side in that job. You can't be both things to both parties.

And, you know, a president cannot allow the press to hustle his priorities. At the same time, the press is there as a proxy for the public.

GROSS: Now, you served as press secretary to the president during the escalation of the war in Vietnam. What were some of the things that you and President Johnson most did not want the press to find out about?

Mr. MOYERS: Well, the president didn't want to disclose what might be the full cost of the war.

GROSS: You mean financial cost?

Mr. MOYERS: Yeah, the financial cost. Because he feared that if - he didn't think this would last very long, by the way. He thought that if he escalated the troops and made a real show of force, that Ho Chi Minh would back down, the leader of North Vietnam.

I remember when the president gave a speech at Johns Hopkins University and proposed a vast Mekong Delta system for North Vietnam, if, in fact, it would come to the peace table, he said to some of us at the White House later that night, you know, George Meany wouldn't turn that down - that is, the president offered a bargaining chip, and George Meany, the head of the AFL-CIO, would accept that.

He thought Ho Chi Minh would accept it. He did not understand, we did not understand the depths of Ho Chi Minh's commitment to the unification of Vietnam. But the president thought this would be over before too long and that he didn't want to put a price tag on it, because if he anticipated it going a long time, the conservatives would use that to cut back the spending on the domestic programming that was so important to him. He also didn't want people to know when and where he was going to be making his moves, either militarily or diplomatically. That's understandable.

It's why presidents shouldn't go to war unless it's a war of necessity, not a war of choice, because you can't fight a war in a democratic way without undermining the success of the war. And if you don't fight it in a democratic way, you undermine democracy itself.

So, I mean, George W. Bush has made the same tragic miscalculation that Lyndon Johnson made in Vietnam. Iraq is not Vietnam. Iraq is a desert country. Vietnam was a jungle. Iraq is an urban society. Vietnam was not. But the rhetoric is the same. The optimism is the same. The belief that we can, with military force, achieve democratic ends is the same as it was in Vietnam. And that's why if you start a war on tragic - on flawed premises, you're going to have terrible things happen, and ultimately, you're going to come to grief.

DAVIES: Bill Moyers, speaking with Terry Gross in 2004, about six months before the reelection of George W. Bush. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: After four decades in broadcasting, Bill Moyers is retiring from weekly television. During the Johnson administration, Moyers worked on domestic policy and legislation for LBJ, then served as his press secretary. We're listening back to several conversations with Terry Gross. This one was recorded in 2004.

GROSS: When you were press secretary during this period of the escalating war in Vietnam and President Johnson did not want the press and the public to know what the full financial cost of the war was going to be, how did you try to prevent it from getting out?

Mr. MOYERS: Well, I - when I became press secretary, my father, who had a fourth-grade education, a very honorable and humble man, sent me a telegram in which he said: Tell the truth if you can. But if you can't tell the truth, don't tell a lie. And I tried never to tell a lie. I would more often than not say, you know, I can't answer that right now. I'll get back to you on that when I can. My job was to try to be responsive enough to satisfy the appetite to know, but not so responsive as to give away the whole thing.

GROSS: You write about the Bush administration: Never has there been an administration so disciplined in secrecy, so precisely in lockstep in keeping information from the people at large and from their representatives in Congress. Do you say that with some admiration, since...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOYERS: Some jealousy.

GROSS: You're saying this as a former press secretary.

Mr. MOYERS: Some jealousy. You know, two things inform my mature life when it comes to the passion I feel about journalism and openness. One was growing up a Southerner. I grew up in the deep South that had suffered, as had the nation, from 250 years of denial about slavery. The South drove the free-thinking preachers from the pulpit, the free-thinking editors from the newsrooms and the free-thinking teachers from the classrooms. We paid, the nation paid, a terrible, bloody price in a Civil War.

Then the South went into denial again, the nation went into denial again about the fact that what happened at Appomattox, which ended the war, had not been realized in peace. It took us another 100 years to fulfill the victory at Appomattox and to make those blood - that blood not shed in vain. Because we're in denial and not being truthful about slavery has marred this country's entire history.

