BILL MOYERS: Welcome. How about this: enterprising and intrepid journalism students at Kent State University in Ohio took up our challenge to go to nearby television stations, collect data on the political ads they run and post that information on the Internet. It’s supposed to be public information in the first place.

KENT STATE STUDENT: We had one simple question for management at each station. Should these records be put on line? Three stations refused to be interviewed.

BILL MOYERS: Take a look at the complete Kent State video at our website, We’re counting on other journalism students around the country – and maybe you as well – to follow their example and share the results with us. Meanwhile, on with the show, because as you can see, sometimes the truth reveals itself in the darnedest places. In an old movie, for example – one you saw some years ago, forgot, and then, by chance, happen on it again to discover that times have changed, and movies, too. But certain things never change: they just cost more.

Here’s what I mean: remember Eddie Murphy twenty years ago in The Distinguished Gentleman? That’s the term by which members of Congress address each other, no matter how disreputable their conduct.

Murphy, a con man disguised as a waiter, is about to fleece the host of a swanky party, when he overhears this conversation between a big-time energy executive and a veteran Congressman who wants to retire:

OLAF ANDERSEN in The Distinguished Gentleman: Yeah well, look, Jeff. You can't retire.

JEFF JOHNSONin The Distinguished Gentleman: If I retire this year I get to keep $1.3 million that’s left in my campaign fund. And it’s called the grandfather loophole.

OLAF ANDERSEN in The Distinguished Gentleman: Alright, Jeff. I got it. Come here. There's a small software company that's about to go through the roof. Now what you do is buy a few thousand dollars’ worth of stock options. It’s going to bring in a half a million, easy -- and that's just for our winners.

JEFF JOHNSONin The Distinguished Gentleman: If you put it like that, I suppose I have a duty to continue my career in public service.

OLAF ANDERSEN in The Distinguished Gentleman: Duty.

BILL MOYERS: Fate intervenes, the Congressman dies of a heart attack, and Murphy gets himself elected in his place. At a Washington dinner for freshmen members of Congress, he begins to learn the ropes from the lobbyist Terry Corrigan:

TERRY CORRIGANin The Distinguished Gentleman: Say, could I host a welcome- to-Washington fundraiser for you down at my law firm on K street?

TOMMY JEFFERSON JOHNSONin The Distinguished Gentleman: Absolutely!

TERRY CORRIGANin The Distinguished Gentleman: At five hundred dollars a head -- you could pick up twenty, twenty-five grand to help you get started.

TOMMY JEFFERSON JOHNSONin The Distinguished Gentleman: And how much of that are you going to get?

TERRY CORRIGANin The Distinguished Gentleman: It doesn't come off the top. Down the road, I'll bill each of ‘em five hundred an hour whenever I take you to lunch.

TOMMY JEFFERSON JOHNSONin The Distinguished Gentleman: You know Terry, you and I are going to be so close.

BILL MOYERS: Soon, he’s making a beeline for the honey pot.

TERRY CORRIGANin The Distinguished Gentleman: I'd like to do more money for you – but first I’ve gotta get your positions on a few issues. Now where are you on sugar price supports?

TOMMY JEFFERSON JOHNSONin The Distinguished Gentleman: Sugar price supports. Where should I be, Terry?

TERRY CORRIGANin The Distinguished Gentleman: It makes no difference to me. If you're for 'em, I got money for you from my sugar producers in Louisiana and Hawaii. If you're against 'em, I got money for you from the candy manufacturers.

TOMMY JEFFERSON JOHNSONin The Distinguished Gentleman: You pick […]Terry, tell me something -- with all this money coming in from both sides, how could anything possibly ever get done?

TERRY CORRIGANin The Distinguished Gentleman: It doesn't! That's the genius of the system!

BILL MOYERS: Now in the good graces of a powerful committee chairman, he joins the shakedown of a corporate executive who wants a favor from Congress.

OLAF ANDERSEN in The Distinguished Gentleman: Seven figures? I suppose a million dollars isn’t too much to insure against losing $5 billion.

DICK DODGEin The Distinguished Gentleman: Now you talking.

OLAF ANDERSEN in The Distinguished Gentleman: But how can I funnel this kind of money to you?

TERRY CORRIGANin The Distinguished Gentleman: If that’s what you want, we can find a loophole. No one will see your fingerprints.

OLAF ANDERSEN in The Distinguished Gentleman: No one will know?

TERRY CORRIGANin The Distinguished Gentleman: No one will know.

DICK DODGEin The Distinguished Gentleman: Olaf's just making a contribution as a patriotic citizen. And in return for that, he's getting…

TOMMY JEFFERSON JOHNSONin The Distinguished Gentleman: Good government.

DICK DODGEin The Distinguished Gentleman: Exactly. A little access, that's all.

BILL MOYERS: I’ll not remind you of how the movie ends, in case you want to see it for yourself. But I can assure you – the revelations ring as true today as they did then. And no one knows this better than my next guest who wrote The Distinguished Gentlemen.

Marty Kaplan majored in molecular biology at Harvard, got a Ph. D. in literature from Stanford and went to work for U.S. Commissioner of Education Ernest Boyer and then with Vice President Walter Mondale After Washington he joined the Walt Disney Company as a writer/producer on such diverse projects as that Eddie Murphy satire and the Peter Bogdanovich adaptation of Noises Off. After becoming a dean at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, he founded and heads the Norman Lear Center, which studies politics, entertainment, and commerce – and their impact on us. He’s an expert on how big money and big media have coupled to create a Disney World of democracy. Marty, welcome.

MARTY KAPLAN: Thanks, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: You wrote The Distinguished Gentleman 20 years ago. Could you write it today?

MARTY KAPLAN: Oh God, it still is the same. All you have to do is add a couple of zeros to the amount of money. And the same laws still apply. It is fabulous and miserable at the same time.

BILL MOYERS: Was Washington then, and is it now, the biggest con game going?

MARTY KAPLAN: It is the biggest con game going. And the stakes are enormous. And the effort to regulate them is hopeless, because the very people who are in charge of regulating them are the same people who are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the lobbies that run them.

BILL MOYERS: I have it on very good authority that a prominent Washington senator recently told a group of lobbyists in Washington, a room full of lobbyists, that they are the lifeblood of the city. And I thought, "Kaplan has to do a vampire movie now." Right?

MARTY KAPLAN: Exactly. The connection between the legislators and the lobbyists is so intimate that it's not even embarrassing for a senator to say that in front of a room. The culture is so hermetically sealed from the rest of the country that it doesn't occur to them that there is something deeply outrageous and offensive and corrosive of democracy to admit that the money side of politics and the elected side of politics belong to each other.

BILL MOYERS: You wrestle with this, you and your colleagues at the Norman Lear Center, and all the time, on how, on what the system is doing to us. So let me ask you, "How did this happen in America? How did our political system become the problem instead of the answer?"

MARTY KAPLAN: Part of it is the nexus of media, money, and special interest politics. The citizens have given the airwaves to the station. We own the electromagnetic spectrum and for free we give out licenses to television stations. Those stations, in turn, use that spectrum to get enormous amounts of money from special interests and from members of Congress in order to send these ads back to us to influence us. So we lose it in both ways. The other day, the president of CBS, Les Moonves, was reported by "Bloomberg" to have said "Super PACs may be bad for America, but they're … good for CBS." I mean, there it is. This is a windfall every election season, which seems not to even stop ever, for the broadcast industry. So not only are they raking it in, they're also creating a toxic environment for civic discourse. People don't hear about issues. They hear these negative charges, which only turn them off more. The more negative stuff you hear, the less interested you are in going out to vote. And so they're being turned off, the stations are raking it in, and the people who are chortling all the way to Washington and the bank are the ones who get to keep their hands on the levers of power. So one of the big reasons that things are at the pass they are is that the founders never could have anticipated that a small group of people, a financial enterprise and the technology could create this environment in which facts, truth, accountability, that stuff just isn't entertaining. So because it's not entertaining, because the stations think it's ratings poison, they don't cover it on the news. BILL MOYERS: They don't cover the news.

MARTY KAPLAN: They don't cover politics and government in the sense of issues. They're happy, occasionally to cover horse race and scandal and personality and crime and that aspect of politics. But if you look at a typical half hour of news, local news, because local news is one of the most important sources of news for Americans about campaigns. A lot--

BILL MOYERS: You and your colleagues have done a lot of research on local news.

MARTY KAPLAN: Yes, we've been studying it now since 1998. And each year it gets more depressing and it's hard to believe. We, not long ago, did a study of the Los Angeles media market. We looked at every station airing news and every news broadcast they aired round the clock. And we put together a composite half hour of news. And if you ask, "How much in that half hour was about transportation, education law enforcement, ordinances, tax policy?" everything involving locals, from city to county. The answer is, in a half hour, 22 seconds.

