Cronkite passes

Newsman Walter Cronkite has passed away at age 92.

I tend to echo Allahpundit’s sentiments, here. His life was long and successful, his death came at a late age we should all be so fortunate to see; I wish peace for his family, but absolutely dread another overindulgent media-waking. Particularly when the American public faces so many grave issues, the anticipation of watching the press glurge at another morbidly sentimental feast just feels exhausting.

That journalists were my first heroes is no secret; I even wrote about that youthful fixation in this piece for the CBS blog.

My tastes tended to run more to Nancy Dickerson, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Roger Grimsby and (latterly) Dan Rather, but Cronkite was, of course, part of my childhood news viewing and I vividly recall him being “the voice” of the JFK assassination story, as well as for most of the major news stories of that era. Martin Luther King’s murder and funeral; RFK’s remarkable response to that assassination and his own sudden, violent death. Kent State. Chicago, 1968 “We have Dan Rather on the floor…” Vietnam. President Johnson declaring, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” Nixon’s resignation.

I’m sure Cronkite would have loved President Obama, just like the rest of the media hordes. But I would like to think that he would not have countenanced this sort of news-manipulation on his watch – that he would not have ignored those grassroots movements that did not fit his ideology, or enabled startling doublestandards, but who knows? Perhaps he’d have jumped into Free-American-Press-into-Pravda Devolution with both feet, if it made him feel like he was part of something “too big to fail.”

After his retirement, I would read profiles and interviews with Cronkite, and I found myself thinking of him – even when I was still a “liberal Democrat” – as something of an elitist; I would wonder if he had absorbed all that “most trusted man in America” stuff, to his detriment. Nothing so deftly distorts a person’s sense of himself than believing media-hype when it is thrown his way, and wearing the laurel of “most trusted man,” could affect the head, I think.

Who knows the answer to that question?
I don’t. In op-ed pieces Cronkite could sometimes seem grave and wise, and sometimes cheap and shrill – just like the rest of us – so if he did believe his hype, he also managed to transcend it and maintain his humanity. His objection to wind farms off Nantucket were quickly withdrawn, and I liked what he said at the time:

“My alacrity in accepting an invitation to make a comment was partly my own dropping of my reportorial role of investigating a situation before making a comment,” he said. “I did not do it, and it was my fault.”

Cronkite was a loving family man – I remember a photo-essay of Cronkite and his son (or grandson?), in a boat. Being a kid who loved boats (albeit more humble boats, from which I’d be launched into the waist-deep water to dig up bushels of clams) I liked the photo, and the easy way he and the boy smiled at each other.

Walter Cronkite was also someone who did not subject the nation to a public-working-out of his personal anxieties, and these days, that is certainly something to be thankful for, and to praise.

So, RIP, Mr. Cronkite. I will not blame you for the media excesses we will have to endure for the next week to ten days.

I recall hoping that Tim Russert’s sad death would inspire
some self-reflection within the ranks of the press, but that did not happen, so I doubt Cronkite’s death will wake them from their self-destructive sleep, either.

Sigh. Let us remind ourselves about Icons and Idols.

Deacon Greg, a CBS alum, has Cronkite’s First Evening News Broadcast and his own personal and poignant memories of Cronkite.

The NY Times
has a collection of “memorable reports on video

Related:
Newsbusters has major obits
Huffpo, just keep scrolling
Rightpundits: Cronkite’s Legacy
Remarks on Death of Cronkite
Ed Driscoll, not feeling too nostaligic
Radio Patriot: Recalls meeting Cronkite
Jon Podhoretz
The Swamp
Memorandum has all the links

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Bender

    I doubt Cronkite’s death will wake them from their self-destructive sleep

    Why should it? He helped bring it about. He was the father of biased, dishonest, advocacy journalism, advancing his own political view in the guise of “trust” and “that’s the way it is.”

    And he succeeded. The reason so many were, at one time, even if they are not now, “liberal Democrats” is because they bought into his own liberal Democrat spin and twist on the news. They thought what he told them to think. Manipulation, double standards, and Pravda? He helped make today’s MSM exactly that. He paved the way.

  • Greg Cable

    You may be being too generous in thinking Cronkite would not have let his ideology cloud his news judgment. When Osama bin Laden sent out a video around the time of the 2004 election, I believe Cronkite suggested (on Larry King?) that Karl Rove may have been involved in orchestrating the release. Never heard too much from Walter after that.

