Friday, July 17, 2009
Walter Cronkite died at 92 today and the world has lost one of the shining beacons of journalism. The TV anchorman and reporter once dubbed “the most trusted man in America” left a legacy that is unmatchable by today’s cable news reporters, who seem too physically perfect and airbrushed and vacuous. Cronkite was a competent, sober warrior of the Fourth Estate, an old school journalist living in one of the most turbulent times of our nation’s history. From the assassination of John F. Kennedy to the Vietnam War, to the assassination of Martin Luther King and Watergate, Cronkite was a towering figure who covered our world and brought harsh realities to viewers every night.
After he visited Vietnam in 1968, his on-air editorial, a personal account based on his own observations, was a turning point of the war and influenced public opinion. He was so highly regarded that President Johnson said of him, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” Cronkite’s Vietnam commentary led Johnson to end the bombing in North Vietnam and announce to a stunned nation that we wouldn’t run for re-election
Those were the days before the zoo of cable news networks and the 24-hour news cycle doling out partisan opinion and fluff. They were times when a reporter could be trusted and even revered for informing the people.
It was a time when anchormen had catchphrases. Cronkite ended each broadcast with a reassuring “And that’s the way it is...”
Try that now and you’d be laughed out of the studio.
Cronkite was “Uncle Walter,” a familiar face we’d invite in our living rooms and who’s report with dignity and competence. He was the real deal, a mainstream journalist who delivered the news and could be trusted, even by those who thought the media was in cahoots with the Prince of Darkness.
So wired into news and events that he showed emotion when reporting. When Kennedy was assassinated, Cronkite was visibly shaken as he delivered the news. His excitement over the space program and his choking up when Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969 made Americans care about the space race. It became a real thing, a crowning achievement in science, technology and culture and elicited real emotion.
Under that austere Midwestern exterior, Cronkite showed his human side, and the viewers appreciated him for it. He was a titan in broadcast journalism, one of the last of his breed. Though he left broadcasting in 1981, Cronkite continued to stay active, writing and appearing in various movies, television shows and news programs.
His passing marks the end of an era of sober, balanced and straight news coverage in a national lunatic asylum obsessed with celebrities, political diatribes and general insanity.