BILL MOYERS: Twenty-two seconds devoted to what one would think are the serious issues of democracy, right?

MARTY KAPLAN: Yes. Whereas, in fact, there are three minutes about crime, and two and a half minutes about the ugliest dog contest, and two minutes about entertainment. There's plenty of room for stuff that the stations believe will keep people from changing the dial.

BILL MOYERS: What is the irony to me is that these very same stations that are giving 22 seconds out of a half hour to serious news, are raking-- and not covering politics, are raking in money from the ads that the politicians and their contributors are spending on those same papers.

MARTY KAPLAN: Yes, they're earning hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars from the ads that they are being paid to run. And not even risking running a minute of news, which might actually check on the accuracy of an ad. Truth watches, they're almost invisible now.

BILL MOYERS: So they will tell you, however, that they're in the entertainment business. That they're in the business to amuse the public, to entertain the public. And if they do these serious stories about the schools or about the highways or about this or that, the public tunes out. That the clicks begin to register as—

MARTY KAPLAN: It's one of the great lies about broadcasting now. There are consultants who go all around the country and they tell the general managers and the news directors, "It is only at your peril that you cover this stuff." But one of the things that we do is, the Lear Center gives out the Walter Cronkite award for excellence in television political journalism every two years. And we get amazing entries from all over the country of stations large and small of reporters under these horrendous odds doing brilliant pieces and series of pieces, which prove that you can not only do these pieces on a limited budget, but you can still be the market leader.

BILL MOYERS: What do they say when you say, "But look, you have this public franchise. You've been given this hotdog stand in your neighborhood to sell all the hotdogs you want to. In return, we'd just like more attention to serious issues and to take politics seriously." What do they say?

MARTY KAPLAN: Well, some of them say, "You're right. We're going to do it. And hold us accountable." That's the miracle. The Hearst chain of television stations, for example, has won the Cronkite Award over and over, because they've risen to the challenge. If you have management and ownership from top down, saying to all their stations, "Okay, you are required to run news stories about campaigns. You have to run five minutes a night for the last 30 days of a campaign. And we're going to judge you." If their management and ownership says, "You have to do it," they do it. And they can do an amazing job of it. The problem is that management like that is few and far between.

BILL MOYERS: So what is driving it?

MARTY KAPLAN: Well, what's really driving it, if you think of this as a symptom and not a cause, I think what's really driving it is the absolute demonization of any kind of idea of public interest as embodied by government. And at the same time, a kind of corporate triumphalism, in which the corporations, the oligarchs, the plutocrats, running this country want to hold onto absolute power absolutely. And it's an irritant to them to have the accountability that news once used to play.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean by that? News challenges their assumptions, challenges their power?

MARTY KAPLAN: It used to be that the news programs that aired, believe it or not, had news on them. They had investigative stories.

But then somewhere in the 1980s, when 60 Minutes started making a profit, CBS put the news division inside the entertainment division. And then everyone followed suit. So ever since then, news has been a branch of entertainment and, infotainment, at best.

But there was a time in which the press, the print press, news on television and radio were speaking truth to power, people paid attention, and it made a difference. The-- I don't think the Watergate trials would have happened, the Senate hearings, had there not been the kind of commitment from the news to cover the news rather than cutting away to Aruba and a kidnapping.

BILL MOYERS: What is the basic consequence of taking the news out of the journalism box and putting it over into the entertainment box?

MARTY KAPLAN: People are left on their own to fend for themselves. And the problem is that there's not that much information out there, if you're an ordinary citizen, that comes to you. You can ferret it out. But it oughtn't be like that in a democracy. Education and journalism were supposed to, according to our founders, inform our public and to make democracy work.

You can't do it unless we're smart. And so the consequence is that we're not smart. And you can see it in one study after another. Some Americans think that climate change is a hoax cooked up by scientists, that there's no consensus about it. This kind of view could not survive in a news environment, which said, "This is true and that's false." Instead we have an environment in which you have special interest groups manipulating their way onto shows and playing the system, gaming the notion that he said she said is basically the way in which politics is now covered.

It's all about combat. If every political issue is the combat between two polarized sides, then you get great television because people are throwing food at each other. And you have an audience that hasn't a clue, at the end of the story, which is why you'll hear, "Well, we'll have to leave it there." Well, thank you very much. Leave it there.

BILL MOYERS: You have talked and written about "the straightjacket of objectivity." Right? What is that?

MARTY KAPLAN: Well, the problem with telling the truth is that in this postmodern world, there's not supposed to be something as truth anymore. So all you can do if you are a journalist is to say, "Some people say." Maybe you can report a poll. Maybe you can quote somebody. But objectivity is only this phony notion of balance, rather than fact-checking.

There are some gallant and valiant efforts, like PolitiFact and that are trying to hold ads and news reports accountable. But by and large, that's not what you're getting. Instead the real straightjacket is entertainment. That's what all these sources are being forced to be. Walter Lippmann in the 1920s had a concept called "spectator democracy" in which he said that the public was a herd that needed steering by the elites. Now he thought that people just didn't have the capacity to understand all these complicated issues and had to delegate it to experts of various kinds.

But since then, the notion of spectator democracy has, I think, extended to include the need to divert the country from the master narrative, which is the influence and importance and imperviousness to accountability of large corporations and the increasing impotence of the public through its agency, the government, to do anything about it. So the more diversion and the more entertainment, the less news, the less you focus on that story, the better off it is.

BILL MOYERS: Are you saying that the people who run this political media business, the people who fund it, want to divert the public's attention from their economic power? Is that what you're saying?


Let us fight about you know, whether this circus or that circus is better than each other, but please don't focus on the big change which has happened in this country, which is the absolute triumph of these large, unaccountable corporations.

This is about as dismal and effective a conspiracy, out in plain sight, as there possibly could be. So I don't say that this is going to be solved or taken care of. What I do say is the first step toward it is at least acknowledging how toxic the situation has become.

BILL MOYERS: But isn't it possible that a lot of people prefer the entertainment side of politics and even the news, because they have seen what you have just described. That they see the problems. They write on my website and say, "Look, you know, you're describing this. You're investigating that. But tell me what I can do. What can I do? I do something and nothing happens." And so people just say, "Enough's enough." And they go their merry way.

MARTY KAPLAN: Well, merry is the word. Self-medication is probably a decent thing to do, when you're that depressed about what's going on. If only every once in a while, you get some headline for some demonstration you're in, or maybe you defeat somebody. Look at Wisconsin, for example. There's a reason for hope. Citizens came out and have made a difference. They are recalling the governor. They have terrified a state legislature, which has acted not in their interest. So citizen activism is showing signs of making a difference. And you can see it in Ohio. You can see a bit of it in Arizona. These things are not completely hopeless. And--

BILL MOYERS: So how did it happen, given what you say about who controls the spigots of information and the money going into the-- into the media process? How did that happen?

MARTY KAPLAN: The public, by turning out in vast numbers and not giving up, forced the media to pay attention to them. And as long as the media reflects a view of yourself in which you're impotent, there's no reason to go out and try. But as soon as the mirror that the media provides says, "Wait a minute, all these people are doing something." That has what they call a network effect. More creates more. And finally it becomes a force in politics that even the Koch brothers funding the governor of Wisconsin can't completely suffocate.

BILL MOYERS: You watched the Republican primaries, right?


BILL MOYERS: What did you see?

MARTY KAPLAN: I saw the most amazing effort to brand the entities that sponsored the debates.

ANNOUNCER #1: This is the ABC news.

ANNOUNCER #2: This is the NBC news.

MARTY KAPLAN: I mean, every big network and every brand was out in order to sell their brand to the public. The content of the debate was almost laughable.

BILL MOYERS: Entertaining.


BILL MOYERS: But it's fun.


BILL MOYERS: You against fun?

MARTY KAPLAN: I'm for Herman Cain.

HERMAIN CAIN: This economy is on life support, that's why my 999 plan is a bold solution.

MICHELE BACHMANN: When you take the 999 plan and turn it upside down, I think the devil is in the details.

MARTY KAPLAN: I'm for Michele Bachmann as entertainers. But American politics shouldn't only be a reality show. And that's what it's become.

BILL MOYERS: But aren't we suckers for melodrama? Don't we like the soap opera up and down, in and out quality of the political race today?

MARTY KAPLAN: We are programmed to love stories. That is in our genes. Our wiring says that when you say, "Once upon a time," I am hooked. When you show me conflict between two people, I want to know who's going to win. That's how it's always been. And it happens that politics is now the substance and television is now the medium in which to bedazzle us, to enthrall us, which means enslave us just as it has been all through human history.

BILL MOYERS: What struck me in those Republican debates is that they'd get into 15 to 20, maybe 30 minutes of an exchange, and then the moderator would say, "Hold it right there. We'll be back after a commercial."

