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12.12.03
Politics and Economy:
Response to Bill Moyers' Interview with Jim Bouton
On November 28, 2003, NOW WITH BILL MOYERS broadcast an interview with the former major league baseball player, Jim Bouton, about his experiences trying to save an historic baseball park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Following up on that interview Bill Moyers wrote a column that was published online.

Subsequently, we received letters from the publishing company PublicAffairs, General Electric, and the attorney for THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE.

We responded to those letters and below you'll find links to the full set of correspondence. Also below, a letter from Jim Bouton.

On December 12, NOW broadcast the following statement from Bill Moyers:

If you were watching two weeks ago you may remember my interview with the former baseball star, Jim Bouton. I talked to him about his recent book, FOUL BALL, based on the diary he kept while engaged in a dispute over a baseball park in the town of Pittsfield, Massachussetts, near his home.

I enthusiastically recommended the book as did the TODAY show. Some other broadcasters, including Keith Olberman and Susan Stamberg, also endorsed the book. But some of the people Jim Bouton criticized in the book and in our interview reacted very strongly to the charges he made against them on the air and to the online column I wrote independently of the broadcast.

They say I was wrong to describe the book as an investigative report when indeed it is Jim Bouton's diary, and they're right. They object to my saying the story was about greed, corruption, and abusive power, when it turns out to be a far more complex story than those strong words warrant. So I'll strike that description, and leave it to you to make up your own mind once you read the book and the letters we've posted at pbs.org.

They also object to my saying that Jim Bouton, who wrote one of the great books about baseball thirty years ago, was "back, telling the truth again." Well, what I should have said is that he was telling the truth as he saw it. Many years ago I asked a correspondent in Vietnam, "Who's telling the truth out there?" And he answered: "Everyone sees what's happening through the lens of their own experience."

That, of course, is why a man writes a book, to tell us his version of things. But one man's strike can be another man's ball, so I invited the people who had protested what was said in the Bouton interview to come on this broadcast and give us their version. Then you could make the call. They have declined, and I regret that; equal time seems to me to be fair play.

Nonetheless, I want you to know that we have been able only to confirm that six million dollars in public funds were part of the plan to construct that new stadium in Pittsfield, not the 18 and 1/2 million dollars you heard Bouton mention in the interview.

Furthermore, the local paper, THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE, itself agreed to contribute two million dollars towards a civic effort to build that new stadium. In return, the paper would have naming rights. The property bought with some of the EAGLE's money turns out to have been polluted. While the paper had not told the public about it, the owners say they had arranged to cover the cost of the environmental cleanup as part of their donation.

In this story, there are chapters still being written. That's it for NOW. Let us know what you think at pbs.org. I'm Bill Moyers.

On this Web site, we also published the following in reference to the correspondence we received from General Electric.

Several comments in Moyers' on-line column were subsequently challenged by parties who were criticized in the Bouton interview and the Moyers column. One such letter, from Gary Sheffer, General Manager of Public Affairs for General Electric, is published below, along with Mr. Moyers' reply in which he invites the GE representative to appear on NOW to give his version of the story and to answer Jim Bouton's statements.

The column is no longer online. However, Mr. Moyers acknowledges that he has been unable to confirm the accuracy of his statement in the column that when "[Mr. Bouton's] book publisher received a call from somebody close to GE, the big league publisher caved and wouldn't publish the book." Nor is there evidence to challenge GE's assertion, as stated in Mr. Sheffer's letter, that "Neither GE nor its general counsel, Benjamin Heineman, ever made any comment to PublicAffairs about any aspect of Mr. Bouton's book." Mr. Moyers accepts responsibility for the misstatement.

Additional Public Response to the Interview


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