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April 30, 2010

As you can imagine, I thought long and hard about who I would invite to be my last guest on the Journal. So many people have inspired my own work that I had a difficult time making that choice. But i finally decided to ask someone whose curiosity about the world, and pursuit of it, have set the gold standard for all of us whose work it is to explain those things we don't understand.

For decades Barry Lopez has called western Oregon his home, but from there he has roamed the world: from the playas of Texas and the deserts and canyons of the American southwest, to the frigid extremes at both the polar ends of the earth and across Asia and Africa. Then, always home again, to write about what he has seen and learned... And such writing it is.

I first came upon Lopez when he published "Arctic Dreams" 24 years ago — and won the national book award for it. The books kept coming, "About This Life," "Winter Count," "The Rediscovery of North America," "Crossing Open Ground," "Resistance." The raves of critics kept coming, too. "Barry Lopez," said "The Wall Street Journal," "Crosses disciplines the way he conquers continents." "The New York Times" compared his language to "The snap and hiss of a campfire."

You need a long shelf to hold Barry Lopez's novels, essays, articles and short stories, the volumes of travel, photography, and language, vivid portraits of landscapes, emotions, and experience. Common to them all is one man's effort to go out into the world, to discover what is beyond and within us. One reviewer put it this way, Barry Lopez "Restores to us the name for what it is we want." It's a pleasure to welcome you to the Journal.

BARRY LOPEZ: Thank you, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: I've been looking forward to this conversation for longer than you can imagine. And I have a lot of things I want to talk about. But first, how does it feel to be back in the canyons of New York City?

BARRY LOPEZ: I like it here. I had a blessing, I think, in my life that I was born in Port Chester, New York, outside the city. And when I was three years old we moved to Southern California. My father left. He just walked away and left us. And my mother raised my brother and me. And she was a teacher. She was a schoolteacher. And she worked three jobs to keep everything going in our household.

But my mother worked overtime to expose my brother and me to a world wider than the one that we might have known had we just stayed where we were. She took us to Grand Canyon. She took us out in the Mojave Desert. And I got, as a kid, I got to run. I got to open myself up into the world and just go.

And for many years, I think as a child, all I wanted to do was to go and to see. That, I want to go and look. I want to go and see. And then my mother married again, we moved to New York, we moved to Manhattan. And I was 11 years old. And I had never had much experience with museums. And I walked into the Frick Collection and saw for the first time probably a Vermeer painting. I, that was the moment in which I saw this convergence of the world that mesmerized me as a child, and this world of ideas and theater and things that are part of the living blood of New York.

So, I love being here. And in my home, you know, I can look up, out the window, and on a particular day see black bears or, you know, I mean, in--

BILL MOYERS: In Oregon, right?


BILL MOYERS: The same house you've lived in how long?

BARRY LOPEZ: For 40 years I've lived there.


BARRY LOPEZ: But I like it here. The thing that lifted my heart this morning is when I opened the windows and saw that blue sky. There is a shade of blue in the sky in New York that I associate with this city. And whenever I see it, driving in from the airport or something like that on a winter evening, just moonlight and the blue and the canyons-- I don't, I've never had this sense of antipathy toward cities. You know, it's the best we can do.

And when you see a vibrant, aggregation of human imaginations underneath this mantle of a blue sky, it renews my sense of hope. I don't have a sense, "Oh my God, I'm coming into Sodom and Gomorrah or some dead end place for humanity."

BILL MOYERS: Paradoxically, as you're describing that blue sky, do you know what I was thinking about? The sky on the morning of September 11th. I-- we were just, you know, we're just a couple of miles from the site there. And there's-- my wife and I were coming to work, the sky was so beautiful. And at that very moment, the first of those planes was driving into the World Trade Center. So, I will always associate that blue sky that you just beautifully described with that moment. Now, what does that do-- you know, you talk a lot about courting the imagination. What does that do to your imagination? When you've had that kind of experience?

BARRY LOPEZ: It's a caution. That, you know, we have a way of talking about beauty as though beauty were only skin deep. But real beauty is so deep you have to move into darkness in order to understand what beauty is.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

BARRY LOPEZ: And that's what you-- well, it's just what you said. You're talking to your wife in this blue sky goes gray. And a horror, a horror visits us. If you- try to separate these two things, you're in trouble. What you must do is build a system of civilization that is as aware of darkness as it is of beauty. I would feel on thin ice if the world were nothing but beauty.