BRIAN WILLIAMS: We have to go to a break. When we come back we’ll talk foreclosure, we’ll talk about foreign policy.

BILL MOYERS: I kept thinking of the great debates between Lincoln and Douglass, "Wait a moment, Mr. Lincoln, before you take up the issue of slavery, we have a commercial for you." They have taken over the process, in that regard. You can't play unless you play on their turf, which is governed by the rules of commerce.

MARTY KAPLAN: The League of Women Voters doesn't have a chance any more--

BILL MOYERS: They used to be the sponsors of the presidential debates.

MARTY KAPLAN: Exactly. Instead, the purpose of these debates is in order to have commercials. The suspense and coming back, those are devices deployed, in order to have people watch what happens in between. These are moneymaking propositions. They give bragging rights for those that get high ratings. They have nothing to do with the content.

Because if they did have to do with the content, then the moderators would have to spend all their time saying, "I can't believe you just said that. That is so wrong. How can you say that?" Instead they say, "Well, Governor Perry, what do you think of what Congressman Bachmann just said?" That's what happens. That's what passes for journalism. And that's what gets us to watch the ads for soap.

BILL MOYERS: What you're saying is that the political square is now a commercial enterprise, owned and operated for the benefit of the brand, CNN, Fox, all of those, right?

MARTY KAPLAN: That's correct.

BILL MOYERS: How did it happen? How did we sell what belonged to everyone?

MARTY KAPLAN: By believing that what is, is what always has been and what should be. The notion that what goes on is actually made by people, changes through time, represents the deployment of political power. That notion has gone away. We think it's always been this way. People now watching these CNN and Fox. They think this is how it works. They don't have a sense of history. The amnesia, which has been cultivated by journalism, by entertainment in this country, helps prevent people from saying, "Wait a minute, that's the wrong path to be on."

BILL MOYERS: Amnesia, forgetfulness? You say that they're cultivating forgetfulness?

MARTY KAPLAN: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: Deliberately?

MARTY KAPLAN: Look at the way in which it-- the march toward war in Iran, if that's what's going to happen, is being--

BILL MOYERS: Or slithering toward war.

MARTY KAPLAN: Well, it-- when we get there we may feel as though the serpent bit us, no matter how we got to that point. But Iran should be covered through the prism of what happened in Iraq. All of the neoconservatives and right-wingers, who called for us to go into Iraq because of W.M.D.'s and because Saddam was bad. There is a history there. That history is within living memory of a lot of grownups in this country.

And unless people are willing to do the hard work of presenting the history and holding people accountable for the past, we will be condemned as it's been said, to repeat it first in tragedy and then in farce.

BILL MOYERS: Here's something I wrestle with and a lot of journalists wrestle with it. That I'd like for you to address. We sometimes bend ourselves into euphemistic pretzels in order not to call a spade a spade or a lie a lie. For example, when Rick Santorum's opponents took his words out of context to make him say something he clearly had not intended to say.

NARRATOR: On the economy, Rick Santorum says:

RICK SANTORUM: I don’t care what the unemployment rate is going to be.

BILL MOYERS: I didn't hear any prestige journalist speak up and say, "You know, that's a lie."

MARTY KAPLAN: No, what you heard instead was, isn't that something? What a deft maneuver. What a great political thing that they have done. How shrewd it was to change the focus. How merciless toward their opponents this move has been. There is admiration for playing the game brilliantly. No one is appalled. No one is shocked anymore. No one is able to say, wait a minute, that's not true. That's inappropriate. That's wrong.

'Cause if a reporter does do that, they're completely playing into the hands of the candidate, as we saw over and over in the Republican debate. George Stephanopoulos asks a question about contraception and the candidates come down on him like a ton of bricks.

MITT ROMNEY: I don’t know whether the state has the right to ban contraception. No state wants to. I mean the idea of you putting forward things that states might want to do, that no state wants to do, and asking me whether they can do it or not is kind of a silly thing I think.

MARTY KAPLAN: "How dare you do this? That's just the liberal media." They have this trope of the liberal media, which they use in order to demonize anybody who is willing to enforce standards of accuracy.

BILL MOYERS: You once proposed that political ads be accompanied by a disclaimer. And it was this disclaimer, quote, "The scary music, photo shopped pictures, and misleading sound bites in this ad are tricks intended to manipulate you in ways of which you are not consciously aware. Voting for this candidate is unlikely to improve how awful things are." When I read that, I thought, "Fat chance."

MARTY KAPLAN: Yeah, fat chance. But at least we're talking about it. At least front and center is the notion that these ads are so powerful, because they are mini movies. They are dazzling dramas. They are full of conflict and story. We love paying attention to that stuff. We are suckered into them.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think these ads make us stupid?

MARTY KAPLAN: We start stupid. The brain is wired to be entertained. We don't pay attention to the words. We pay attention to the pictures and the drama and the story. If it's pretty, if it's exciting, if it's violent, if it's fast, that's where we are. So the fact that these mini dramas are being used to get us to vote for one person or another is just like what we all learned propaganda was used for and thought we learned our lessons from in World War II. They are propaganda. And propaganda is irresistible. If it were resistible, people wouldn't do it.

BILL MOYERS: It's why people smoke. It's why they go to war often.

MARTY KAPLAN: Exactly. And that's why even in the case of cigarettes, there is now an effort to add pictures to the packs. Because those warnings don't quite do it You've got to see an image of what your lungs look like, in order to make you not reach for it.

BILL MOYERS: And it's why when you see a pharmaceutical company promoting a drug, the picture's lovely even though the words are horrifying.

PHARMACEUTICAL COMMERCIAL #1: Common side effects are dizziness, sleepiness, weight gain.

PHARMACEUTICAL COMMERCIAL #2: Severe liver problems, some fatal, were reported.

PHARMACEUTICAL COMMERCIAL #3: Shortness of breath, swelling of your tongue or throat may occur, and in rare cases may be fatal.

MARTY KAPLAN: Imagine after seeing that saying to your doctor, "You want to write me a script for that? I think it'll be good for me." And the reason is because what we're seeing is this lovely story. Somebody was sad and now they're happy.

BILL MOYERS: Don't you think most people are now jaundiced about these ads? They know it's a con?

MARTY KAPLAN: People say they know it's a con, just as they say that they are not being swayed by the ads for products that they see on television. If that were true, there would not be a multibillion dollar advertising industry. If that stuff didn't work, that would not be on the air. So no matter what we say, no matter how clever we are, we are susceptible to it. "24," that TV series, is a favorite example of mine. When--

BILL MOYERS: The series about C.I.A.--

MARTY KAPLAN: It was a rogue C.I.A. agent played by Kiefer Sutherland. And often the storyline would turn on his using torture because some terrible thing was about to happen. And even though it was against the rules, he knew that that was something you had to do. You had to overrule the handbook at moments like this. And then he would get the information from the suspect.

The problem is that torture doesn't work. Not only is it illegal and immoral, it doesn't produce the kind of information we want. But the cadets at West Point, who are watching "24," decided, involuntarily, "Well, that's how it works." So that even though their textbooks, even though their teachers in class were telling them, "Torture's wrong and it doesn't work." Even though that was happening, they were absorbing the lesson of this melodrama on television.

And it was so scary to the military brass that the dean of West Point had to go to Hollywood and plead with the shows not to do it. To tell them, "You have the power. You have a power that is beyond what you understand. And with that power comes responsibility. So please understand you can work black magic on our troops. Don't do that."

BILL MOYERS: You wrote a fascinating piece a number of years ago in a book called What Orwell Didn't Know, a collection of essays by people like yourself. And if I remember correctly, you said-- you predicted in there that the internet opened new possibilities for democracy by creating new networks of information gathering and information sharing. Do you still think that?

MARTY KAPLAN: I do. The problem is that the internet is at best the Wild West, in which that kind of information competes with other stuff in this great bazaar. I mean, at this booth over here, you get some important investigative journalism. At that booth over there, you get Charlie Bit My Finger or whatever the YouTube hit of the month happens to be. And they're all on equal footing.

And it's up to the public, the herd, in some cases, to make stuff popular or not. I'm glad, at least, that this tool has brought diversity and ordinary people's voices into the mix. Look at something like Kony 2012. Whatever the problems that there might be with that, it did prove that the public can rally around an idea and make an idea famous.

BILL MOYERS: But the internet is also awash with contaminated, unsubstantiated toxins that if you just take them into your system will mislead you too.

MARTY KAPLAN: Yes, and every once in a while I feel a need to go on a media fast. Because the stuff is so toxic that if you pay attention to it, it has to be harming you.

BILL MOYERS: You've done that recently.

MARTY KAPLAN: I have indeed.

BILL MOYERS: What did you do?