Then I did serve in the Johnson administration. I was in my late 20s. I had more energy than wisdom. And we drew the wagons around us. We didn't listen with enough openness to people who were defying official reality. We believed our intelligence. We believed our optimistic assessments.

I believe Lyndon Johnson really believed that he could accomplish his goals there if he - if we had enough time and enough luck. But we paid a terrible price, and the country paid a terrible price because we were wrong.

And that's why I really - I saw a play, maybe you saw it a few years ago, Tom Stoppard's play "Night and Day," in which a news photographer in there says - a news photographer character in Tom Stoppard's play says: People do terrible things to each other, but it's worse in places where they're kept in the dark.

I really do think that we need more openness, not more secrecy. This administration is incredibly successful at managing the flow of news, up until the point at which the facts on the ground, the prisons, Fallujah, the casualties mounting, become impossible to ignore.

Right down the line, most of what's happening in government, Terry, we don't know about. The Freedom of Information Act, which Lyndon Johnson signed. He didn't want to sign it. We had to drag him kicking and screaming to that signature, but once he signed it, he claimed it.

This administration's been so effective at frustrating the efforts of journalists, historians, scholars and ordinary people to get at the Freedom of Information Act. We are living in a closed society today.

GROSS: Let me quote something else from one of the speeches in your new book "Moyers on Moyers," and again, this is referring back to the period when you were press secretary for President Johnson. You write: Iraq is not Vietnam, but war is war. Like the White House today, we didn't talk very much about what the war would cost.

In the beginning, we weren't sure, and we didn't really want to know too soon, anyway. We were afraid of what telling Congress and the public the true cost of the war would do to the rest of the budget, the money for education, poverty, medicine. In time, however, we had to figure it out and come clean.

When and how did you come clean?

Mr. MOYERS: It was in the budget, I believe it was the budget process of 1967, when it became impossible to continue to spend on Vietnam and spend for the domestic priorities that were important to the president. And Kermit Gordon, the head of the Budget Bureau at that time, said you're going to have to pay for this one way or the other, either through deficit spending or through taxes.

And that was when it hit the wall. That was when the president realized he could no longer hold out trying to put a price tag on the war. Even then, he tried to - I left soon after that. I remember going over to the Defense Department, crossing the Potomac, going to see Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. And I said Mr. President, my responsibility is the domestic side of this, and look, here are what the costs are going to be. Your responsibility is the Pentagon, the Defense Department. Here are the costs you've sent over. They don't add up. They add up to far more expenditures than we have revenues coming in. We need to ask for a tax increase.

And Mr. McNamara, the secretary of defense, said we can't do that, Bill. He said if we go up to the Congress and ask for a tax increase to pay for the war in Vietnam and to pay for domestic spending, then the conservatives in Congress will cut off the spending for poverty, spending for education, the spending for Head Start.

And if we aren't careful, then the liberals will vote against what we need in Vietnam. So he and the president worked out a budgeting system that continued to defer for a while the real cost. But in time, the deficit rose, inflation spiraled out of control and the country was feeling the pain of that financial straightjacket. And that was when reality set in, and you couldn't hope or hide it any longer.

GROSS: I want to ask you one more question about President Johnson. Johnson decided not to run again, I think because he felt so defeated by the antiwar movement and maybe over his head in Vietnam. Did he talk to you about that decision?

Mr. MOYERS: No. I had been gone well over a year by then. I left in January of 1967. He made that decision and announced it in March of 1968. I remember my wife and I were watching the speech, and I did not know, up until the last minute, what it was about. And I did not know.

I thought Lyndon Johnson would never voluntarily give up power, but I do know that he would talk often, even when I was there - soon after the election of 1964, he would talk about the fact that he didn't think he'd live out his time. His father died an early death, and he thought that he was risking his heart and risking his health by being in the office.

At the same time, he loved power. He'd sought power. He'd been denied power when he lost to Kennedy in 1960. And I just - he just relished power - until, as I say, it became clear to him that the use of power in Vietnam was not going to achieve his purpose, and it was going to come at a - it was coming at a cost that he found unbearable.