I need to remind myself by going to Auschwitz or by going to Afghanistan or by going to Northern Sumatra after the Boxing Day tsunami, and talking to people. And, you know, you used this word. And I use it all the time, too. Hope. How can we maintain our sense of hope when to go deep into the news is to encounter the kind of terror that can traumatize a person for the rest of their life? I think hope is a space holder that word. It's not the false word, but it's just- for me, it's just holding a place for another word to turn up.

BILL MOYERS: Action. I mean, don't you think? I mean, hope is actually- toxic. If you hold it long enough without some resolution.

BARRY LOPEZ: I would say yes. I would affirm that you have to have action. But I think the virtue that is, that we-- you know, there are certain things that people say you shouldn't talk about, because it makes people nervous.

The things that make us uncomfortable in public are a person who wishes to speak of what is beautiful. That makes everybody a little bit nervous, because many of us keep this jaded, cynical separateness with the world, because we're cautious. We're cautious. How many people do you know whose crying out is for intimacy? They want to be known. They want to be touched. But they can't make that intimate connection without being vulnerable. You have to be vulnerable in order to achieve this exchange of intimacy. And you can't be vulnerable unless you can trust the situation. And what we're learning, many of us, is the world is not trustworthy enough for you to be vulnerable to it and gain that intimacy.

Another thing that makes people nervous is if you speak of faith, because immediately people think, Christian faith? Or Islamic faith? Or what kind of faith are you talking about? I'm not talking about any of those. I am talking about the belief in other people. The faith-- when I have been in situations that are dangerous, physically dangerous, you know, in Antarctica or, you know, diving underneath ice down there, for example, which I did for awhile.

My faith is in my colleagues. And when I meet other writers, journalists, who've been doing this for a long time, trying to make us aware of what it is that we're living in, I put my faith in those people. And so, the word that has come alive for me in recent months is to have faith in each other.

BILL MOYERS: But there is something- you say trust others. We say in my business, trust the process.


BILL MOYERS: That you know the next person in line above or behind you or beside you or below you or above you are going to do their bit.

BARRY LOPEZ: Oh, yeah.

BILL MOYERS: To make the system, the production work. That's what life is, isn't it?

BARRY LOPEZ: It is. And you open a door to something that is, I'm being presumptuous, but I have to think that there've been times in your own life, as a journalist, when you've lost faith or you've- looked into a situation that made you feel you were never going to recover from- what it is that you saw. But you do. And you do because somebody sent you a letter. Or somebody phoned you on the phone. And that circle of people who just stay in loose touch with each other, renews a sense that it doesn't take a very large group of people to bring everyone to a kind of awareness that we must have now about what we call the fate of the earth. You know? We're not- somebody said to me the other day, "People talk about saving the earth, but what they want to do is save the Holocene." You know, the last 10 thousand years, that what they're interested in. They don't care about. So, you know, the world'll be fine if we're not here. But, you know, we're all like to root for the home team. I like to root for humanity. And I want to see a place where this great dream in whatever epistemology you find it in, whatever religion that you find this idea, it's all over the world, that we can come to a state of grace. We can come to a state in which we do better than we're doing now. I believe fiercely in that. And I meet people in every corner of the world who affirm it.

BILL MOYERS: You said once that for those of us living in North America, nature is the oldest metaphor in our story. Is that still true?

BARRY LOPEZ: That's our ancestral stuff. And when you had an emotion that you had no language for, or I had an emotion I had no language for, I would have to find a referent out there to bring it in to you. So, it's the oldest metaphor, because our stories began where we used animals and wind and light as a context in which to develop something that was very complicated. And that's how we communicated with each other.

We have from, you know, the beginning of the Holocene, you know, the raising, the creation of cities in the Tigris/Euphrates, we have created a world in which we marginalize that which we don't think serves us as well as it could. We've turned nature into a thing. You know, Martin Buber's wonderful I/it relationship and I/thou relationship. This is an "it." The book is an "it." It is soulless. It is utilitarian. I can throw it on the ground if I want. But if it's an I/thou relationship, you never make those kinds of presumptions. So a lot of what traditional people when you watch- when you're in their environment, everything is I/thou. The relationship to the wind; the wind is alive. It has a soul. It's part of the moral universe.

And we've created something in which we have excluded from our moral universe everything but us. And in fact, a lot of people have been excluded from this central White Western European dominant culture. Everything else is an I/it relationship. With African Americans or, you know, in Aboriginal people, whatever it's going to be. But when you-- with traditional people, the relationships with everything are about the holiness of the other, the mystery of the other. That's that I/thou relationship.

