“Tell and show the public what has happened.”

When people would ask sportswriter E.M. Swift if a particular sports moment that was unfolding could be the next Miracle on Ice, Swift was always quick to say, “Shut up. There’s never going to be another Miracle. You can’t get that many things to align again.” Sadly, the same can be said forthe great Walter Cronkite, who died earlier today.

In an era of 24-hour news, fragmented audience and micro-consumption of news, you’ll never have another singular anchor like Cronkite. In a time in which facts have been replaced by commentary and thoughts replaced by innuendo, we’re probably less likely than at any point in time to bestow upon a media member the “most trusted” man or woman status we gladly handed to him. There can’t be another one like him, and that’s our fault in a way.

We’ve grown accustomed to the O’Reillys of the world, who use partial facts and convenient distortion to score points with a narrow-minded and under-informed constituency. We’ve tolerated for far too long the people who replace good reporting and solid, metered delivery with the desire to be famous. When they’ve got nothing more going for them than their lame-brained opinion, they just scream it louder with the idea that eventually if they’re loud enough, we’ll buy it. We’ve allowed the continual festering and growth of people who seem to believe not in news values, but a set of values that they believe should drive the news.

In today’s market, Cronkite would be as out of place as a “Shit Happens” bumper sticker on a Rolls Royce. His scathing commentary about the Vietnam War would have earned him the “why do you hate America?” questions from his “colleagues” in the media. His stands against corporate media would have had him riding an overnight shift doing radio news at 580 KDIO-AM in Boise. His distaste for “fluff” would have had him cringing at the almost-daily fare of weather stories and pieces on which type of rock salt is best for dissolving the ice in your driveway that masquerades as news these days.

In a time in which we are as uncertain about our own nation as we were during Cronkite’s hey day, we need another Uncle Walter. We need a calm, rational voice that tells us what is going on, why we should care and lets us move about our lives with at least a little inkling that we’re well informed on things that matter. Instead, we’ve had a laundry list of substitute teachers who have either plied us with candy or rattled a saber of fear at us to boost their own sense of self.

In his final days, Cronkite was not as fearful of the “new media” as were many younger journalists. He filed for HuffPo and was a frequent guest on cable shows until he became quite ill. However, he was afraid of what was happening to the message, in that newspapers, TV and the internet had become more sizzle than substance. To that end, his great hope was a return to the glory age of journalism, in which we learned facts and trusted the sources, regardless of platform

It is in that hope we may find improved value in our media.

But never again will we find another Cronkite.

13 thoughts on ““Tell and show the public what has happened.”

  1. Even though I say a prayer when anyone passes on, it must be remembered that “Uncle Walter” is just another establishment mouthpiece IMO.
    ANYONE who can stand up in front of Americans and supports the claim that JFK was killed by a single assassin HAS to be on “the payroll”. That he intimated that our involvement in Vietnam was a lost-cause was simply stating the obvious many years after the average American knew the same thing…because many of their friends and family members were coming home in body bags or as amputees. Kinda like right now.
    Now, he might’ve been a super-great guy as a person, but still a corporate mouthpiece who set the precedent for all the current corporate cheerleaders we have on teevee now.
    One thing Walter and the reporters of his generation DID have were the journalistic skills missing from all the cheerleaders on the screen today. Hell, 90% of those on air today couldn’t tell you what continent Liberia is on or describe the first law of physics. But in the final analysis, his journalistic skills (and those of many others) were trumped by the corporate power-plays and seduction of money and inclusion with power brokers and celebrities.
    Then again, I’m a rather cynical sort anyway. And that’s the way it is…

  2. Rick,
    ANYONE who unctuously announces he said a prayer for the still warm corpse he then proceeds to take a big messy dump on, all the while pontificating with zero historical or professional perspective, not to mention contradicting himself twice, is, in the final analysis, just another gasbag commenter in love with the sound of his own voice and the smell of his own shit.

  3. (from memory)
    Walter’s lead on the nightly news the night after John Lennon’s death:
    “Tonight, events in Washington, in Warsaw, and in Moscow are overshadowed by the death of a man who sang and played the guitar.”

  4. My suspicion is that Cronkite’s death will get a lot less media play than Russert’s. Russert followed the new rules, just like the rest of the anchor bastards — while Cronkite is a big, blaring reminder that TV news used to be better, used to be reliable, used to be respectable.
    Oh, and fuck you, Rick.

