BILL MOYERS: Welcome. Imagine if you turned on your TV set someday soon and were greeted by this:

SESAME STREET CHARACTER #1: HI! Welcome to Sesame Street!


BILL MOYERS: But first, this message…

CAMPAIGN AD #1: This time Romney’s firing his mud at Rick Santorum…

CAMPAIGN AD #2: Starring Barack Obama as President Flexible…

BILL MOYERS: Sesame Street—brought to you by the letter C, for creeping campaign cash corruption. Okay, perhaps we’re exaggerating a bit, but as the late William F. Buckley, Jr., used to say, the point survives the exaggeration. Because a startling decision from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down the federal ban against political and issue advertising on public TV and radio. This means potentially, that super PACs, special interests, and the rich who want to influence elections could buy ad time on your favorite public television or radio station.

The Public Broadcasting Act was signed into law in 1967. It uses the term “noncommercial” 16 times to describe what public television and radio should be. It specifically says, and I quote, “No noncommercial educational broadcasting station may support or oppose any candidate for political office.” We’ve taken that seriously all these years, and most of us who've labored in this vineyard still think public broadcasting should be a refuge from the braying distortions and outright lies that characterize politics today.

In its majority decision, the circuit court did uphold the rule that forbids public stations from carrying ads for commercial products and services, but it said it seemed logical to the judges that the decision on political advertisers wouldn’t cause stations to dilute their noncommercial programming. Logical? Sorry, your honors: this is the same so-called logic that led the U.S. Supreme Court to issue its notorious Citizens United decision, that’s the one that opened all spigots to flood the political landscape with cash and the airwaves with trash. “To be truthful” one former PBS board member said, "it scares me to death.” Us, too.

With our stations always in a financial pickle, frantically hanging on by their fingertips, it won’t be easy to turn down those quick bucks from super PACs and others. But if I may, hang in there my brothers and sisters in the local trenches: if ever there was a time for solidarity and spunk, this is it. Stations KPBS in San Diego and KSFR, public radio in Santa Fe, have already said they won’t take these ads. If enough of you say no, this invasion might be repelled. And viewers, our stations need to know you’re behind them.

This message was paid for by our uncoordinated Super PAC: Americans at the Crossroads for Wall Street Prosperity and Restoring the Future on Our Terms Only Who are People Like You.

I’m Bill Moyers and I both approve and disapprove this message.

Bill Moyers Essay: Keep Political Ads Off Public TV

Can you imagine Super Grover from Sesame Street followed by a super PAC ad from K Street? Neither can Bill Moyers. In this essay, Moyers talks about the recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to allow political and issue advertising on public TV and radio channels. “Just say no,” Moyers urges station managers across the country — but they need your help.

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  • Deweydoit

    At a time even before Citizens United, when the House, Senate, state legislatures, local governments and commercial TV have been sold to the highest bidder, now they are lookin’ to destroy the last non-partisan beacon of light, our PBS. 

    I fear that all vestiges of our democracy will soon be devoured by the insatiable appetite of the plutocrats.  If we loose it all, the struggle to re-establish democracy will be as difficult as ’twas in 1776.

  • Deweydoit

    At a time even before Citizens United, when the House, Senate, state
    legislatures, local governments and commercial TV News have been sold to the
    highest bidder, now they are lookin’ to destroy the last non-partisan
    beacon of light, our PBS. 

    I fear that all vestiges of our democracy will soon be devoured by the insatiable appetite of the plutocrats.  If we loose it all, the struggle to re-establish democracy will be as difficult as ’twas in 1776.

  • Nancy Lizza

    No, I cannot imagine political advertising on PBS.
    I cannot imagine any advertising and would do whatever is necessary to make sure it doesn’t happen.

    At the end of your every show, Mr. Moyers, I tell myself how proud I am to be an American. 

  • Jbsbuck

    You do a good job of brainwashing your groupies Bill..

  • Mark Jeffries

    Why is it “brainwashing,” wingnut teabagger moron?

  • moderator


    We love and encourage conversation and debate, however personal attacks will not be tolerated. If your comments consistently or intentionally make this community a less civil and enjoyable place to be, you and your comments will be excluded from it.


  • carol

    It’s a slippery slope. Slowly and surely, public television is becoming commercial. From merely naming underwriters (sponsors),PBS has progressed to actual commercials before and after programs. Next will be commercial interruptions. I’ve been a contributor for many years, but if PBS stoops to political advertising, there will soon be nothing that distinguishes the PBS mandate from that of the commercials networks. What a shame.

