Bill Moyers: "Alternate facts have become the opioids of politics"


On January 25th, 2017, we celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the duPont-Columbia Awards. That night, we honored not only our fourteen winners (see the full list here), but distinguished past winners as well, including veteran journalist Bill Moyers.

You can listen to his remarks on this episode of On Assignment, along with remarks from the two other honorees that evening (fellow journalists Ira Glass and Christiane Amanpour), or read the transcript of Moyers' remarks below. 

Bill Moyers' full remarks from the 2017 duPont-Columbia Awards.

"You're never too old to say wow, or to feel the wonder of the moment that inspired it. And I feel the wonder of being up here with so many talented young journalists out there, and with my colleagues Jane and Lester, and with all of you who have contributed to my understanding of the world.

I'm really over-age for this gathering, as I am for these times. I don't belong in the Trump World. I grew up in a normative world—not a beautiful world—but a normative world, and the norms are being severed by the phenomenon of this time.

When I became White House press secretary against my will, in 1965, my father, a Baptist deacon, sent me a telegram saying, "Bill, tell the truth if you can, but if you can't tell the truth, don't tell a lie.” He had a fourth grade education and was the most honest man I ever knew. I did my best to honor his wish. It was hard, but even then our credibility was so bad we couldn't believe our own leaks.

It was just as hard when I came back to journalism. There were still problems after I gave the commencement one year at Dartmouth, and a young student a graduate student came up to me and said, "Mr. Moyers, you've been in both government and journalism. That makes everything you say doubly hard to believe."

I've tried to stay humble, because it's necessary. Sixty-seven years ago this June, on my 16th birthday I went to work for the daily newspaper in the small East Texas town where I grew up. It was a good place to be a cub reporter. Small enough to navigate and big enough to keep me busy and give me something to learn every day.

I travelled long, far and wide as journalism became my continuing course in adult education, with someone else paying the travel and the tuition. Sometimes my journey brought me here to this campus and several times to this podium. I always felt as if I were entering a sacred place. “The High Church of Journalism” is what my friend and mentor and soulmate Dean Joan Connor used to call it. The high church where the principles of our craft are exalted and the flame of inspiration never flickered.

I'm grateful for those visits here as I'm grateful to be back tonight. We journalists need each other. An alien force has arrived from the galaxy Orwell, making false claims on democracy, waging war against the press, littering our public agencies with "No Trespassing" signs. Alternate facts have become the opioids of politics. It's a dangerous world, a disfigured world, marked by lies and threats. This evening at least six of our media colleagues face up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine after being arrested while covering the unrest at Donald Trump's inauguration. So this occasion, and your work, are charged with urgency.

You have a mission to fulfill: to get your readers, listeners and viewers as close as possible to the verifiable truth. And you have promises to keep to your audiences, to yourself, and to one another. We journalists need each other.

As my own journey rounds the last curve, one thing I have learned in both government and journalism remains the unshakable certainty of my own education. Democracy can die of too many lies. A student once ask my friend and colleague, the historian and journalist Richard Reeves, "What's your definition of real news?" And Richard said, "The news we need to keep our freedom." So good luck to all of you. It's been a great honor. It is a great honor, to have traveled so far in the company of so many kindred spirits. Thank you."

Since the awards’ founding in 1942, the duPont-Columbia Awards have honored accurate and fair reporting about important issues that are powerfully told. The first awards ceremony honored radio broadcasting, and radio reporting remains a crucial platform for the duPonts.

Find out more information about the Awards at

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