And I believe that he left because of that. I believe he left because he wasn't sure that he knew how to get us out of Vietnam and that he hoped maybe somebody else would. But I was not there at that time, so I do not know what went into his personal thinking.

GROSS: You mentioned that Johnson loved power. Do you think of yourself as loving power, and do you think of yourself as having spoken with or reported on many people or worked with many people who do love power?

Mr. MOYERS: I don't love power. I don't dislike it, but I've never really had power. I had reflected power, reflected authority. I love government, and I love making things happen. The three best years of my life was when I helped organize the Peace Corps with Sargent Shriver. I loved the first two years of the Johnson White House when we were passing the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of '66 and all of those. I liked that.

I really believe, as I said, I'm a liberal. I believe in public action for the public good, and I like that. But to have power for power's sake never has appealed to me. That's why I think I've never wanted to go into - I mean, I've thought about politics. Other people have suggested elected office.

But I was offered the chief of staff job in the Carter years, 1978, the mid-part of his years. Bill Clinton offered me the - asked me to come and be his chief of staff. I turned that down. Jimmy Carter asked me to become the first secretary of education. I turned that down. I turned those down because having left government, I found in journalism the satisfaction of a work that I didn't want to leave.

I really love journalism. Politics and government were a diversion for me, an unexpected, unintended consequence of circumstances and convergences in my life. But as soon as I could, I left and went back to journalism, and I've been doing it ever since 1967, and I can't imagine having lived another life.

DAVIES: Bill Moyers, speaking with Terry Gross in 2004. We'll hear from two other Moyers interviews in the second half of the show. The last episode of his series, "Bill Moyers Journal," airs tonight on PBS.

I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross.

Tonight PBS airs the last episode of the "Bill Moyers Journal." We're listening to excerpts of several of Moyers' appearances on FRESH AIR. In 1996, Terry spoke to Moyers after he'd completed his PBS series and companion book "Genesis: A Living Conversation," which featured writers, theologians and artists discussing the book of Genesis. The series was inspired by a Bible seminar in New York at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Terry asked Moyers about some remarks from Rabbi Burton Visotsky.

GROSS: You describe something that Rabbi Visotsky said, you say he explains to newcomers that the communal study of the Bible can continue to provide us with a means for clarifying our ideas about the world around us and for linking them historically to a longstanding tradition. I like that way of putting it. Add to that for me. Tell me why you think it's important to talk about biblical interpretation on television.

Mr. MOYERS: Well, so much of the talk about religion over the last 20 years has been dominated by a politicized and polemical form of discussion. Sometimes I've thought that religion has just been reduced to another interest group, like the National Rifle Association or the National Association of Manufacturers or the AARP. And sometimes that talk has also reduced Moses and Jesus to lobbyists with Guccis on prowling the corridors of Congress advocating a tax break.

Well, I know there's a lot of religious discussion going on in this country that has nothing to do with politics. In fact, religion has been giving God a bad name and I just thought it would be a good idea if I could recreate on television what I heard there in Burt Visotsky's seminar room.

GROSS: Do things in your life ever send you to the Bible?

Mr. MOYERS: I never go to the Bible for proof text. What we used to say and in seminary was the proof of the issue, that if you were having an argument with somebody you just open the Bible and say here, see it says this. I told you so. I never use it that way. I was fortunate to grow up in a Baptist Church that was emphasized thinking for yourself. What we call the priesthood of the believer, that you had to read the Bible and wrestle with its meanings and then bringing to bear the best teaching and the best scholarship to decide for yourself what it means.

So I've never been to the Bible as a life raft, as a lifejacket, as a pill to pop when I'm feeling down or when I'm uncertain. It's the fact that it's so woven into my whole life and that I read these stories as mirrors in a way. The people in "Genesis" rage at one another. They rage at God. They struggle with temptation. They're jealous, they're grief-stricken, they're patient, they're conniving, they are loving, they're hateful. These stories speak to us today because they're so starkly human.

GROSS: You preached for a few years, I think, before entering politics and entering journalism.