  • Woland

    Given the fact that PBS is not funded like the BBC and that, as has happened with the CBC, funding has and continues to decline for public television and radio for political reasons (good old Helms going after PBS because of Tales of the City is just one example) I have no problems with commercials on PBS as long as their is a firewall between those paying for commercial time and PBS content. It is certainly one way that PBS can get monies in ever more anti-intellectual ever more dixiefornicated America. LBJ did give us an America that is increasingly dixiefying

  • Diane

    One of the wonderful things about public television is the goal that its programming be presented in a balanced way, while exposing sides of issues ordinarily hidden or glossed over by network news and commentary. Allowing political and issue advertising is, for that reason, contrary to its mission.  Political advertising is not balanced, by its nature. 
    Many of the public television programs that cover political news include clips of political ads as part of a greater,more balanced story.
    To the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals  re: allowing political ads on public television I have three things to say:  No.  No. No .

  • GradyLeeHoward

    To what uncivil content do you refer, “Sean…and-not-heard”? (And I say that  affectionately .) These comments (up through Diane@ 
     8:56 Sunday morning) are some of the most genteel dittos I’ve ever read. Your note startles me because since no offense is in evidence it seems like an intimidation. Memory hole phenomenon may be to blame. When something is censored with no footprint people might think a low vision dog is barking at the Moon.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Every other institution is debased by sacred property rights and profit mania so why not public TV and radio?
    Maybe by deceiving ourselves that these outlets could remain quarantined we accepted a dehumanizing commercial onslaught for too long. Medical care and schooling have both now been very nearly destroyed by the bottom line, as has convivial community activity largely. Government is now an appendage to crony corporatism and trade agreements among the Oligarchy. 

    What we are losing with pollution of these last bastions of civil discourse is a placebo and a wailing wall. These institutions, despite sentimental testimony otherwise, have always been controlled by rather passive and content administrators intimidated under reactionary review.

    If the 9th Circuit ruling on political ads teaches us anything it  is that the Public (The People) as an institution must establish and support non-quasi-governmental outlets for reliable information and reasoned discussion if we have any prospect of achieving democracy and a just and fair society. (It is possible-let me mention that colorful alternative Pacifica Radio and its offshoot Democracy Now, as well as Brian Lamb’s paradoxical miracle C-Span, as nascent models.) My tastes may not be typical but I find NHK-Japan, Al Jazeera, BBC (among others) not only supplementary, but often superior to  NPR and PBS, which  are going downhill under right wing funding. A mind confined exclusively to a diet of US pubic media would most likely become contradictory, confused, pious and intellectually satiated on empty calories; while being starved of urgent issues and looming conflicts. Programs as excellent as Frontline take on a scandalous tabloid quality in such a disconnected universe of topics.
    In the real world everything is connected, but not so in the media universe. No wonder so many are fatalistic and complacent.

  • Phread

    I didn’t know about this perverse ruling, that sets apart politics from other business. It’s the third nail in the Supreme Court’s legitimacy, along with Bush vs. Gore and Citizens United, as far as I’m concerned. Something stinks.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Lack of imagination will provide no refuge from commercial onslaught now that the law is turned counter to public interest. Noam Chomsky made a good observation about the purposes of privatizing Social Security which applies here. He explained that even after the boon of turning retirement accounts over to private financiers the public’s interest would have to remain intensely focused on the success of stock markets. No surprise that, because banksters will have captured nearly everyone’s  only nestegg. In cheering on and promoting commercial interests to the detriment of wages, benefits and working conditions, lemming like consumers would undercut the very source of their own investment. Opportunity and equitability would wither and penny ante speculation take their place. 

    Bob Dylan summarized this life dilemma by singing, “You gotta serve somebody!” If we are captive to the Apps on our handheld devices, to  a cable or satellite bill for mostly rubbish, to the first-run dopey digitization of Redbox or Netflix, and so on, then we serve such commercial products to the exclusion of the possibility of a healthy cultural and political discourse. Threatening to cut off a $120 a year check will only make public media more beholden to corporate predators. Complaining of content as an individual has no real impact. Occupy has demonstrated that a show of massive peaceful force and the expression of a collective appetite for something better are our only viable option.
    Nancy Lizza is made proud of a defunct past if persons like her are not ready to do extraordinary things and make small sacrifices. Freedom is an equilibrium like a balloon, and it takes everyone’s “helium” to keep it flying. This is the People’s bandwidth, and the People’s airwaves tossed in the Oligarch’s poker pot. Makes you hate gambling, doesn’t it?

  • GradyLeeHoward

    mebbe so if we remain couch potatoes

  • Vickie

    Public television is the only thing we watch – partly because it is the only thing our antennae pulls in. But, beyond that it is the only television that engages us. When we do watch a network or cable station we feel assaulted by commercials, it is a bit like going into a smoked-filled room – if you have been away from smoke for some time,  just the slightest hint of it is

    nauseating. Keep the smoke out. 