And what I would like to I guess encourage people to understand is that for the sake of our own convenience, we created an "other," and that other was nature. And we said, if it doesn't serve us, kill it, move it, destroy it, crush it. Make it serve us. And if it doesn't, it's no good.

And what we're trying to do now is to wake up to what humanity has known for longer than 10 thousand years, was that you can't direct the play. The play is not directable. You must participate in the play. You must get out of the director's chair of telling everybody what to do and how to behave and who can be on stage. You must put all that aside and step onto the stage with other men and women. And say, we're in this together. And we need to find an arrangement how-- in order to take care of each other. But we can't exclude. We can't make nature the banished relative, no part of the human family.

BILL MOYERS: So, is the new metaphor not nature, but the stage? That's a powerful idea that we all- have walk on parts in this drama that never ends.

BARRY LOPEZ: But who is it, Bill, that says, one person has a walk on part? You know? That's a political question. Who is it that's standing there saying, that person, this person, that person, those are walk on parts. And this person over here will be the star of the show. I don't like that. I don't like to hear it. What happens if a person speaks imperfect English in a culture like ours, is not articulate, but can dance in a way that makes you shiver? Why is that a walk on part? When it comes to a political statement, for example? You know, television, God bless television. But television--

BILL MOYERS: But God hasn't, so go ahead.

BARRY LOPEZ: No, no, he's withholding judgment, I think. But--

BILL MOYERS: She certainly is.

BARRY LOPEZ: It's an-- you know, you can turn on the television and see people who claim expertise that they don't possess. And I say that, because the kind of expertise we need is not a facile grasp of policy, but a love of humanity. That's what we need.

BILL MOYERS: But some people are hard to love.

BARRY LOPEZ: Humanity. And, you know, what Charles Taylor or Idi Amin did, or Hitler or Stalin or any of these reprehensible human beings. What they did is-- we should condemn. Humanity is also Michelangelo. Or humanity is also Darwin. Humanity is Epictetus or anybody that you want to pull out of the fabric. I mean, if you have the Bach cello suites in your head at the same moment that you're looking at a gas chamber at Auschwitz. Then to me you've got some hope of being fully aware of what it is that we're enmeshed in.

BILL MOYERS: Well, this, of course, is the puzzle, isn't it? I mean, in that quote, high civilization of Germany at the time. The generals walked in the garden, listening to Bach and Beethoven, while a mile away, the gas chambers were working overtime.

BARRY LOPEZ: There was no capacity to imagine their own humanity was being destroyed there. The way in which they were ethically compromised by what they were doing. What I hope that I'm saying is that there is in the interior of those six cello suites that Bach wrote. An homage to a quality that is apparent to a Western imagination about beautiful proportion and rhythm; increment and spatial volume.

There's something captured in them. And that is the fuel that you use to open yourself up to everything else, even those things that- break your heart. You have to see into the whole. You know, we talk about wilderness. People talk about- did you ever see a wilderness calendar that wasn't full of lyrical images? You know, I used to think when I was a kid, "Well, that's not nature. Nature's not a lyrical experience of a kind of Bierstadt paintings. Nature is the full expression of life."

And you have to be present to all of it. And then you have to ask yourself, "Why does the Dalai Lama laugh? Why does Desmond Tutu--you know, was somebody that I worked with once--why is he capable of such laughter?" And I think part of the answer is that they're fully comfortable with the riotous expression, the darkness and the light, of what it means to be alive.

BILL MOYERS: Someone told me you're working on another book as we speak?


BILL MOYERS: A book that takes you from the cradle of humanity in South Africa to Australia.

BARRY LOPEZ: All over the--

BILL MOYERS: From Antarctica to the Galapagos?

BARRY LOPEZ: Well, I was always so self conscious about this. Somebody would say, "Well, how can you talk about community all the time, when you're gone, you know?"

BILL MOYERS: You're an itinerant.

BARRY LOPEZ: And, like a stupid man, I thought, "What lesson have I learned here in Oregon, in this chosen place, that helps me find an answer for this question that makes me feel guilty?"

And the answer is right in front of me. For 40 years, about 200 yards from the front of the house look- where I looked down on the river, Chinook salmon have spawned. Every year they come back. They have to run a gauntlet, but they're there every year. And no one in their right mind would say that those salmon, who haven't been here for four or five or sometimes six years, aren't members of the community. The community couldn't survive without them.