MARTY KAPLAN: I went to the high desert. And I spent a week paying no attention to television or to the internet or to the newspaper. And I didn't have a political conversation.

BILL MOYERS: You were on detox?

MARTY KAPLAN: I was on a media fast. And by the end, I felt great. The challenge was taking that wisdom of the mountaintop back into the valley of the shadow, which is where we all dwell.

BILL MOYERS: But you had to come back.

MARTY KAPLAN: I did indeed.

BILL MOYERS: And what happened when you came back and there it all was waiting for you?

MARTY KAPLAN: It was being exposed to a poison and I wanted to numb myself the moment that I was exposed to it. It's hard.

BILL MOYERS: How much bad information is too much, Marty? When does it start transforming our brain and our body politic?

MARTY KAPLAN: I think we're there now. I think there is so much misinformation out there that on issue after issue, we have opinions but not facts. And we despair of ever being able to get to the bottom of it and despair of ever having a decision being based on what is accurate, true, and useful, rather than who has the most money to put up enough ads in order to sway the public debate.

BILL MOYERS: You made a very important speech not long ago at a media conference in Barcelona. And you tried and did draw the distinction between-- you said the battle of the future is between big data and big democracy. In layman's language, what is that?

MARTY KAPLAN: Big data, the age of big data that we're supposed to be in, refers to the way in which, as we go on the internet, as we do all these media activities, watching television, which are at the center of our lives, we're leaving a trail behind. We're giving bits of ourselves up. And that set of bits is being collected and mined relentlessly.

So every time we buy a product or send an e-mail or vote how many stars to a restaurant, all this stuff creates a profile that companies buy and sell to each other. And that stuff is being used currently not only to market to us, to target ads toward us, but it's also being used to profile us. There's something called "web lining." Which is similar to what used to be called "red lining." The-- that phenomenon, which is now illegal, in which people who were discriminated against because of the neighborhoods they live in. Right now--

BILL MOYERS: Banks drew a red line around impoverished neighborhoods that they would not then serve.

MARTY KAPLAN: Exactly. And so today imagine if you were to permit a private detective to follow you as you went to your drug store and bought a medication to help you with depression or as you made a phone call to a bankruptcy lawyer, because you needed one. Imagine if that kind of information could be put together and used against you to decide that you're a bad credit risk or that maybe your insurance company should turn you down, because you suffer from this problem.

That kind of information, that kind of digital profiling is something which is emerging as a huge industry. And unless there are controls on it and constraints, as they have to some degree in Europe but not nearly enough even there, we are about to kiss goodbye our ownership of our privacy and also even the ownership financially of our information. We are the people who make Facebook and Twitter worth the billions of dollars that they're worth, because we are giving up our information to them, which they are then selling and raising capital around.

BILL MOYERS: But in a libertarian era, what are the restraints and constraints against that? Where are they going to come from?

MARTY KAPLAN: Well, right now, the constraints in this country are voluntary. The Obama White House not long ago issued a digital code of conduct, which included privacy. In which they asked companies and companies did step up to it to say, "We're not going to track people if they don't want to be tracked." And other such efforts to get people in control.

But what we do know, the record of just the past couple of months, is that company after company was doing stuff to us that's astonishing, that we didn't know about. The ways in which the apps that you use on your smartphones were vacuuming up information about you, your address book and all your pictures.

Stuff that you had no idea you had consented to, which in fact usually you had not, suddenly was all owned by other people, as well. You have not given permission, but that essential part of you is now not yours. That's the name of the game now. This is baked into the business model of data mining, which is at the heart of so much of the digital economy.

BILL MOYERS: But that's big data. You talked about big democracy.

MARTY KAPLAN: So at the same time as our data is being mined, there is this movement to protect people using technology to give them the power to say, "I'm not going to opt into this stuff.” We're still at the beginning of this industry. And there has to be rules of the road. And part of those rules include my attention rights. My rights to control my identity, my privacy, and my ownership of information."

BILL MOYERS: In your speech in Barcelona, you pointed to two simultaneous covers of TIME Magazine appearing the same week. One for the editions in Europe, Asia, and South Pacific, and it was about the crisis in Europe. The other, which appeared in the American edition, featured a cover about animal friendships. You use these two covers to illustrate the difference between what you call "push journalism" and "pull journalism." What's the difference?

MARTY KAPLAN: Push journalism is the old days, which seem no longer to apply in the era of the internet, in which an editor, a gatekeeper, says, "Here's the package which you need to know." All of that is ancient history now.

Instead, now, it's all driven by what the consumer is pulling. And if the consumer says, "I want ice cream all the time." And whether that ice cream is Lindsay Lohan, or the latest crime story, that's what's delivered. And as long as it's being pulled, that's what is being provided. So it's quite possible that in the U.S., the calculation was made that the crisis in Europe and the head of Italy would not be a cover that one could use. But that pet friendships would be the sort of thing that would fly off the newsstand.

BILL MOYERS: So the reader is determining what we get from the publication?

MARTY KAPLAN: On a minute by minute basis, stories that the reader's interested in immediately go to the top of the home page. There are actually pieces of software that give editorial prominence to stuff that people by voting with their clickers have said is of interest to them. No one is there to intervene and say, "Wait a minute, that story is just too trivial to occupy more than this small spot below the fold." Instead, the audience's demand is what drives the placement and the importance of journalistic content.

BILL MOYERS: So George Orwell anticipated a state as big brother, hovering over us, watching us, keeping us under surveillance, taking care of our needs as long as we repaid them with utter loyalty. Aldous Huxley anticipated a Brave New World in which we were amusing ourselves to death. Who's proving the most successful prophet? Huxley or Orwell?

MARTY KAPLAN: Well, I think Huxley is probably right, as Neil Postman said in—

BILL MOYERS: The sociologist, yes.

MARTY KAPLAN: --in Amusing Ourselves to Death. That there's no business but show business. And we are all equally guilty, because it's such fun to be entertained. So you don't need big brother, because we already have big entertainment.

BILL MOYERS: And the consequences of that?

MARTY KAPLAN: That we are as in Brave New World, always in some kind of stupor. We have continual partial attention to everything and tight critical attention on nothing.

BILL MOYERS: Shall we go to the high desert?

MARTY KAPLAN: I'm ready if you are.

BILL MOYERS: Marty Kaplan, thank you for being with me.

MARTY KAPLAN: Thank you, Bill.

Marty Kaplan on Big Money’s Effect on Big Media

Big money and big media have coupled to create a ‘Disney World’ of democracy in which TV shows, televised debates, even news coverage is being dumbed down, just as the volume is being turned up. The result is a public certainly more entertained, but less informed and personally involved than they should be, says Marty Kaplan, director of USC’s Norman Lear Center and an entertainment industry veteran. Bill Moyers talks with Kaplan about how taking news out of the journalism box and placing it in the entertainment box is hurting democracy and allowing special interest groups to manipulate the system.

“It’s all about combat. If every political issue is [represented by] combat between two polarized sides, then you get great television because people are throwing food at each other,” Kaplan tells Moyers. “And you have an audience that hasn’t a clue at the end of the story, which is why you’ll hear, ‘Well, we’ll have to leave it there.’”

“The problem is that there’s not that much information out there if you’re an ordinary citizen. You can ferret it out, but it ought not be like that in a democracy,” Kaplan says. “Education and journalism were supposed to, according to our founders, inform our public and make democracy work.”

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  • Leclam

    I listen and take notes and have been for a longtime. Currently neither Minn.PT or Wis.PT are carrying your  program. Why and who shall  I call?
    However, I do not know how many people listen and watch your program.
    A local surgeon back from a 3 month tour in Afghan presented some pictures of his exposure but took no position on the war. A woman thanked him saying, ” I never knew what was going on.”   After thirty years? I sent a e-mail to the young reporter who ended her story with that quote. Her answer was courteous but did not answer my question. 
     Apathy in this small town seems to the greatest problem. I have stood on Peace Corner with a few others for more than six years. The negative signals have almost disappeared, many toot but no one stops to join us or question or debate and no one relates the cost, the debt , the KIAs, the WIAs to the the economy, certainly not to the William Kristol and his hoods. You discuss the media again. PBS news is the bland leading the blind and are not truly public according to their sponsors. We need the Internet and  Tom Dispatch  etc, more than ever. Did you watch Fr. Reese question Ryan yesterday on one of the morning shows?  

  • Anonymous

    Once again Mr. Moyers, you need to have Richard Slotkin on your show to explain regeneration through regression narratives and how powerful they are in American culture and how Americans are so easily manipulated by them.  Please, have Richard Slotkin on your show.