  • moderator

    Hi Grady,

    You are right that it looks a little abrupt,but there were two comments that were deleted before I posted, so I just wanted to restate our hope for a more civil tone.

    thanks for the heads up,

  • Bob Feeser

     I have been auto-recording “Washington Week” with Gwen Iffel for quite some time because of it’s unbiased and calm approach to the issues of the day. However recently I have seen a shift, and the last show I watched was a perfect example of when the Lord said, “Beware of the leaven of the pharisees”. I was so appalled at the anti-Obama under writings that I deleted the show from my auto-record list. I don’t care to watch it any more. I view the “Brought to you by” list of corporate sponsors and see the connection.

  • Anonymous

    to sum it up, short and sweet, PBS viewers should not be subjected to political ads!

  • Mary D

    Why shoul we waste valuable time watching jaded and untrue comments on people who are running for office. Americans have to stop being lazy and do their own research on politicians.

  • Claire Mc

    I agree – NO ads on PBS. We contribute financially to, amongst other reasons, avoid them

  • GradyLeeHoward

    TR usually leaves an artifact of the objectionable post to make events plain. (She has a knack.)I thank all moderators who take time to salvage good posts that  might contain technicalities beyond agreed limits. Thanks “Sean- and not heard” (and I call you that with great affection) for being diligent and attentive. Moderation is a demanding task- like the efforts of Judge Azdak in the Brecht play “Caucasian Chalk Circle.” Wisdom comes with experience but didactic methods can be counterproductive.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    I watch WW to admire Gwen’s wardrobe.
    She has phenomenal personal style in fashion, not so much as a moderator.
    She is better as a correspondent. I see what  Bob sees, I think. Diane Rehm in radio (WAMU) has also suffered a curtailment in subject matter and ideological range under a strengthened commercial regime. This is an industry wide phenomenon  in  public media. I’m sorry Bob had to delete, but  I can understand. Sometimes one buys rancid food that appears fresh and then is forced to throw it out.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Please recommend some methods you use to find out more about particular contenders for office. Please share the most esoteric and resourceful ones you can think of. In this way the vetting process can be intensified. Thank you.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    It is the nature of capitalism as a religion that commoners cannot buy dispensation, while royalty cannot stoop to self-examination.

  • Brucem Johnson

    I agree.  We must keep money out of Public Telivison and Politics.

  • Paula Schramm

    My methods of finding out about particular contenders is to read & research particular issues I care deeply about. Then I see how a particular candidate stands on that issue, what they have said about it, how they have voted on it, or what legislation they have pushed on it. After a while you get to know the person, and choices get easier. There are many good news sites, magazines, blogs etc. but my standbys are “Democracy Now” with Amy Goodman, Thom Hartmann radio & TVshow, and to see what all the “mainstream media” is up to, I watch Jon Stewart on the “Daily Show”, and Stephen Colbert on the “Colbert Report”, the only 2 shows I have to tolerate ads for, and why I can’t stand watching that mainstream media.

    Moyers & Company is a great way to help your thinking  about issues. If Public TV started running political ads I probably wouldn’t watch it anymore, ( except for Moyers !). 

  • fedupwithpoliticians

    Please keep the political ads off of PBS.

  • Edwards

    How do I send my plea to PBS to say NO.

  • Scott

    I don’t want political and issue advertising on Public Television or Public Radio!

  • michele

    Please, no political advertising on Public Television or Public radio.  

  • Sheldon Hoffenberg

    There are more than enough outlets for political commercials.  Mr. Moyers rightly notes that public TV is to be different.  I just hope the 5 pro-biz, pro-Republican Supreme Court justices don’t get to repeat their anti-concumer Citizens United travesty of a vote. 

  • Barbara

    I, also, do not want political advertising on Public Television or Public Radio.  The American public (myself included) need the facts, the truth not distortions, exagerations, misrepresentation or sensationalism. 

  • Raf

    It would be certain death for public broadcasting if political commercials funded by PAC money were allowed. The definition of “public” in public broadcasting will be negated. Station managers risk loosing vast numbers of supporters. What does CPB say about this?

  • She

    Seeing these commercials on regular TV is bad enough but to see them on Public Television – horrible.

  • Kimberly

    I am completely against political ads on PBS. However, if for some reason PBS is forced to take said ads, PBS should run a prime-time show exposing the lies contained in the ads, as a form of “fair and balanced.”

  • Stephen

    PBS should not accept political ads on public television.

  • Nancy

    It saddens me that judges could interpret political commercials as anything other than commercials.  Public television is a national treasure we need to fight to preserve – as is – commercial free.   

  • Robert Losey

    I think doing polictical ads on PBS could be a good thing with strict guidelines.  Limit airdates to no sooner than two months before election and no later than two weeks before election. Candidates must pay 10% to 25% of commercial rates.  Only allow for Federal races, President, Senate and House local races in local markets only.  Canidates only must be in video and/or only speaker in audio tracks. Limit 2 hours air time per
    candidate per election per station.
    What Do You Think?