And that was the day I thought, "Well, I'm just like them. I'm rooted deeply here. This is my home. But I go like they do out into the ocean. And they bring back a story." It-- the story that they bring back is the story of renewal of their travels. So, that's how I began to, if you will, if you'll let me get away with this, this is how I defended myself. I said, "Whatever work was given to me, it means go out there and look and come back and tell us, as well as you can, which means you must pay attention. Come back and say what it is that you saw."

BILL MOYERS: But this is the intriguing paradox about your most interesting personal, interior architecture. I mean, when you come back from the far corners of the world, from the cradle of humanity, from out there. Way out there. You see humanity clearer than many of us who are right here.

BARRY LOPEZ: Here's the deal. I had really good teachers


BARRY LOPEZ: Jesuits, who woke up in me a capacity for metaphor. A capacity to understand that there were ways of knowing: science is a way of knowing, dance is a way of knowing, writing is a way of knowing. Any good writer will tell you that you're not in complete control here. The story is something that is emerging from parts given to you by other people. And it's feeding back into you. And your job is about syntax and language and punctuation and creating a drama and an arc and the rest.

But when I say I had really good teachers, some of them can be identified in a conventional way as a person standing in a classroom. But I'll tell you this, I know in my tissues that I have had other teachers- one of them is the living earth itself. I can remember walking on different-- what a scientist would call a substrate. This stuff, walking in sand or on rock or across water, not on the water, in the-

BILL MOYERS: That's coming.

BARRY LOPEZ: Yeah, okay. But my body will talk to me and say-- my body will say, "I was listening when you were not paying attention. And here's what your body learned through its senses about the world that you were moving in." So, a teacher-- the earth has been a teacher. And Inuit people or Yupik Eskimo or Inupiaq Eskimo or Pitjantjatjara people in Australia. All-- they're very different epistemologies. They're very different ways of understanding or trying to understand the great mystery.

And if you don't talk, you listen. What you're-- what's happening is you're being taught that you are not the center. I mean, this is what Copernicus was trying to say. Are you going to be able to manage this idea? That the sun doesn't revolve around us, but we revolve around the sun? That we're still feeling the reverberations of that. Let alone somebody like Darwin who comes along and says everything up until now has been physics and chemistry. But we're in a new world. We're in the fuzzy world of biology.

This that you call ursus maritimus, this polar bear. This is a being who came from somewhere and is going somewhere. It's not locked in time. And that- the great resistance to Darwin is, I think, he told us that it's all moving. And it's headed in no particular place. And then particular physics comes long. And quantum mechanics come along. And these physicists tell us the same thing. "It's really fuzzy out there."

So, if you want to know, you've got to be in a classroom with a person like those Jesuit priests, who taught me- who do know about one part of the world. And then you've got to be on your own, walking the earth, opening yourself up to it, becoming vulnerable. And it's talking to you. And you take it in. And then you sit down with somebody whose- background is completely different from yours. And you say, "When you look out there, what do you see?" And then just listen.

BILL MOYERS: Would you believe that I still have a small yellowed account of remarks you made 25, 26 years ago, when you received- the National Book Award for "Arctic Dreams." You talked there, briefly, about a word you had come across when you were visiting in Japan.

BARRY LOPEZ: I was in Japan. I was with a novelist, a man named Kazumasa Hirai. And everywhere I've gone in the world, I've said-- he was a storyteller, you know? We call him a novelist. But he was just a storyteller. He's like me.

And I would ask him or anybody I was with, "What do you mean when you say you're a storyteller? What do you do?" Because I want to know what I'm listening for is, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, we can talk about the structure. I'm not interested in structure of sentences. What I want to know is who how do you know how to behave? How do you know what to do as a person for other people? How do you know? What do you do?"

BILL MOYERS: As a storyteller?

BARRY LOPEZ: As a storyteller.


BARRY LOPEZ: And Kazumasa San said to me, "Your work is to take care of the spiritual interior of the language." And he said in Japanese this word we use, kotodama, means that each word has within it a spiritual interior. The word is like a vessel that carries something ineffable. And you must be the caretaker for that. You must be careful when you use language to look at every part of the word and make sure that you're showing respect for it in the place that you've given it to live in the sentence.

But I see all of us engaged in the same thing. And that is the invention of the story. And the story to me is the brilliance of storytelling is that it's the only and the best protection we have against forgetting.

I think, what is at the core of every story. I mean, how many novels have you put down and said to yourself, "Oh, I never knew that." Mostly you know it all, but you forget it. And you close a book and you say, "I knew that, but I'd forgotten it. And I am so glad to be reminded of what I intend to do and who I am. And what-- and how I want to conduct myself in the world."