  • moderator

    Hi Leclam,

    Please go to and type in your zipcode. I hope you can find a station in your area that does carry the show.
    Thank you,

  • motogringo

         Thank you Bill and Marty for tonight’s show. I’ve been saying the same things regarding our journalistic institutions being reduced to entertainment propaganda for a long time.
         I consider it part of the fast food disposable culture. If you eat it every day it’s eventually going to poison your mind to make it fat and unhealthy. The trash of it all is discarded on the sidewalk without consequences.
         One thing I’d like to point out that you and Marty circled around was how facts are presented and interpreted in today’s media cycle. I know many very bright people who get all their news from internet bloggers and while I might agree with the bloggers point of view, I still try to stress to my friends that he is stating and opinion and not a fact. Differentiating between fact and opinion seems to have become a very different task for people today. Or perhaps they just want somebody to sum up all the news for them. Either way it makes even the internet news personality driven and still the domain of entertainment.
         It makes for lazy journalism. Reporters don’t have to do any work. The special interest talking heads are provided to them and all the host has to do is provide good television. Sometimes the talking heads are provided by corporations who pay for the privilege of them appearing on news shows. That fact is rarely disclosed by the media these days.
         I’ve tried media fasts as well. I can shut off the tv for days and generally boycott local news. I don’t buy the LA Times any more since the price doubled and the content diminished. I really miss a morning paper. I always have to break the fast when Bill’s show is on.

  • Monir M. Deeb

    Bill, I have been a fan for many years ,or since I became familiar with your shows. Tonight again with Mr. Kaplan, you both impressed me again. Very important and great topic, that is essential to salvage the down slide form of where our country is heading, and taking many others with it as the remaining leading supper power, and trend setter.  I couldn’t help it but recalling a piece in Los Angeles Times, written by Joel Stein, I believe. In it he seems like he was bragging about a survey that was done by the ADL, or the JDL, where he states that 23% of the public believes that Hollywood and the Media is run by the Jews of America.
      He bolstered as saying ,that is not a correct number, as older pollsters have stated it being much higher than that, which makes him proud of the achievement of the Jewish Americans in that field, but he hopes that they will continue having that control over it.  In your show tonight, I was hoping that the question would be asked, “Who should we thank for that achievement in our media twist of its application and effect?
     That is not to mention our political system,and politicians. I am sad to say, that was not asked tonight. I wounder why,and for how long?

  • Dave

    A great show.  Humans developed these instincts for following compelling stories over human history, and it can serve us well in some contexts.  But modern technology has exploited those instincts to a new level.  We saw the destruction than can result in 1930s Germany.  I fear, sometimes, that most people cannot understand this.  Regardless if the destruction is right in their face, those instincts are so strong that the fall back on their internal narrative, created and reinforced for monetary purposes, all more flippant and unknowing of their bad side effects.

    But if we worship at the alter of free-market wealth, there will be no other guiding force to correct that.  Our intentions as part of a system heading for destruction are so trivially wrong sometimes, but collectivly  disastrous.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Please continue this line of questioning in future episodes.
    We understand you can’t use M&C to suggest what specific protest actions citizens might take. Rest assured we’ll figure it out. The Student Loan Refusal petition is filling  up. Banks will sizzle when it hits a million. Right now I think as many people as possible should delay and suspend college enrollment until we get a better product at a reasonable cost. We could start impromtu people’s colleges in the meantime. (like P. Freire)

  • Anonymous

    About a decade ago, a Park Ranger at Fort Snelling State Park in Minnesota pointed out to me with some urgency that an invasive plant species had entered the area and endangered the ecosystem. He asked me for help in getting people together to pull the plants out by the roots. I asked him how the plants got there in the first place and he said he didn’t know. Birds maybe. No one I asked agreed to help. Invasive or not, the plant’s existence had become a part of the natural cycle that was impossible to reverse and can only now be accepted or abandoned. An archaeology professor once told me that the Mayan people abandoned their culture; they simply walked away from it.

  • Stevenw Smith

    Bill, your program and guests tell me there is still hope for meaningful voices to be heard, heeded,  and acted upon. Mark Kaplan interview is a case in point. My last source for insightful news about our political process, the election, and issues critical to national welfare is commercial TV. It is entertainment with a few exceptions found on PBS, selected web sites and certain periodicals and books by authors of known quality and veracity. I mute political ads since the lies, distortions,  smear tactics, and empty rhetoric are nauseating. They reflect money, special interests, and avoid real issues. They DO represent Huxley more than Orwell as Mr. Kaplan tells us. Many of us no longer work to understand the issues and identify truths and candidates that may represent our good. Keep up the good work.

  • king’s gambit

    Thank you Bill Moyers for this interview.  I’m of generation Y and have always felt the news landscape was growing increasingly impoverished starting with the time right before G W Bush got elected (around when I started paying attention to news).  I remember when I was younger, watching my parents watch the local news, and I had the impression that it communicated serious information.  When I tune in today I rarely find any serious or deep analysis that gets at the crux of an issue – I have to seek that out myself.  It is depressing and overwhelming to confront outright lies, opinion pieces, negative ads, bias and inflammation, all enabled by the ‘news as entertainment first’ philosophy.  I don’t know how to speak up against it when so many others seem to not question it or even encourage it.  When I look at the news organizations of other countries, such as BBC, I am envious since they still seem to serve their central role of providing news to their general public.  It is much easier to discern information when I am listening to their discussions.  So of all the inquiries you have made into the causes of America’s problems, I feel this one has got to be up near the top.  The majority of (local) tv news stations, internet news sources,  and (partisan) radio stations have, I believe, disavowed their central purpose to inform and are bowing to a desire for more money or weak objectivity.  (Meanwhile newspapers seem to be trying to hold on and fight the good fight).  The public maybe doesn’t realize this sea-change and thinks they are still being informed, based on their trust for tv and radio news sources.  Without a reasonably informed public, no other corrupt influences in society are held properly accountable.  The grievous wound dealt to how truth is communicated makes possible all the other problems you have highlighted on your show, whether that be inequality, dysfunctionality of government, hyper partisanship, etc.  What is happening now is that too many people are informed of lies and believe them for truth so much so that (while I would not have ever thought this could be possible) a critical mass has been reached and the un-questioned lies are sustained at the country-wide level.  The lies find a home within many people’s beliefs and obstruct people from taking action that would heal our country’s wounds.

  • mike

    I watched your show a little. I watched because it was the first channel that came on.  You have these guys from all these centers and write books and who are supposed to be experts.  They say things like people are throwing food at each other. No one is throwing food at anyone.  Or we are all guilty of something another ridculous statement since we aren’t guilty of anything unless we did something wrong, which we haven’t. Even you with your fancy words and saying like the other guy which are a lot of times not true. No one in his right mind believes in ghosts.  Stop all this intellectuual hogwash which might have great prose but often lacks  meaning and makes no sense. Cut the intellectual BS and be practical and makes sense more often, you and your guests. I hope I have helped you create better programming for your viewers.

  • Drathlian

    I like the topic, and we need more of it.  Please continue this discussion with another guest.  If possible, I would like some hard data on how the media is avoiding the hard topics.  Is there a way this can be proven? I think most of us feel this is true by instinct, but it would be nice to get something more tangible than your gut feelings and instinct, albeit very enlightened.

    Our reality is based on information, and our information is managed by people with dollar signs branded on their hearts.  

  • Lilian G.

    I enjoyed your recent piece exploring the role of
    media.  In recent years, I have myself
    asking why is this on news when watching local and national network news show.

    I have been a certified news junkie since I was a child. I
    used to watch ABC World News with Peter Jennings since I was about ~9-10 years old.
    One year, during the Charlie Gibson era , 
    I was stunned to see a  piece on
    Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.  I do not recall
    what the story was but it had nothing to do with their philanthropic or human
    rights works. Perhaps stunned isn’t the right world. I was disgusted, dismayed
    and scared. Yes, scared. A story like this should be on Good Morning American, this
    isn’t real news  this is entertainment
    news—two different things.  Evening
    news like ABC World News should be serious news talking about the important
    domestic and international political and war stories around the world. What was
    happening? If this Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie piece is newsworthy, I was
    scared to know where the slippery slope would take us next.

    Fast forward to 2012, and my fears have come to fruition.
    Brian Williams and Diane Sawyer frequently talk about entertainment news, celebrities
    and celebrealities (Kim Kardashian) as if they have replaced Yasser
    Arafat and Madeline Albright in our daily conversations.

    Why is this happening? Even as a teen, I could see the
    writing on the wall. While our culture as a whole had slowly become less
    interested in political happenings, I had always found solace that people who
    wanted to be informed could at least watch the news. Evening primetime news to
    be exact. The Brad Pitt and Angeline Jolie piece meant the news shows just like
    every outlet was being taken over by the Hollywood driven, materialistic,
    culture of the consumer and entertainment. It meant that another separation was
    being created between the common man and the business of government and the
    economy. It meant that younger views would become even further removed, disenfranchised
    from, and ignorant of the political process that shaped their everyday life.