  5. I don’t want to poop on the daddy parade, and I loved Cronkite as much as any of you–I’m 48 and I was literally raised with Cronkite and with those images of death on TV every night. But Cronkite was, in fact, very much part of the establishment. Sure, he was light years ahead of, and more honorable than, the kind of dregs we have become accustomed to on TV and in the News. But there were, of course, real radical journalists, real muckrackers–among them my grandfather–and Cronkite was excruciatingly careful never to be caught anywhere near them, near radical ideas (before they had become almost conventional wisdom), or near ideas that would rock the boat politically. There were big developements politically while he was at the helm of his news show, and he covered them in what is, given the standards of today, an astonishingly non partisan way. But there were huge cold war issues, journalist issues (the death of George Polk) and others to which Cronkite turned a blind eye.
    His acknowledgement that the vietnam war was lost was a huge step, akin to the Beatles coming back from India and confessing that they’d been taken for rubes by a plausible pundit carney barker, and he deserves a lot of credit for it. But that’s because he had a huge public platform, and because he’d been so insistent, for so long, on more or less backing the war. There were plenty who had reported at first hand what he didn’t deign to believe.
    I think Walter improved in retirement and, in people’s imaginations, moved farther towards a progressive stance on everything than was true for him when he was the daddy of broadcast news.

  6. Walter Cronkite came out of Texas into World War II as a journalist — a reporter — someone who understood that highfalutin’ language and a reverence for the powers-that-be wouldn’t do the public justice, that war was a messy business whether conducted in Europe to fight off Hitler or in Saigon to fight off Ho Chi Minh or in the streets of Alabama to fight off the likes of Bull Connor. He understood that if we wanted a world where we didn’t fight wars we had no business messing with, we needed to see — you, me, our kids and grandparents NEEDED to SEE, every day, the bloodshed, the mutilation, the destruction and understand the horror, hear the screams; if he’d been able, he’d have brought us over the airwaves the scents of cordite, burning flesh, napalm, and those awful piles of rotting, maggot-eaten meat that used to be soldiers and bystanders — needed to see and UNDERSTAND exactly how horrible an unending nightmare war really is.
    But he didn’t scream at viewers. You never saw spittle-flecked shouting-matches on the CBS Evening News during Cronkite’s time as managing editor. No tantrums; and at least once a week even in the middle of all the horror, he found a story to make us think, reflect, consider that blessings exist as well. A small success or a moment of sheer loveliness.
    If he had a visible bias it was his love for the space program — and it’s a bias I learned from him, and wish I could get back in the light of today’s ho-hum, no-coverage-except-disasters news about NASA.
    Godspeed, Walter Cronkite.
    Rick? Ai Mai? Shut the hell up, you soulless propagandistic scumsucking dirtbags.

  7. Thank you aimai, for doing what Rick did not.
    You presented your view Cronkite and explained why you thought that way, and backed it up with plausible explanations, some facts, and your own firsthand knowledge and memories. My admiration for Cronkite is based on my own impressions and memories but I haven’t really explored a lot about his career and you made me want to know more. I read a lot about your grandfather but I know nothing almost nothing about George Polk.
    Rick, of course, there’s always room for withering scorn and derision in blog comments. Steam helped build the internet after all. It’s just that knowledge and ideas are more fun to read.

  8. i was too young to experience uncle walter, but i enjoyed his pieces on NPR. he will be missed. especially when we have wolfies and katies now, and the rest of the teevee gnews.

