Bill Moyers' Letter of Support

Public Affairs Television, Inc.
Bill Moyers
Judith Davidson Moyers

To the reader:

John Forde has shared with me his proposal for underwriting Mental Engineering on public television. When I read the proposal and talked with John, I volunteered to put in this good word in his behalf.

It’s not just in his behalf, actually. I am thinking of the audience and the country. America, as all of us know, is awash in commercial images that treat us as mere consumers instead of citizens. There’s no escaping them. And that’s not going to change. This is, for better or worse, a business and commercial society; television--for the worse, sadly--has made its peace with the little lies and fantasies that govern the merchandising process. Hoping to eliminate the constant huckstering and pandering that make up this media culture is wishful thinking. Instead we have to educate ourselves and our children about how to cope with the images, how to analyze and decode the commercials that are hurled at us, how morally and intellectually to resist the manipulation.

We have to outsmart them.

That’s what John is attempting to do with Mental Engineering. He would empower us as moral agents to make up our own minds about what we are being told and what we are seeing. I’ve watched several of the programs. They inform and engage; they’re fun to view but not at the expense of learning, and good conversation is indeed both entertaining and educational. John and his guests offer that kind of conversation. They invite us to stop, look and listing--and to think.

I talked with John last summer at the PBS annual convention. We’re kindred spirits. My own work reflects some of the same values. I am deeply disturbed by what the late scholar Cleanth Brooks called “the bastard muses”--propaganda, which pleads, sometimes unscrupulously, for a special cause at the expense of the total truth; sentimentality, which works up emotional responses unwarranted by and in excess of the occasion; and pornography, which focuses on one powerful drive at the expense of the total human personality. The mass media pipe these forces directly into our hearts and minds, through images that shape our individual and collective imagination. We are everywhere bombarded by the pernicious and debilitating effects of nonsense, trivia and violence; by a stream of mass-produced and mass-consumed carnage masquerading as amusement and threatening to erode the psychological and moral boundary between real life and make-believe.

John offers us a sanctuary of resistance. Mental Engineering is not a place to hide but to renew our own resources in the struggle to remain a thinking human being. It has the promise of becoming a very important public television series. I believe that your underwriting of the series would demonstrate public stewardship even as you enable John to expand his work and impact.

If if would help for you or anyone from your staff to talk further with me, I would welcome the call. I believe in John Forde and what he is trying to do.

With best regards,

Bill Moyers