American Sociological Association

Bill Moyers - 2015 Reporting on Sociology Award

Bill Moyers, Journalist

Bill Moyers, a leading journalist for more than four decades, has notably expanded the range and reach of public broadcasting. He is the 2015 recipient of the ASA Award for Excellence in the Reporting of Social Issues. 
Bill Moyers was born in 1934 in Hugo, OK, and raised in Marshall, TX. He studied journalism at North Texas State College and then at the University of Texas-Austin where he received his BA, majoring in journalism. He went on to be an ordained minister and received a Master of Divinity at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was also an aide to then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and in 1959 moved to Washington to work for Johnson full time. His served in the Kennedy administration as Deputy Director of the Peace Corps. When Kennedy was assassinated and Vice President Johnson became president, Moyers became his close and trusted aide, serving first as Johnson’s assistant for domestic policy, later as press secretary 1965–67, and in other posts close to the President.
Thereafter, Moyers went into journalism full time—for a few years as publisher of Newsday and then in broadcast television. He went to the fledgling PBS in 1971, moving to CBS News 1976–86, and then returning to PBS but supported by his own independent production company. In a succession of several successful formats on public television, Moyers addressed key issues of concern to sociologists and to the general public, including political scandals, economic inequality, climate change, government secrecy, the corruption of government through corporate influence, and media policy. 
The selection committee noted that Bill Moyers has shown an enduring engagement b providing “conversations on democracy” and exploring contemporary culture, rich in the historical and sociological context that is rare in contemporary media. He brought to television poets, filmmakers, theologians, and others in discussions that he effectively made at once serious and accessible. He has focused on theologians (Karen Armstrong), organizers (Ernesto Cortes), historians (Howard Zinn and Diane Ravitch), provocative political writers (Ta-Nehisi Coates, Naomi Klein), and unconventional politicians (Senator Bernie Sanders). There is no mistaking a strong tilt to the left in his guest list, but this is by no means uniform. He has also interviewed Richard Viguerie and Ron Paul and other leading conservatives in pursuit of making television a public sphere of debate and discussion. 
Clearly, Bill Moyers has followed his own moral vision in his journalism, never promising to be neutral. A great admirer of journalistic muckraking, he identifies it as “the conviction that news is what’s hidden. Everything else is publicity.” Moyers’ TV shows, as Occidental College political scientist Peter Dreier put it in a 2015 tribute, “roared with a combination of outrage and decency, exposing abuse and celebrating the country’s history of activism.”
There has been no one else on television quite like Moyers. With some three dozen Emmy Awards, a lifetime Peabody award, membership in the Television Hall of Fame, and other honors, he has been widely recognized for his achievements. For television viewers, he helped to broaden the very notion of what television is capable of doing. He treated his audience as people who think and people who seek to transcend the everyday. His television journalism has explored more than it has preached, employing the tools of investigative journalism, and endowing television with a legacy of critique, conversation, and civility.