  • Ellen

    I’m old enough to remember the sheer joy Cronkite brought to his coverage of the space program. He loved it and I remember him wiping away tears when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon.

  • RandyB

    On the other hand, it was Uncle Walter who announced on the air “America has lost the war in Vietnam”, setting the stage for the propagandizing of the Tet Offensive as an American loss, when in fact A. we won that particular campaign and B. North Vietnam launched that campaign because we had been effective in rendering the Viet Cong guerrillas non-operational. It is possible that, had Uncle Walter and his peers accurately reported the facts instead of spreading lies, the political outcome would have been different, and the lives of hundreds of thousands might not have been lost.

  • Pingback: RIP, Walter Cronkite « Sister Toldjah

  • http://www.aol.com exhelodrvr

    No media manipulation? You mean other than significantly (hugely) misreporting the Tet Offensive, which was a major factor in the loss of Vietnam?

  • http://moneyrunner.blogspot.com/2009/07/why-i-dont-mourn-walter-cronkite.html Moneyrunner

    Why I don’t mourn Walter Cronkite
    Walter Cronkite is dead and I extend my sympathy to this relatives and friends who grieve. As for me, I cannot find it in myself to mourn his passing. I watched his version of the news constantly, recalling his famous closing line “and that’s the way it is.” The problem is, as I learned later, that’s not the way it was.

    Walter Cronkite was labeled – I don’t know by whom, probably the marketing department at CBS News – as “the most trusted man in America.” He, and many others, used that trust to create an aura around the news business that it has taken literally decades to reveal as a false front. At a time when information was one-way and media outlets were severely limited in number, the version of reality that was reflected by Walter Cronkite shaped public opinion so massively that opposing opinions stood no chance. That is why it was Walter Cronkite who ended America’s quest for victory in Viet Nam.

    When Lyndon Johnson said that “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” He recognized a political truth. Consider this.

    In mid-February, in the immediate aftermath of the Tet Offensive, both Gallup and Harris noted a surge in American support for the war. Both pollsters said 61% of Americans favored a stronger military response against the North Vietnamese Army. 70% of Americans favored increased bombing of North Vietnamese targets, which was up from 63% in the previous December.

    Then came Cronkite’s February 27 commentary.

    To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory conclusion.

    In early March, just a few days later, 49% of Americans said it was a mistake to have entered the Vietnam conflict. Only 35% believed the war would end within two years. 69% now approved of a phased withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam.*

    The political power Cronkite wielded was acknowledged not just by Lyndon Johnson – who effectively ceded control of America’s war policy to a news commentator – but is acknowledged by his cohorts in the news business:
    It is impossible to imagine CBS News, journalism or indeed America without Walter Cronkite,” CBS News president Sean McManus said in a statement. “More than just the best and most trusted anchor in history, he guided America through our crises, tragedies and also our victories and greatest moments.”
    Repeat that in your mind: “He guided America.” And employee of CBS news “guided America.” This is not a brief for Lyndon Johnson or the literal crooks and clowns who inhabit the house and senate, but the power that Cronkite wielded over America is troubling to me.

    From the same article we are reminded that Cronkite had a team. And who was on that team? Eric Severeid, Daniel Schorr, Dan Rather, Roger Mudd, Mike Wallace. See anyone there who you would recognize as a Conservative voice? Neither do I. Today Daniel Schorr delivers diatribes against the Right from his sinecure at NPR and Dan Rather maintains that it was those damn Right Wingers who smeared him by exposing his phony Bush papers story.

    Cronkite, it was said, “did not editorialize often.” Well, let’s put it this way, he did not come out and say “this is my opinion.” But his way of editorializing is the same craft that them media used in his time and ever since: selective use of facts, the omission of this story, the emphasis on that story, all used to weave a version of reality that people believed about the world around them beyond the reach of their five senses.

    Walter Cronkite gained immense power and, in my opinion used that power badly to advance his personal wealth and his personal ideology. There’s a lot of money to be made if you are the “most trusted man in America.” And you can convince a lot of people that “that’s the way it is” if they believe you.

    The healthiest thing for American democracy has been the internet, having broken the death-grip that the mainstream media have had on American perspectives of reality. Had Walter Cronkite lived with the internet, his title and his sign off line would have been laughed at.