    How can certain offices be held accountable if regular
    people don’t even know what is really going on.  As a cynical teen, I thought who benefits
    from this, because certainly nothing happens by accident. And so I hypothesized
    that this wasn’t simply “what the viewers wanted” as the networks would likely
    tell you. No, this shift was by design. Designed by the lobbyist, interest
    groups, crooked politicians, and greedy laymen who benefit from working in shadows.
     People can only protest if they know the
    issues of the day. When people are so invested in the biggest fashion/phone
    trend of Spring 2012, how can they be interested in the falling European
    economy.  Even individuals like me who regularly
    abstain from reality television can still name the Kardashian siblings because
    they are everywhere, saturated hopelessly in our society. I see them at Kohls
    when I go to by work shoes. I see them in a commercial for NBC Today when I am
    trying to get the weather. Whether you’re buying or not you are exposed to it,
    our youths are exposed to it.  

    The only highlight of this new news reality is PBS. Shows
    like Need to Know, Frontline and Bill Moyers regularly allow me to get the
    feeling I used to get when I watched ABC World News with Peter Jennings. The
    feeling that I was actually watching NEWS or INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM
    (Let us not even address the staggering decline of the so-called newsmagazines…20/20,
    Dateline, 48 hours I am looking at you ) The feeling that I was able to fulfill
    a small slice of my duty as an American citizen—staying in the know. Truly staying
    informed of the issues that we are dealing in this world and country today. Thank
    goodness for PBS and real journalism. Please keep it up.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for conducting the interview with Martin Kaplan. His
    thesis is true. Our politics are at the nexus of money and special interests, contributing to miscommunication, polarization, and news as info-tainment.
    Yet, ironically I also believe his critique accentuates a massive dilemma; a
    dilemma he seems unable to diffuse for his listeners.


    His accusation concerning the “straightjacket of objectivity” suggests that facts matter little if at all to the priorities of the media. I agree and because of this
    we constantly see how sides demonize the standards of the other. But the
    straight-jacketing of objectivity is a consequence and a logical conclusion of
    our own intellectual tradition. Because our tradition prioritizes rights and
    self-determination over most if not all human values, arguing for objectivity becomes an ongoing exercise in futility.  


    Consider Mr. Kaplan’s prescriptions. With power comes
    responsibility and the news media ought to deliver accuracy, truth and
    usefulness. But the vital questions were never asked. For example how can these things be
    established? And if they were established wouldn’t journalism become a
    recitation of the factual details of literal happenings in the world. All
    commentary, critique, and op-eds could never be written. A consensus on the
    accuracy, truth and the usefulness of the news (apart from another kind of
    straightjacket) would seem impossible to find.


    Then clearly this couldn’t be what he means by accuracy, truth
    and usefulness. But of course this begs further questions: What does “usefulness” mean? What does that look like? How would you regulate or go about guaranteeing those ends? What moral
    criteria ought to be the means applied to ensure those truthful ends are truly useful? And where do we go to judge the goodness of their certainty? 


    Answers to these must come in the form of value judgments. Free societies just seem unable to provide unequivocal answers to
    any of these questions. Yet Mr. Kaplan seems to suggest otherwise. But again I’m
    confused. Our intellectual tradition has created a culture in which competing
    truth claims rest on preferences of values. Hence, all sides are preoccupied with proving
    the inaccuracies of their counterparts. Countless websites document the
    falsehoods that come down from both sides of the aisle. And as for the subject
    of usefulness? As we see everyday, this subject remains the very thing that each
    side truly believes is the factual coherent whole to their respective agendas.


    The interview with Mr. Kaplan was intriguing but in the end very
    confusing. Of course I could just not question
    the thesis and simply agree with his conclusions. But he challenged me not to do
    this and therefore I’m left with many more questions and answers.

  • Rich O

    I didn’t go to church today…instead I caught Bill Moyers and his interview with Martin Kaplan. And, I’m so glad that I did. I was inspired by the existence of people who are willing to deliver the truth and who are trying their best to shake all of us dupes out of our naive stupor.

  • Michaelt880

    WOW!!! So much of what he expressed I’ve been observing since the Carter-Reagan election. Living Memory in relation to credit on influence on Wall Street cycles…”Trash” TV shows…Not news, drama, emotions and no Truth. 

  • Michaelt880

    I’m wondering what Values have in relation to the Truth?? Enjoyed your post!!!!

  • Anonymous

    Moyers is way behind the times with this discussion. Breitbart was way ahead of him.  After Breitbarts untimely death, Byron York had this to say about Breitbart   “Breitbart knew instinctively, as people in Washington, D.C., and most other places did not, that movies, television programs and popular music send out deeply political messages every hour of every day. They shape the culture, and then the culture shapes politics. Influence those films and TV shows and songs, and you’ll eventually influence politics”

  • Guest

    Hoping y’all won’t Kaplan-trade or data-mine my comments, but I’m for US Societal IMPROVEMENT and I Know PROGRESS. And despite Allen West, Obama is NO Progressive. Instead of your Company campaign Baracquiescence and his Baracky Anderson or Jill Husstein surrogate pitch-slapping; can US haz a real FIRST-Party Anderson/Justice and/or Green/Stein ticket and your independent band-wagon roll-out against the ObamaRomney Unitary executive?

  • M Dossey Jabour

          I too realized some time ago that what passes for news has become a mash-up of gossip, advertising, and public relations.  Generally I find that I am more likely to learn something substantial on Aljazeera English than on CNN, FOX, or MSNBC  where reporting often feels like commentary on sports matches.  It pains me that Islamaphobic hysteria has kept this important addition to the media as carefully hidden as possible from the mainstream America. 
         Aljazeera presents in-depth documentaries on situations all over the globe that otherwise would have escaped my attention entirely.  The channel does, by the way, give attention to major US sporting events and politics, but the range and depth of news coverage is extensive and enlightening.

  • Brux

    Thank you for a wonderful interview, and follows on to so many interviews all over the place talking about how our politics is —whatever—  but  we talk about it like politics is something different from daily life, terrorism, war, etc.

    I think that it is not our politics that have changed, just the “infrastructure”, there is more political infrastructure that causes what we see.  We reward people with what they want because apparently we cannot produce the upstanding citizens we need … even in the Secret Service, so the alternative is to let people go according to their aggressiveness, power, poliical following, image, and professional services to manicure all of that as well as to stifle any out of the box thinking.

    It is the nature and scale of the world and human systems that is changing, and people simply do not understand it.  As your guest said when he was talking about online tracking, we will eventually get to the point where some kind of artificial intelligence can present a different world to different people consistently and for a purpose so far away not even perceptible to the citizens … forget any idea of democracy, or even any human society we have ever conceived before … this is where Huxley comes in, humans will be cattle of a small group of the powerful, the idea of the human being that we have had however hypocritical it is or imperfect we are is going to evolved to a dead idea, we will be at some level like insects, and many already are, irrelevent except for some service they can provide to a culture to which they have no input.

  • Paulette Stevens

    Tremendous journalism in today’s report! Provided with intelligence, integrity, commitment and heart. I will be contemplating the ideas of big media and effective democracy for days to come.
    Thank you for the warnings and especially for sharing your own eye-witness story of what happened during the fearful McCarthy era. I see the parallels in today’s toxic political environment, too!

  • patty

    Deeply disappointed mr. Kaplan did not mention the daily show. While it may be technically a comedy show, it does a great job of fact finding and exposing lies and media shennanigans.

  • Karl Hoff

    A simply delightful guest. Keep putting guest like him on and you will expand your audience because guests like Marty Kaplan give us much needed information to express like views where ever we go.  We live in a world where too many people’s addiction to their wants far out weighs the consequence of their actions, so the more facts we have, the better we can get our points across, rather than the “OLDS” as I sometimes call the news because once a story has entertainment value, it is played over and over.
    PS: A retail furnature store in my area is selling furnature at factory direct prices. If the factory lowers their prices to equal the prices that they once had, it is still their factory price. This leaves me to believe one of two things. Either they are not making one cent of profit or they are just lying……….right?!!!    

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Tell us more about the surgeon reporting about Afghanistan. Tell us more about your Peace Corner in your little town. You are an empathetic generous soul. Know that you are not alone in your efforts or your values, but are one among tens of millions of repressed Americans. Contact me at to start a back channel conversation if you wish.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    I think the core audience mostly watches online. I do both.

