Bill Moyers: PBS's answer to the NFL's Brett Favre?

Media criticism.
April 1 2011 5:41 PM

Bill Moyers, the Brett Favre of PBS

Having already quit the weekly show racket twice because it was "time," he's coming back!

Bill Moyers. Click image to expand.
Bill Moyers

Look who's back! Public television eminence Bill Moyers, who confirms in the New York Times that he has opened talks with PBS to return to the network with a weekly show, tentatively titled Something Different With Bill Moyers. (If I know my Moyers, it's more likely that the show will be more of the same with Bill Moyers.)

When Moyers announced his retirement from his weekly PBS show Bill Moyers Journal in 2009, he told the Times, "I am 75 years old," adding that his program had recently been having a "good run of it," hence, "I feel it's time."

A couple of months later as the show was closing its doors, Moyers reminisced about his TV career with Brad Buchholz of the Austin American-Statesman.

"You can't say retiring at [near to] 76 is premature," he said. "I have known all along you need to know when the time has come to exit. There is a time. There is a season."

This wasn't Moyers' first framing of a departure from one of his PBS shows in biblical language. In late 2004, when he was 70 and leaving his weekly PBSseries Now With Bill Moyers, he told the same American-Statesman reporter, "There's a time for staying and time for going. And this is a time for going."

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What Moyers really wanted to do was write his book about his old boss, Lyndon Baines Johnson. According to USA Today, Moyers hoped to finish a draft of the LBJ book by the end of 2005. (The book's time for arriving still has not come, I'm sad to report.)

Is Moyers the Brett Favre of PBS, announcing retirements that he keeps wiggling out of later? Or does he just keep forgetting his previously stated wisdom? Or, like many of us, does he possess a selective memory?

I'd put my money on selective memory, especially after watching Moyers operate up close. In early 2009, the Washington Postreported on newly released government records that, in the Post's words, described Moyers as "seeking information on the sexual preferences of [Johnson] White House members." Moyers told the Post that his White House memories were unclear after so many years—that he may have been investigating allegations brought to the president by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

I jumped on the Post article to brand Moyers a "homo-hunter" and pointed to another instance in which he assisted the White House in a find-the-gays investigation. The target was Barry Goldwater's staff, just weeks before the 1964 Johnson-Goldwater presidential campaign ended.

Moyers responded in a letter to Slate, one that demonstrates the supreme selectivity of his memory. Having just told the Post that time had blurred his perfect memory of the circumstances surrounding the investigations of suspected White House homosexuals, he now proceeded in the Slate letter to recall the experience of having been an earwitness to the gunshot suicide of Sen. Lester C. Hunt, D-Wyo., in 1954. (Hunt's son had been recently outed.)

There was only one problem with Moyers' recollection. It was a false. There is no evidence of any earwitnesses to the Hunt suicide, least of all Moyers, as I demonstrated in a follow-up piece.

If you're reading this, Bill, I've mostly forgotten our differences, so let me take this opportunity to wish you the best on your new show. May you have a memorable run.

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Thanks to @ClaraJeffery for making the Moyers-Favre connection! Maybe I should buy a copy of former Slate intern Joshua Foer's Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything for Moyers on his next birthday. He'll be 77. Send Moyers birthday-gift suggestions to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. Don't forget to follow my Twitter feed. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

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Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.