  • Regina

    I am against any political ads on PBS.  I am certain that the right is working as hard as they can to destroy PBS which has always been a treasure for moderate/liberal people.  I think the right is using their money and influence to try to change and control PBS and this is just taking it up another notch.  The right is threatened by the educational and informative processes of PBS.  I have witnessed this change on several programs and I wonder who I can ask if it is true that PBS is being bought right under our noses.  When I heard you Bill Moyers say the information about the court decision, it really justified my suspicions.  Where do I find a list of who is donating to PBS? We all need to worry about this treasure being destroyed because it is so important!

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Watching Frontline (seemingly one of the last incisive and untainted shows in American media) last night (April 24th) all I saw was a bunch of outtakes from confusing experts and stock footage of financial celebrities parading around. The nuggets were when the origins of fictive derivatives and counterveiling CDOs were pinpointed in a retreat of young Morgan Chase analysts in the 1990s, and also when it was candidly admitted that unregulated instruments are tantamount to unsecured wagers (except for the fact that banking assets are fungible and that liability winds up shifted to the US Treasury and FED, and thus to US as taxpayers). Hearing two of the originating analysts comment on the instability their inventions created was the only new information for me. I spent more than an hour starting at 11pm clarifying to my wife what we had been told by Frontline. We found ourselves referring back to Moyers Journal after midnight and arguing over fine points.

    My wife commented that most people still probably did not understand how the government had been extorted and blackmailed by financial players.  I responded that banking CEOs themselves claimed limited comprehension at Congressional hearings. She finally concluded without pressuring that a a large conspiracy  is indicated.

    My complaint is that Martin Smith’s team at Frontline are far too deferential to the false grandeur of the financial establishment. Most of the trappings in their documentary followed the format used in glorifying British royalty. They were a hair’s breadth from describing the China and proveniencing the paintings. (See the part about the FED edifice to which banking royalty was summoned.) No show, and no Internet site I know of, offers a schematic of this financial coup bolstered by the raw facts with enough history to put  it all in context, and most importantly,  none shows the chain of liability and causation linking these events to the typical American household. 

    I really wonder if a show like M&C could construct such a teaching tool without awe of great money sums and the people who manipulate them. I really wonder if they would be punished for sharing the raw facts without the intimidations and  trappings of power. After four years of paring down the bloviation I think I get it, and I am confident most  people could understand the bare facts if they wanted to know. Media’s task has been to convince the public that they can’t comprehend, are not worthy to discover, and would be overwhelmed by the horrors of the truth. And that pertains to almost all the major issues, and to even determining what are the major issues. 

    *Someone is going to ask why I wrote all this here.
    My purpose is to explain that a public media unable to fulfill it’s informational and educational role may not be worth saving. What is the point of sacrificing all your soldiers trying to retrieve a dirty and tattered flag?  Why sacrifice your last efforts for a fetish? Build something real and new instead, and this time protect it from collusion and awe.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    And the French won’t be around to help us this time.

  • joe


  • joe

    not only political ads. I for one do not want to see any corporate ads,like Mcdonalds. Try to get through to someone and voice your concern. I will just stop supporting pbs till they change their stance.

  • Curtis Whitton

    Public Tv already has been invaded by the Energy sector when they inform us of their having 300 or 400 years of ample supply.

    I would like to see  some real debate and not  set up a news segment where the interviewer questions one partisan view followed by another partisan’s response and with a final response from the first partisan VIEWPOINT or brand marketing pitch.

    We are now a senior with health issues who has underfunded their retirement, can’t purchase an affordable supplemental plan. 401K/IRA Plans have been unable to achieve their opening balances. Post Bush Tax cuts economic outcomes – Enron, Tech Bubble, Mortgage CDS TBTF Bank Crash, and Used Paper, Scrap Metal, and Used Clothing included in our top ten exports ( a sure sign of a healthy economy) prior to the 2008 Olympics. Romney Republican economic plan seems to be a pledge to repeat this success.

    The Democratc/ O’bama plan has been the Save the Banks plus other Big spending projects.

    Are there any multi-year solutions?

  • Bobking2

    Who wants to listen to half truths and propanda.
    I want what I am getting from PBS – Balanced and in depth!!!

  • Bobking2

    No way.
    We should appreciate what we have with PBS and donte what we can!

  • Ralph rye

    My only safehaven, from the uglyness of advertizing on
    channel TV, is our public radio and TV broadcasting. I am
    seeing the creep of  big money ads invading my safe place.Please don’t allow the politicains, and their rich supporters, to  invade our only sanctuary from their mindless hate speach.