  • Susan Dicker

    I was held spellbound – because this presentation related directly to a book I have been reading, “Republic Lost  How Money Corrupts Congress – and a Plan to Stop It” by Lawrence Lessig.   The message is that we, citizens, need to assert ourselves with a grassroots revolution against big money’s influence on our congress.  A constitutional convention is needed for amendments to outlaw big money in Congressional election campaigns, and more.
       Marty  Kaplan espoused the notion that big money has bought our media, as well as our congress.  He made a lot of sense.    Pitting a Democrat against a Republican makes for great theater, but solves no political problems or human issues.  We get distracted by the theater, but forget our social problems need elbow grease and action. 
       It profits the big money interests to keep us entertained,  but impotent!!!

  • Rschenck

    The show with Mr. Kaplan was first class and must be added to the ever growing detail of all that is wrong.  But we need to eventually make the pivot to a realistic solution and get serious with this before time runs out, if it has not already.  There is but one place we can go to reverse the long downward spiral and that is absolute reform of our current method of money politics.  There is only one way to do it so lets start talking about it now.  A constitutional amendment to remove lobby and big business from congress and give it back to the citizens.  Absolute public funding of political campaigns for federal office, including congress and executive.  I am sure that Bill Moyers knows this is the only way so bring out the best we have to accomplish this.

  • Freese

    This is the most honest and informational show I have seen in years.  How can I see a repeat of the show or a copy?

  • Danny Steward

    Marty Kaplan’s interview with Bill Moyers is the most important hour of information to take place in America in the past year.   If you think that the United States is in trouble but don’t really understand how or why, take a look at this interview.  Look, listen, process, and take action.

  • Karl Hoff

    I don’t know why I was censored. Maybe because I didn’t explain what I would give up. I would give up the telephone, TV, a car, the computer. I have already given up trash pick up and replaced it with recycling. I put in my own water supply from rain water, I turned off all lights except the porch light, none inside day or night. I have turned off the furnace and only burn wood a few of the coldest days one the year. I have my own machine shop, where I could build or fix nearly anything even build my own car if they would let me and I grow much of what I eat. I still use a converter box and outside antenna for television. I drive into town sometimes as little as once a month. Do not post this if you can. This very outspoken man is also very gentle.

  • David F., N.A.

    What if Huxley and Orwell both hit the nail on the
    head?  Maybe Big Brother is riding the
    Brave New World tide.  Even though the
    Brave New World’s ISPs and websites, phone companies, and satellite and cable TV
    providers are busy tracking and storing our personal information for their own sales
    and marketing purposes, Big Brother is busy storing data too: The NSA
    Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say).
    (Ha, Theresa, my link is on topic this time—I’m pushing my luck, aren’t I?).


    Big Brother probably doesn’t care if it’s AT&T, Verizon,
    Comcast, DirecTV, Google, Facebook or Twitter, they just want someone to rattle
    the cages so they can find out what’s going on in each one of our heads.

  • David F., N.A.

    What if Huxley and Orwell both hit the nail on the head?  Maybe Big Brother is riding the Brave New World tide.  Even though the Brave New World’s ISPs and websites, phone companies, and satellite and cable TV providers are busy tracking and storing our personal information for their own sales and marketing purposes, Big Brother is busy storing data too: The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say). (Ha, Theresa, my link is on topic this time—I’m pushing my luck, aren’t I?).

    Big Brother probably doesn’t care if it’s AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, DirecTV, Google, Facebook or Twitter, they just want someone to rattle the cages so they can find out what’s going on in each one of our heads.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the note. For me the issue of truth and moral values are at the crux of all the discussions on Moyers & Co. Not that Bill Moyers would agree, but you can hear it in the language used on the show each and every week. For that matter you hear it everywhere, whenever sides take up their causes. I think it more honest if Marty Kaplan punctuated his judgments with a rejoinder that each of his judgments correspond with his preferences or that his prescriptions are mere opinions and have nothing to do with the truth of the matter. But he doesn’t do this and rarely does it happen on any of talk tv or radio. These people really believe their value judgments are true. And they have to in order to persuade their followers. We all argue for our socio-political and socio-economic causes with language that makes our value judgments appear as something true. In the parlance of Marty Kaplan he uses the term objectivity as though his espousal of the facts in the news are objective. Again if he’s talking about a tax rate that’s fine but if he ever utters what the tax rate ought to be for this or that group or what Governor so and so is doing is good or bad for the people, he then in fact is leveling or imposing a value. But again in no way would he admit that his values are mere preference. If he does he’s be admitting that his values about taxes, about Governor Walker, about special interests, about human rights or about how networks should conduct their agendas he’d be telling us that his are just another set of subjective preferences. But of course he doesn’t do this. He can’t nor can many in his business. If they did they’d be admitting a strange thing about the truth. They’d be admitting that their values don’t have an objective true standard but rather are preferences informed by something ideological, something they feel is true.So what do Values have in relation to the Truth? Well one’s values might be true to and for them but to say they are true for others? They will always fall short in trying to explain how that might be “true.” Liberals accuse Conservatives of such things but it’s just as “true” that Liberals do the exact same thing. Truth seems to be assumed but in the end has little to do with much of anything we say … or demand. Not sure that answers anything but thank you for asking. 

  • Karl Hoff

    Thank you moderator. I am singed, but burnt out yet.

  • Charlie; Everett, WA

    CZ, WA

    The interview with Marty Kaplan reconfirmed my long-held beliefs about big money, politics and the media. Sadly, the interview also underscored the challenge of weaning the public off its preferred ideological and entertaining “mind candy.”

    This moneyed triad, antithetical to democratic representation, is not new to American politics. President Lincoln feared the explosion of new millionaires who profited from the Civil War. He foresaw this great wealth concentrated in few hands would buy politicians and then sway the public with massive disinformation campaigns. With a chill, Lincoln would readily recognize the Washington, D.C., and the American public today.

    I’d like to know what Mr. Kaplan thinks of PolitiFact, the fact-checking website. Conservatives I’ve talked with write the service off as more liberal whitewash. I find it quite balanced and thorough.

  • moderator

    Hi Karl,

    Really sorry about the mix up, glad it got resolved. Thanks for hanging in with us!

    Sean @ Moyers

  • 26teeth

    Mr Kaplan refrained from a mention of the force of out of state resources endorsed by the national unions in Wisconsin fiscal politics. The content discussed is provocative and presented clearly the intent of corporate interests and the MSM.

  • Elaine E

     The day I became fed up with the network news/infotainment was when the lead story was Tiger Woods will speak!  Not just yet, a few days hence!  The next headline was that a plane deliberately flew into the IRS building in Oklahoma.  Definitely not lead material, considering that it conjured the combined images of 9/11 and the Oklahoma City terrorist attacks.

  • Alan

    I always wondered about what happened to real news, like what we used to get from Walter Cronkite? How did we get to the point where all we hear and see are opinions, and very polarized opinions depending on what news media you watch? And, then how is it that congress is so polarized when they all have sworn to the same mission; serve the people of this country?

    After this interview, I wonder no more.

  • Williams

    This is the greatest! It really does clear up confusion and makes it simpler to understand.  This video is a keeper!!!

  • Jae

    and what did he do w/ that information? that’s right.  he jumped on that wave  (moneywave) and used it not to inform others of its evils, but rather to further his ideological bend.  i am sure many media folks have known exactly what they are doing to the general population, but $$$$ is more important.

  • Anonymous

    Jae, I don’t quite follow your argument here. Breitbart used the information to expose those in the media who are intent in presenting their ideologies in a deceptive way.  You might want to visit this site to get more information.

  • Avatarsambell

    mr. Kaplan…for your enlightenment Mr. Moyers, was the immediate stand in after NBC journalist Frank McGee was murdered before he was to announce on live tv evidence concerning U.S. intelligence agency contractors involvement in both Kennedy murders…Moyers looked and sounded like McGee ….if you doubt this I suggest you visit the TODAY SHOW museum in N.Y. And observe how McGee has been neutralized…. Or closely watch how whenever there is a TODAY reunion if some one mentions McGee they are suddenly are cut off…Ms. Jane Pauly was stopped cold twice….as you know well Mr. Kaplan the truth will come out in the end.
    Samuel Joseph Bell

  • Avatarsambell

    Type your comment here.Mr. Cronkite credited the White paper produced by journalist Frank McGee ” Same mud same blood” as bringing the Vietnam war to an end…instructions for McGee murder are what was erased from the Nixon tapes

  • Avatarsambell

    Alan…all the media readers are intelligence contractors performing their assigned tasks….all of them

  • Avatarsambell

    After the murder of Frank McGee NBC news and TODAY SHOW host G.E. took over NBC news….military contractor becomes your mind control agent

  • Bscott

    Thank you conspiracy bot… your input is always welcome. 

  • Fred R. Kline

    Moyers interview with Marty Kaplan is a classic of truth-telling.  It should be published and illustrated with captioned photographs.  

  • Lance Drake

    What an incredibly brilliant speaker is Mr. Kaplan who brought us an astonishingly clear-eyed, steady-gazed, unhalting pattern of speech that was a litany of clearly reasonable explanations for what is wrong with ‘The News’ and politics in our culture. 