    Rest in peace.

  • Max

    I recall hearing some Kennedy guy — Sorensen, maybe — waxing eloquent about Cronkite and the importance of the media on Nightline once decades ago. He said, “Why, what would have this country done with the voice of Cronkite and the big three during the Kennedy assassination?”

    What would we have done with Cronkite to guide us through those troubling days? I reckon we could’ve figured something out.

    I wish the best to Cronkite’s kin during this time, but I must say, it’s kind of nice that entire era is over.

  • Max

    [Edited version]

    I recall hearing some Kennedy guy — Sorensen, maybe — waxing eloquent about Cronkite and the importance of the media on Nightline once decades ago. He said, “Why, what would have this country done without the voice of Cronkite and the big three during the Kennedy assassination?”

    What would we have done with Cronkite to guide us through those troubling days? I reckon we could’ve figured something out.

    I wish the best to Cronkite’s kin during this time, but I must say, it’s kind of nice that entire era is over.

  • Joseph Marshall

    I must confess that I think the above comments have about the historical depth of a tea saucer.

    I first had the pleasure of listening to archival recordings of his London Calling Blitz coverage at about the age of 12, when Cronkite first started at CBS Evening News, and when I was reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich to learn about the enemies of my father’s war. And I followed him through to his retirement.

    I know where Cronkite came from, and where Edward R. Murrow came from and it was not an “objective” style of reporting in the least. “Objective” news coverage is a chimera.

    It’s “objectivity” and apparent transparency was sustained by the fact that its actual political bias was the same as that of the overwhelming consensus majority of American voters, which was not “conservative” in the least. In fact, this consensus dealt two of the most devastating electoral defeats in American history to the conservative point of view, 1932 and 1964.

    The conservative point of view in those years was held largely by an ill-educated, hyperventilating, and anti-intellectual lunatic fringe and this was only starting to change, largely due to the influence of William F. Buckley and the National Review. Buckley was the first conservative I ever read [and I read him back then] who could think straight enough for long enough to actually write a coherent and persuasive essay. When I first read him, he was just about the only one who could.

    The Anchoress has fond memories of this time a time of a better, more objective, journalism and a Democratic Party which was sane and moderate. This is also an illusion. The consensus position of the Democratic party in the 1950′s and 1960′s was that of implicit or explicit support of racial segregation and an implicit or explicit assent to the notion that “negros” were an inferior, incapable, and potentially threatening grade of human being.

    This was hardly a sane and moderate point of view, though it was, to our lasting shame, a major part of that overarching American consensus. And it was, in fact, the issue which broke that consensus to pieces and made modern political conservatism possible.

    There are only two ways that the news coverage of the 1950′s and 1960′s was “better”. First, many newspapers and all the broadcast news organizations had real news gathering correspondents stationed both abroad and across the country.

    The banner years of CBS news in the late 1960′s were not because of Uncle Walter [though he helped] but because NBC started cutting back their foreign operations and CBS simply had the best and most detailed reporting from where the news actually happened. Cronkite was merely the friendly, but serious and reserved, traffic director.

    The other way in which the news of that era was better is that the generation of newsmen of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite were not afraid to take on the powerful who were either lying to the public, or lying to themselves. Murrow took on the outright lies of Joe McCarthy and his cohorts [Richard Nixon among them],

    And Cronkite blasted away the self-deception of “victory” in Vietnam when our operations were not interdicting the movement or the fighting capacity of the VC, the NVA, and their Soviet and Red Chinese supporters and suppliers to any significant degree.

    We just went through eight years of the public being lied to and the liars also lying to themselves. Only one news organization, Knight Ridder Washington Bureau [now McClatchy], documented every lie as as a lie when it happened. Their coverage of those eight is what the serious historians will turn to 20 years from now and longer.

    Every other news organization was either too cowed or too ineffective to do it until the stack of lies had piled up to the height of the Tower of Babel.

    And Knight Ridder did it the old fashioned way, the way both Cronkite and Murrow would have understood. They did it with their own correspondents gumshoeing around; interviewing sources both high and low, here and abroad; and putting the pieces of the puzzle together carefully and systematically.

    It may well be the last time anyone ever does it. Because something that Cronkite stood for has been as gravely ill as he was before his death last night.

    Real news reporting.

