I wanted to write an old-fashioned letter to both of you. I wanted to put pen to paper so you could each see I have a school- teacher's handwriting. It can be clean, precise, truthful and sometimes even amusing. I am not a threat. There is no anger in me.
I just returned to San Francisco from Minnesota where the "Reform the Media" group met for several days. I found it renewed my hope, but it also worried me. There were too many labels on our lapels. I am not liberal. I am not conservative. I am just me.
I don't know what those labels mean anymore. They seem terribly antiquated during these divisive times.
Consider the young man who spoke at the conference who started a popular hip-hop-on-line newspaper. He did so partly because the "ink gets all over your hands" from newspapers. Anything that is growing is in motion, constantly changing. The feel of the newspaper in the hands of my generation -- so comforting -- was just another mess to clean up for the young hip-hop entrepreneur.
Mr. O'Reilly, I apologize for what happened to your producer at that conference. It was unacceptable. The exchange with Bill Moyers was a flincher for me, but the worst part of the video was the young girl saying disparaging things about you. I hope for all our sakes she was not a journalist.
Bill Moyers taught me that UN-civil - discourse riles people up. Civil discourse educates and enlightens.
Having said that, I know it took balls for Bill O'Reilly's producer to walk into that convention hall among the perceived liberal-biased-self- righteous-wolves and it certainly took cajones to make a bee- line for the man journalists at the conference consider our present day Benjamin Franklin. Bill Moyers is the essence of who we all aspire to be. (without B.F's appetite for excess -- I hope.)
With that said, there is no excuse for degrading others. Our differences keep this engine of democracy oiled. But the discourse has to be respectful. In this country, we can still speak our minds and not go to prison. When we as journalists help citizens see through one another's eyes, we are doing our jobs well. The well-oiled machine begins to move forward. Bill Moyers taught me that too.
Now, stay with me as I present what at first will appear to be a non- sequiter.
In Kenya, an equatorial country, I have witnessed a man standing on the north side of the equatorial line with a plastic worn-out-bowl- in his hand. He drops a needle into the bowl. Gravity at the equator pulls the needle slowly toward the south. When that same man stands just a few feet away on the south side of the equator, the needle is pulled again by gravity and it points north.
On both sides, the needle is pulled toward the world's strongest point of gravity. Movement -- even at zero latitude. Movement at ground zero!
The confrontation between Bill Moyers and Bill O'Reilly's producer had much to with which man would go on the other's show first. Each refused.
So let's stop the acrimony and do it.
Let the American people hear the conversation between these two men. Let's have the discussion, and let's make it fun not hateful. Let's learn. Let's act like free American citizens who don't have to bully each other to get a point across. Let's have civil-discourse with two leaders of two very strongly divided movements in America. The media corporations will love this proposal. But this time, let's use them!
Bargain for some of the proceeds of this televised meeting of the two Bills and get it in writing! Both sides should give the money to a group they believe is advancing democracy.
Here's the proposal:
A conversation with Bill Moyers and Bill O'Reilly.
Here are the rules:
The conversations should be on neutral ground -- (neither man's studio.) This civil discourse may get better ratings than the Super-Bowl!
Both networks should air the conversations simultaneously. Neither Bill gets top billing.
Have two moderators -- both men pick one. I nominate Phil Donohue for Bill Moyers -- he was my Oprah, so I naturally pick him. Bill O'Reilly can pick any moderator he wants. So can Mr. Moyers for that matter.
The moderators ask the questions. The American public is smart enough today to see when a moderator has an agenda to trap and insult and bring the conversation to a close. Stirring the pot will not make either of the Bills more popular: to do so will reveal the true nature of the man. Do his words come from the heart and promote public good, or do they injure and confuse?
Muckraking does not help create informed citizens, conversations do.
These two men represent many people on both sides of America's present day divide. Let's introduce ourselves to one another through them. Perhaps we will find we have more in common than we imagined. Perhaps.
Much like a war, wise-well- chosen- words and empathy can only bring peace. Pride can only bring more ego driven fissures.
Before I left for the media conference, a woman, I consider my friend in the area, told me she "hates Bill Moyers and loves Bill O'Reilly." Remembering how much I like and admire her, I began to wonder how she finds comfort in the words of Mr. O'Reilly, and I felt sick that anyone could say they "hate" Bill Moyers. He is my version of Gandhi. His words move me to be a better neighbor and friend. He has taught me humility. He has shown me the value of an open mind and the value of a determined heart. He is my standard for good journalism.
As Joan Rivers might whisper in our ears, "Can we talk?"
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