Mr. MOYERS: I wouldn't call it that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOYERS: I wouldn't call it that.

GROSS: You wouldn't call it a few years, or you wouldn't call it preaching? Which?

Mr. MOYERS: I wouldn't call it preaching. Oh I was pretty - I think one of the reasons I didn't pursue that is that I just - it never came out quite right. I never felt comfortable doing it. I actually intended to teach, Terry. I wanted to - I had signed up when I finished seminary to do my PhD at the university in American civilization and I wanted to look at religion as a phenomenon in American life. That's what I intended to do. But in seminary, yes, I went out to small churches on Sundays and inflicted my amateurish wisdom on very patient and loving congregations of mostly farmers and their spouses.

GROSS: Well, I'm wondering if anybody ever came up to you and asked you for advice about what the Bible had to say about their predicament.

Mr. MOYERS: Well, I had a very scary experience that was a turning point also in my life. I was pastoring at a student ministry. I'd go out with my wife and I would go out on weekends, and I was in this small church. There were two sisters there, two spinster sisters. They must've been in their late 60s. And they lived with their brother on a farm not far from this church. And they were there every - this was only every other week I would go out. They were there. And one Sunday they asked if they could see me after church. I must've been 20.

Yeah, I was not quite 21. I was a - my second half of my sophomore year at the university. And they said to me that - they admitted to me - they confessed to me that, in the Protestant church, but this was a confession, that they'd been having incestuous relations with their brother and they needed help. They were deeply guilt-stricken. They were deeply disturbed by this and they needed help. And what did I have to tell them? Well, I remember mumbling and fumbling something and saying, you know, let me think about it and I'll cone back to see you.

I went immediately to that afternoon - the next afternoon when I went back home, I went to a marvelous man who was a great a generous soul, minister, broad in his faith and learned in his wisdom and talked to him. He said Moyers, you've got no business trying to bring the Bible to bear on them. Thank God you didn't do that. I want you to go out to the university and see, and he gave me the name of a leading psychiatrist, a psychologist who taught at the university school of - department of psychology.

I went out to see him and this man said well, I'll be glad to try to help them. It's a very serious issue. You tell them to call me and try to get them to come see me. Bring them if they'll come with you. So the next time I went out I went by to see them and talked to them and I could tell that if the Bible couldn't help them, if I couldn't help them, then they didn't think psychology and psychiatry could help them. Now, this was back in the '50s when that generation of folk didn't have much use for the new psychological insights of the secular world. And they never followed through.

And that was a - I realized at that moment that I wasn't equipped to help those people who hungered for some answer that I couldn't give them, for some help that I couldn't give them. So that was an occasion in which it wasn't easy to open the Bible and find something that would give them encouragement.

DAVIES: Bill Moyers and Terry Gross recorded in 1996. They spoke again in 2007 when Moyers had returned to television to host, "Bill Moyers Journal," and had completed the documentary "Buying the War," on the role of the press and the lead-up to the Iraq War.

GROSS: Now a lot of your documentary "Buying the War" focuses on the Washington press corps and how you think they bought the war. And "Buying the War" is the title of the documentary. And, you know, an example that you give is, and this is a kind of process example. You talk about the day that Judith Miller and Michael Gordon had a front page story in The New York Times saying that Saddam Hussein was on this worldwide search for materials to build a nuclear weapon and that they'd gotten their hands on aluminum tubes which could be used to build a nuclear weapon. And that same morning, as The New York Times story appeared on the front page, what happened?

Mr. MOYERS: Vice President Cheney went on "Meet the Press," and when pressed by Tim Russert about the story on the front page of The New York Times, Cheney, who had not - who had refused to talk about issues of national security -intelligence like this said well, you know, we have it confirmed by the story in The New York Times this morning. Now that story was a leak from the administration. So you had in essence, the leaker being asked by a mainstream journalist to confirm his own leak.