    The more Mr. Kaplan spoke, the more patently obvious became the substantiating truths behind his evaluations.  

    Thanks ever so much for Bill Moyers for bringing us a visit with Mr. Kaplan – AND – without commercial breaks!!

  • JohnRenesch

    Great show! I wish those who are perpetuating the social dysfunction  being discussed would watch Moyers and PBS.

  • Frank Factor Show

    The way forward is not a simple choice but a task. It is not Romney or Obamney, it is much harder than that and until good people realize this we are playing into our own destruction.

  • L. Economos

    Dear Bill:  After every show I have an overwhelming urge to email and cheer you on.  It just gets better and better -the segment on Marty Kaplan being the latest.  Maybe I can explain it in a more personal note.  I have a  friend with whom I have had many political conversations about human rights.  Currently, she is fighting a questionable battle with cancer and is away for treatment.  In order to cheer her up and give her hope in this world,  I always email and remind her to watch the latest Bill Moyers & Co.  It is the most worthwhile gift I can think to give her.     

  • Fluid Audio

    Great, great stuff, Bill (and Marty Kaplan). I agree with mr. Kaplan that it seems more akin to Huxley than Orwell, however I think it’s really both.
    Just as Bush took 9/11 as his opportunity to “power grab” and spend billions and young lives for his own ends, I believe that the current administration took the financial crisis as an opportunity as well.
    I believe that due to the bailouts and the obvious links that the government has to wall street now, they are very closely linked. I would not be surprised if any and all info that is gathered by the social networking sites is also actually shared with our govt.

    To go one step further (and sound like a conspiracy theorist) its not out of the realm of possibility that steve jobs, head of the richest, most powerful company on earth-and “child of the sixties” liberal thinker- was bumped off because he didn’t want to play ball with the govt, and give them card Blanche to information the way someone like sucker berg obviously has.

  • Asuydan

    As far as Orwell vs. Huxley we cannot ignore the stranglehold of the Federal government over our everyday lives and our personal freedoms. Sure entertainment is the drug, but lack of freedom is the poison.

  • Joe Gomez

    For sure Mr. Kaplan was the consumate “entertainer” in your interview. It is rewarding to hear his theories and philosophies about media and journalism. Very good. On the other hand, at the conclusion of this show (watched on PBS on Sat June 9, 2012), you offered personal commentary about “the ghosts of years past” and reminded us all about the McCarthy era of cold-war days. Actually, Mr. Moyers, EVEN YOU, “yes sir”, are a Communist. The ideas you represent and how you justify them are exactly the type of twisted logic that, fortunately, the Free World was able to defeat in the post-McCarthy era.

  • Globers

    The idiots who don’t understand what is happening to us in this country,(joe gomez) uyou are the problem.

  • Jim Lacey

    Alas, all too true! But hasn’t Big Money always run the country, even before the explosion of media? Haven’t politicians been corrupt beyond living memory? Mark Twain said that an honest senator was one who, once bought, stayed bought! Doesn’t every national politician have to sell his soul to Big Money? 
    We no longer have a democracy. We live in a corrupt plutocracy. The sad thing is that the greedy and super successful, who are destroying the middle class, have no idea what to do with their money. How many houses, yachts, cars does one need? Is it so important to die with an enormous portfolio?

  • Della

    Wow!  This was a great interview, as usual with Bill Moyers.  Kaplan says it the way I wish I could express it and in my opinion is really right on.  Wish many others could read this because he says what a lot of us are thinking and some like myself cannot express it as well as he did. 

  • Dellap222

    You are right; however, it has gotten way worse since the advent of the media.  People seem to just want to live for the day and be entertained.  Not taking the time to as Kaplan says, to understand history, creates a lack of understanding of the real “reality” and not “reality shows”…..

  • Swa

    realistic voice in the wilderness. The ones who are supposed to hear this are
    too occupied to listen to opinions. The question is WHY?????

    do people fall for propaganda?  What is their foundation in life – 
    their identity? Why are people so easily manipulated?

    – it is really wholesome to take a TV/Radio break, to not listen or watch…
    I’m doing it frequently to unclutter my brain and find the thoughts I lose
    after the media has infiltrated my neurons for too long.  

    Related : Marty Kaplan on Big Money’s Effect on
    Big Media

  • James Powell

    To tell the truth, the commercialization of our political
    process reached a zenith when in the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court
    ruled that corporations were also individual citizens.  From that point forward, our economic
    system, via corporations, was free to openly influence our political system,
    and the use of the media was the primary means of doing so.  As a result, politicians for both
    parties have become political commodities to be marketed to the voting public
    by way of mass media advertising.


    No doubt, the prospective candidates, and special interest
    groups- Super PACs- spend millions of dollars on political ads that are
    purposely aimed at entertaining, persuading, and informing or misinforming the
    voting public.  Since the airways
    are supersaturated with this form of political soma for the masses, truth
    becomes the first casualty in a fever pitched battle for the subjective
    perceptions of the voting public. 
    While the television stations rake in their advertisement revenue, the
    viewers are fed a constant diet of attack ads –political soma- that demonize
    the respective candidates, and reduce politics to an entertaining form of
    political mud wrestling.


    Tragically, the real issues are drowned out, dismissed, or
    simply ignored because they lack the ratings that an entertaining knock down,
    drag out, political mud throw will generate: Jerry Springer style political


    In essence, our political discourse has been purposely
    reduced by special interest groups, and citizen corporations to entertaining
    attack ads – political soma- that reinforces the defeatism, “resistance is
    futile” mentality, held by most of the voting public towards the controlling
    influence of the very citizen corporations which they strongly resent. 

  • Johnny

    The Citizens United case allowed millions of dollars from unions to flow to the recall Walker campaign, which otherwise would have been illegal. Americans have the right to form groups and lobby for their beliefs.

  • Tonystigliano

    Certainly this is good stuff, though I have heard it before (Niel Postman, for example). But I am wondering whether this is such a surprise. If the sources for information and knowledge are owned by self-interested power, you are going to get lies, distortion and half-truths. This not like Pravda or some other propaganda organ, because we know that the media are not paid for by the State. These are private companies, who are merely answering market demands. It would be nice to think that independent news organizations, who fiercely uphold journalistic standards, would pop up in the place of CNN, FOX and the rest of the alphabet soup networks. But it won’t because the corruption is in the market itself, and there is nothing that can replace that (so far). A network executive who might see this would shrug her shoulders and say, this is just business; if peace and justice would make a profit for me, I’d sell that. Edward R. Murrow was the last of a breed who came of age during the Depression and the “Good” War. Their sense of service went with the hedonism of the 60s.

  • Pc160

     And what happened?  The recall effort was outspent by a ratio of over 8:1 by the :other” “millions of dollars” that came from out-of-state GOP “supporters”.  Guess who won?
    Big money (thanks to Citizens United) outspent and out-propagandized the recallers.
    Exactly as Kaplan was describing here.

  • mm

    How great would it be for someone to disprove the notion that ADVERTISING WORKS, especially in re: politics. I disagree with Mr. Kaplan et al. We all believe it works because that is the line that admen, tv men deliver to us al. It’s simply rot, these ads, and the amount of money that each campaign spends to produce this toxic sludge is outrageous … as we all know. Isn’t time we disprove this foundation?

    Mr. Kaplan and Mr. Moyers, thank you for this interview. It’s a start toward reinventing the americo we all deserve and I’m heartened by your exchange(s).


  • Michael MacKenzie

    Listening to Marty Kaplan’s cogent comments took me back to June 1989;  I stood up at a seminar at my 25th Harvard reunion to make the point that entertainment and “show biz” were coalescing.  I was fresh from an intense shoot on “Back to the Future II”, full of an insider’s impression of the power of the entertainment industry …. coupled with deep concerns about the direction of the “objective media”.  My classmates (the panel included some heavy hitters – both trad media and administration) greeted my suggestion with …. well …  silence.  I still don’t quite know what to make of it.

  • Michael MacKenzie

     Um, er – I meant :  POLITICS and “Show Biz” were coalescing ……  maybe they really ARE all the same!


  • Mike Glass Productions

    A magnificent man with a creative mind selling us the truth!    Mike Glass 

  • Heidemarie


  • TheHyperborean

    What a fantastic interview — thanks! I wish there were something concrete we could do….

  • Catherine Summers

    Thanks so much for your movie Mr. Kaplan–finally got to see it, thanks to interlibrary loans and the Xenia library.  If only the good guys could win for real.

  • David

    This is frightening stuff.  Even more frightening is the daunting odds of changing things for the positive.  What is the Lear Center doing concretely in this regard and how can I help

  • Paula

    What happened to “occupy wall st”. This was certainly an attempt for the people to be heard and fight back.