  • http://www.aol.com exhelodrvr

    Ah, Joseph, you are confusing “personal opinion” with “real news reporting,” because you happen to agree with the “personal opinion.”

  • http://raygardnerillustration.typepad.com/ Ray Gardner

    I cringe when I hear that “most trusted man” comment. I was 12 when he retired so he didn’t mean very much to me, but as a young Marine, I learned about Tet, and his infamous declaration of defeat so I had no misguided nostalgia to overcome. I just saw him for what he was; a biased, subjective man who had no compunction about putting his personally felt agenda before the morale of the nation.

  • http://proteinwisdom.com/pub dicentra

    I too am not that impressed by Cronkite’s lack of objectivity, but he did do one good thing here:

    He narrated the story of the Christmas Truce in WWI, when men on both sides of the trenches began singing Christmas carols. With the MoTab Choir, his stentorian diction was perfect for this storytelling.

    I highly recommend seeing this video; it’s very moving and based on a true story.

  • Joan Thomason

    My main memory of this man is his presenting lesbian dancers on a PBS special

  • Zelsdorf Ragshaft III

    Joseph. The facts are General Giap intended, known by his own admission, to sue for peace because of the great loss to the Viet Cong in the Tet. The kill ratio was something like 98 to 1, If that is a loss I am glad you do not score football games. Walter Cronkite, through his lies about the outcome of the Tet offensive, caused the war to extend and by that extension cost tens of thousands of Americans their lives. He is and was a traitor to his country no less than Benedict Arnold. He is a black mark on journalism. His commentary was poison. May he face justice in the next life as he escaped it here.

  • newton

    Never saw a single broadcast of his. I was just a little girl when he retired.

    Besides, as a kid I was listening to broadcasts in Spanish. I’m sure there are TV news legends in the Spanish speaking world that I and others can talk about as well.

    RIP. That’s all I got to say about that.

  • brooklyn

    RIP

    Even with some of the ugly comments about GW Bush, one can only wish the deceased the very best.

    I agree, Mr. David Brinkley was simply outstanding.

  • dry valleys

    “May he face justice in the next life as he escaped it here.”

    Unless he repented prior to death, of course.

  • bt

    We didn’t have a tv when I grew up, so I missed out on all of the well-known anchors that are now passing away. I prefer the phrase “reporting the news” to the phrase “guiding a nation”. May Walter rest in peace and may his Angel guide him to Heaven.

  • igout

    I can understand the lamentations from the MSM; “Uncle” represented the apex of their Pravda-like monopoly on the news. For me, there’s a staight line from his Tet broadcast to the “last chopper out”. No tears from me.

  • Bob Sykes

    I am 66 years old, and I remember Cronkite as an inveterate liar, especially and most perniciously about Vietnam, a war that we actually won before the victory was thrown away by the Democrat left.

    His true legacy is the corruption of the main stream media, which today cannot be trusted to tell the simple truth about even the simplest, most noncontroversial things in order to gain some advantage. E.g., that Sotomayor is the first Hispanic nominated to the Supreme Court. She’s actually the second.

  • Don L

    I was of the impression that Walter was some kind of a gura of sorts. I suspect that Rush did the most of anyone in his early days to awaken America to mainstream media bias. It was years before even conservatives got wise to the leftist gimmicks. I still haven’t heard any eulogy about Walter’s windmill NIMBY-ism.

  • Obloodyhell

    Neeo-neocon has an excellent two-part piece here and here.

    Whilee I wish Cronkite no direct personal ill, I think he’s got to answer to God for all the Vietnamese people killed, tortured, lost fleeing the country by raft, and generally oppressed for more than 30-odd years, almost solely due to his actions.

    And, as neo notes, it was this comment which was a watershed moment in modern journalism, which said to journalists, “it’s ok to pawn off your opinions as ‘news’ — you don’t have an obligation to report only the facts, but to tell people what they should think”. From this you get Dan “TANG memo” Rather and all the lies and half-truths about Iraq, the Iraq war, Saddam, Chavez, Honduras, Israel, and all the other crap about America spread as “news” in the last 30+ years.

  • dymphna

    So far, there hasn’t been much in the way of public mourning. Cronkite was 92 afterall and it was time to go. When Russert died it was a terrible shock but Cronkite’s been almost dead for so long that people remember the legend instead of the man.


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