It wasn't identified as Cheney's leak although, I have no doubt that it came from Cheney's office, and we learned a lot in the Libby trial about that sort of thing. So it was a sort of, you know, it's a cliche to say it now but it was a perfect storm or a perfect triangle. The government leaks an intelligence report. It's a wrong intelligence - it's a false intelligence report but they leak it. The New York Times prints it and the talk shows on Sunday confirm it by actually having the leakers on to say well, The New York Times says it, it must be so.

Some people in my broadcast say this was the consummate moment when it was clear to them that there was a collusion or at least an embrace of the administration and the mainstream media, particularly the Sunday - the broadcast networks on going to war.

GROSS: Why do you think that the Washington press corps bought the information?

Mr. MOYERS: First let me say there were exceptions, and our documentary reports on what the then Knight Ridder bureau, led by John Walcott, a trusty veteran of many years of covering Washington and two of his star reporters, Struble and Landay. I mean they were on this story from the very beginning. This story that the intelligence was being cooked, that there were real questions about whether or not Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam Hussein did not have any ties to 9/11 through al-Qaida. They were on to the story. But because they don't have an outlet in Washington or an outlet in New York where the news capitals of America, they were ignored by the mainstream press.

But back to your question as to why it happened. Well, first of all, there was the emotional response to 9/11 in which many journalists like Dan Rather on "The David Letterman Show" were deeply affected by the sneak attacks that cost so many thousands of American lives. And they're judgment of - their skepticism was suspended in that time of trauma.

It's also the sin of being inside. The sin of in, I call it. I mean we learned in the Vietnam War that - early in the Vietnam War that if the president said there was a threat then the reporters and the editors tended to believe there was a threat, that they didn't ask for the actual evidence. It was the reporting of David Halberstam and Morley Safer and Peter Arnett out in Vietnam that very quickly in Vietnam undermined the official view of reality by reporting facts on the ground. We didn't have that kind of reporting in the buildup to the Iraqi War. There were fewer American reporters there. They couldn't get to the stories that would counter the official view of reality that was being passed out gratis in Washington.

Then you also have, Terry, this powerful ideological partisan press - talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, the bloggers by this time - whose mission is to advance the political aims of the Republican Party. This press is part of a political movement so that anyone who reports information, news that seems to contradict their principal political leaders, they come down hard on them.

So you had the willingness of the mainstream press to go along with the administration because they see themselves as the extension of authority and power and they're in the game, and you have this relentless beating up of any dissident mainstream journalist who deviate from the official view of reality by a political press whose main interest is in advancing the administration's arguments and case.

GROSS: Because your new documentary examines the coverage of TV and newspapers in the lead-up to the war, I'm wondering if you think that there's a kind of false way of measuring fairness that might sound like fairness but you think maybe isn't really as accurate as it seems or, you know, in terms of actually measuring fairness.

Mr. MOYERS: Splitting the difference between two opinions does not get you to the truth. It gets you to another opinion. I believe that we journalists are obligated to get people as close as possible to the verifiable truth no matter what...

GROSS: Well, you're talking about having like the guy from the left and the guy from the right and just saying well, the truth is somewhere in between.

Mr. MOYERS: Yeah. The Republican senator or the Democratic senator saying okay you decide what the truth is. I believe we journalists are obligated to get people close to the verifiable truth and that what I - the conclusions I reach, the analysis I make are substantiated by the evidence I've collected. That's what I mean by credibility and that's what I mean by judgment. We make a judgment based upon the information. Our judgment has to be compared to the credibility of the information.

Let me just say one thing about "Buying the War." People say to me, people have asked me why is it important. It happened four years ago. Well, this war is still going on. If your fire department in your neighborhood is in collusion with the arsonist you want to know about it to avoid the fire next time. If the dog doesn't bark, you want to know if the dog is licking the boots of the burglar.

DAVIES: Bill Moyers speaking with Terry Gross recorded in 2007. The last episode of "Bill Moyers Journal" airs on PBS tonight. You can find several complete interviews with Bill Moyers, including the full conversation he had with Terry Gross about death and dying on our website,

Coming up, David Bianculli on a new CD/DVD of 1960s musical satirist Tom Lehrer.

This is FRESH AIR.

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