Where I start from is ethical responsibility to an audience. The creation of something that is as beautiful as you can make it. And that in some way ensures that what we dream, what we really desire, not for ourselves, because that's what you do when you're a kid, but for children- how will you ensure some possibility here by making sure we don't forget where we're going or what we're up to.

BILL MOYERS: I was talking to a mutual friend of ours one night. And he has always been an affirmative and optimistic fellow. And he was saying, "You know, Moyers, for the first time in my life," and he's in his 50s, he said, "I'm beginning to think this America I believed in won't work. That the forces arrayed against justice and fairness are so great that we're going to go down."

And that very night, I came across something you had written. You wrote, "There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light." So, I wanted to ask you where are you today on the path between confusion and conviction?

BARRY LOPEZ: If I'm not-- and I'm telling you this straight up. People think that if you've written a book and somebody's given you a pat on the back then, you know, it's all-- you're all settled, you know? You're going to be fine. I know that if I'm not confused, and really afraid, my work isn't going to be any good.

When I sit at that typewriter, I have to be frightened of what I'm trying to do. I'm frightened by my own, belief that I can actually get a story down on paper. I still have that thing in my mind from childhood, "Who cares what you have to say?" So, my path is the same path. It's still a path through confusion and lack of self confidence, and struggle and embarrassment over all of my imperfection. But I would tell you at the same time, I have seen things that have dropped me to my knees in a state of awe, and when I know that that too is there, if I can find a way to build with language a bridge between a failure to believe and a witness to what is incomprehensible. If I can build that bridge and then do it again and then do it again. I would hope that at the end of my life, somebody would say, "Well, his life was useful. He helped." A key for me, in recent years, has been coming to a better understanding of the virtue of reverence than- I have ever had before, and here I'm borrowing from an American philosopher named Paul Woodruff--

BILL MOYERS: Friend of mine. University of Texas.

BARRY LOPEZ: Yes, that's right. I read this book. I think it's called "Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue." And he says in there that the virtue of reverence is rooted in the understanding that there is a world beyond human control, human invention, and human understanding.

And that that world will always be there, no matter how sophisticated our technologies of- probing reality become. The great mystery will be there forever. And it's the sense that it's not yours to solve. And the issue of a solution to a mystery is perhaps not a sign of wisdom. I am perfectly comfortable being in a state of ignorance before something incomprehensible. And it's in that moment that you're driven to your knees and you believe. I wouldn't call it religious. It's just what happens when you open up again to the extraordinary circumstances of being alive.

And when you can open up to it and come out of your own little small tiny place in the world and say-- if you try, you know, with typewriter rewriting, rewriting, and rewriting, rewriting. And you get something on paper. And you give it to somebody. And you say, "Well, what do you think?" And if it really works, they read it and they say, "I think I'm going to be okay."

BILL MOYERS: Leaning toward the light. But I'll tell you something about Paul Woodruff. Wonderful philosopher, was in Vietnam. And I don't know that he would have ever understood this sense of reverence, if he hadn't seen the savagery.

BARRY LOPEZ: Absolutely. And I think, you know, all that we've been talking about here. We're driving at something that both of us know and are struggling to find language for.

Or at least I am. And that is how do you introduce yourself to the darkness in the world? And how do you walk away from it and have something other than despair and grief to speak of? And he did that when he wrote that book. And I hope that- you know, I have seen, and I'm sure you have. I've seen truly horrible things. Truly horrible things in the world.

And- in the moment I was broken down and given to despair. And I saw despair as the great temptation. And I thought, "If my mother as a parent and my wife and children and people around me. If I have any kind of self respect, I cannot allow myself to fall apart. I must find a way to put myself back together. And if I can to discover a language that can be given to somebody who is broken in half, who never came home."

You know many of our friends never came-- they came home in their bodies, but they never came home from Vietnam or Iraq or these other places. And if you can tell them a story they believe, if you can tell them a story that they will buy about healing.

BILL MOYERS: One of the characters in my favorite book of yours, "Resistance," a woman, dying of Parkinson's disease, hands her daughter Viktor Frankl's book.


BILL MOYERS: A "Man's Search for Meaning." And says to her, "Now's the time for you to read this book."

BARRY LOPEZ: You're grown up enough to understand.

BILL MOYERS: What was that scene about?

BARRY LOPEZ: It's the same thing that you just described with Paul Woodruff. Don't you think? That we're-- the parent sees in the child the moment in which the child can appreciate that there is another response the horror besides self-destruction. That there is a way to enter into the bleakness that human beings are capable of, and not allow it to define what it is to be human.

