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Bill Moyers Remembers Favorite 'Journal' Interviews

<em>Bill Moyers Journal</em> drew up to 2 million weekly viewers from 2007 to 2010.
Robin Holland
Bill Moyers Journal drew up to 2 million weekly viewers from 2007 to 2010.

In 2007, Bill Moyers returned to PBS to revive his long-running public affairs program, Bill Moyers Journal, which first aired on PBS in the '70s. Moyers' show drew a loyal audience to its coverage of politics, public controversy and the arts before his retirement in 2010.

In a new book, the longtime PBS host and former aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson recaptures the show's memorable interviews, from The Wire's David Simon to conservationist Jane Goodall to Chicago minister Jeremiah Wright.

Moyers launched his program's revival with an interview with Jon Stewart, the Comedy Central host who satirizes the news business to which Moyers is so devoted. It wasn't the most obvious choice, but Moyers tells NPR's Neal Conan that Stewart was his second choice after Mark Twain — and he wasn't available.

"I think Stewart is the closest we've come in a long time to Mark Twain," Moyers says. "Both of them understood a very important point about American politics, which is that the truth goes down easier if it's marinated in humor."

Moyers describes Stewart's interview as an enjoyable mental exercise, but they weren't all that way.

"The worst interview I ever did in my career ... was with Henry Kissinger," Moyers says. "I could not get him to say one thing that was close to candid."

The White House Years

For seven years, Moyers worked under Presidents Kennedy's and Johnson's Democratic administrations. He says some believe his time in government must have led to an inherent bias; but over the course of his 40-year public television career, he says, he realized that what matters is "not how close a journalist gets to power, but how close a journalist gets to the truth."

Despite his early start in politics, Moyers says he wasn't tempted to run for office.

"I was too embedded in journalism," he says.

"I was only by accident — by coincidence — in the White House," says Moyers, who spent two years as Johnson's press secretary, where, he says, "our credibility was so bad we couldn't believe our own leaks."

And after fielding a particularly tough question from a reporter, he says he remembers thinking, "I don't belong on this side of this briefing. I belong on the other side, asking questions."

Then and there, he decided to leave government, a decision that led to a long and distinguished career in journalism.

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