Every-- I think every person-- you know, you can go out here on the streets of New York, and walk down the street, pick anybody out of the crowd, and they'll tell you a story that'll break your heart. Anybody. It- this happens to all of us. Every single person, somewhere in their life, is driven to a point of despair, where they just want to quit. And they don't quit.

And why don't they quit? I think they don't quit because there is a capacity for, a desire for reciprocated love that brings you back to life. It-- you know, there is no complete love when you love somebody. It has to be reciprocated. What you're after is this antiphony. This calling back and forth. "I love you." "I love you." "I love you." That's what-- the possibility of that brings you back to life.

"I love my children, therefore, I will get up off my knees when the whole thing looks like it's going to cave in here." And, you know, I think that the capacity that people have to recover the sense of what they mean and to say what they mean by the way they live is-- that's why I have faith in humanity.

BILL MOYERS: I don't know anyone who has more effectively reconciled the paradox of life. Because you talk about love. And yet, I also know you wrote once, "We don't make room in our lives anymore for love." For love of self, for love of others, for love of God, you said. I mean, why don't we make room in our lives?

BARRY LOPEZ: We're so afraid. There's so much to be afraid of. I mean, look at the government we have at the moment, I mean, there's so many places you can go, that make you think, "What in the world are we doing? And how can it be brought to heal?" But we-- I believe that there is a way for people to communicate with each other that they have never known before. It's never, I mean, part of this electronic world we live in, you know? It's got its darkness as well as its light.

But for people all over the world, in small groups, to be in touch with each other about what is welling up in every country, among every group of people, which is a desire for justice. You know, there-- I'm trying to remember the story. I don't remember the philosopher, the Greek philosopher who told the story of Zeus and Prometheus. Which really stuck when I first heard it, is that Zeus said to Prometheus, "Okay, you stole fire. Great for you. Now your people have technology. Wonderful. But here's something you don't know. You lack two things. And if you don't take these two things that I will give you, this will be a failure. Technology, you know, fire, all your magic, it will fail completely. It will be your undoing. And the two things that you need to make it work are justice and reverence. And if you have these two things, you won't get in trouble with this third thing that you thought was the be all and the end all."

BILL MOYERS: The technology.

BARRY LOPEZ: The technology. And when- you know, people have- we talked about this earlier. But if you- you know, my- what brought me fully to life as a child was the natural world. So, when I came to New York and immersed myself in, you know, the- in high culture, I didn't lose what I was given as a child. But the way I understood what I wanted to write about was using these metaphors of landscapes that I traveled in. And, you know, that's what I do.

But I'm not writing about nature. I'm writing about humanity. And if I have a subject, it is justice. And the rediscovery of the manifold way in which our lives can be shaped by the recovery of a sense of reverence for life.

BILL MOYERS: Barry Lopez, thank you very much for being with me on the Journal.

BARRY LOPEZ: Bill, thank you

BILL MOYERS: Next week, I'll be on the other side of the screen, a viewer like you, and I'll be watching the new public affairs program coming to PBS as the Journal leaves.

This new effort, through its innovative website and this public television station, aims to get to the heart of what we "Need to Know." And that's the title.

Hosting "Need to Know" are two journalists with the fresh perspective of their generation and solid accomplishments in print, broadcasting and web reporting. Jon Meacham is the editor of "Newsweek" magazine, and a fine historian — he won the Pulitzer Prize for his book "American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House."

Alison Stewart is a Peabody Award winning reporter and producer. She has worked at ABC, CBS, NBC and National Public Radio.

Among the stories we'll be seeing on "Need to Know," a report on the resurgence of the American gun rights movement. Since 2008, 26 states have eased restrictions on gun laws, with more and more allowing handguns to be concealed or carried openly into stores, churches and other public places.

Correspondent John Larson met "Open Carry" activists in a Virginia restaurant.

JOHN LARSON: I understand the right to bear arms but I don't understand the need to carry one into a restaurant.

MALE 1: It's like a fire extinguisher. Until you have a fire, you don't need it.

MALE 2: You may never need it. But if you need it, there's nothing else that's a substitute.

BILL MOYERS: You don't have to wait a week for "Need To Know." You can find it as soon as this Monday, May 3rd, at Check it out online and then on air every Friday on this PBS station, beginning May 7th. Alison and Jon, welcome to PBS. And good luck to you and all your colleagues on "Need to Know."

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