  9. Virgo-tex and The Other Sarah
    I seem to have touched a nerve with my comments on Cronkite. I apologize if I rained on anyone’s parade. As I said, I personally enjoyed Cronkite’s style and his presence. He also moved very far to the liberal spectrum–or perhaps it is that Reagan et al dragged the country so far to the right–that his later, rare, op eds and appearances were things that I very much admired. But I guess what I’m trying to say is that it wasn’t really a simpler time in which men were men, journalists were journalists, and governments were held accountable by journalists for their lies and crimes. Not. At.All. There is nothign new under the sun.
    Just because we have seen, since the birth of Fox News, a complete melding of the republican party with the media doesn’t mean that corporate and establishment control of the media message was at all a new thing, just cobbled together by Murdoch. And just because we’ve seen news personalities become entertainment celebreties in our own lifetimes doesn’t mean that Cronkite et al–and Murrow too, in their own day, weren’t as much under the gun and under the glamor of establishment goodies and temptations as Christiane Amanpour and Wolf Blitzer.
    Outside the well paying realm (and it did pay well, in its own way) of the established media personalities and established news organizations there were lots of people who were merely political actors, activists, writers, thinkers whose opinions and visions and facts were simply ignored by Cronkite and others. They didn’t make it into the little half hour news segments because they were so far off the beaten track, the approved discourse. Murders in Franco’s spain, under the control of the Greek Junta, in Latin America. There were tons of “official secrets” that never broke out into the news until they were forced there by, for example, the Church Commission or other major political events and hearings. Just as in our time by the time there is an official hearing on, say, the Bush/cheney war crimes it will be long past the time we already know most of that stuff anyway. We won’t be standing around applauding that decade’s Cronkite for having the courage to finally say “wow! We were lied to!” years after the fact and after all the deaths.
    Other Sarah–I watched the same newscasts you did, at the dinner table at night. We must be remembering different broadcasts because although we saw the blood, and the death toll, I remember all that as just the style of the news in those days–not Cronkite’s innovation. We were also given little bitty pep talks about how well it was all going almost right to the end and for the most part government cheerleading was taken at face value. People were challenging the official story–but it wasn’t Cronkite who led the charge. He was very late to the fair.

  10. In the mid-1970s, Rolling Stone magazine printed an article that outlined the long and beneficial ties that existed between DEAR OLD WALTER and the CI lying A. Not a pretty pretty picture.
    Don’t just dear old walter me. Evil as evil does.

  11. I’m too young to remember him, and I don’t care what his political stances were. What is evident from watching his archival footage is that he had an impressive, Lorne Greene-esque presence (for those of you who only know him as a character actor, for years upon years, Lorne Green was “The Golden Voice of the CBC”), and presented news and commentary in a way that was an order of magnitude less vapid than just about anybody working today. Even though hedid seem to be very much the voice of the status quo in many ways, better someone like him than someone like Tim Russert blathering out of his overinflated, helium-filled head…

  12. If you check, aimai, the interviews Walter Cronkite gave Miller and others, he says in his own words that the war palled on him gradually, and it was only after he went to Hue and heard the official reports (100,000, maybe 200,000 more men in theatre and we’ll win this thing) while flying in a helicopter full of dead and wounded Marines that he himself had the facts in hand to say, No, we won’t. We can’t. It’s no use. A very difficult thing for someone who’d been in the vanguard of US forces going into North Africa in World War II to have to conclude.
    Viet Nam wasn’t the same kind of war Iraq is, although Walter Cronkite warned w/cheney that the war in Iraq was the wrong war and we should get out of it, too. To be fair, LBJ was a very different kind of president than w / cheney — Jack Kennedy said the people of Viet Nam needed to win that war, and that we could help. Because Kennedy had pledged our help, LBJ tried to win the thing (maybe more in an effort to honor Kennedy’s vision, as he did with so much else, than for any other reason) — and McNamara lied from can-see to can’t-see about that godforsaken goal, day after day after day after day.
    I remember sometime around 13 Sept 01 hearing Dan Rather say that Bush was President and if ordered he’d go to war; I think, in those shell-shocked first days and hours, a lot of people felt that way. But not about Iraq; about Osama bin Laden. About Al Qaeda. About, perhaps, the Saudis, given that the hijackers were all identified (and that was damn quick, wasn’t it? On the basis of a passport and papers that survived one of the planes blowing up inside one of the WTC towers?) as Saudis, albeit disaffected ones.
    No, Walter Cronkite wasn’t a “liberal” in the “ZOMFG, anathema!!” sense of that word we’ve all absorbed since the Nixon presidency. He was, as the astronaut John Glenn and the actors George Clooney and Robin Williams have pointed out since last Friday night, a man who had a family and a conscience and who gave his time and effort to charities off-camera (the Give Children the World foundation and the astronaut scholarship fund among those) that wouldn’t meet Fox News’ litmus test. He was, in the old-fashioned senses of the words, decent, sincere, and trustworthy.
    The polar opposite of such “news anchors” as today’s vapid Faux Noise parade, and a far better journalist and editor than the sensationalist (does anybody still even use that word?) disciples of Geraldo Rivera now bestriding the media circus (Blitzer, Buchanan, Stephanopoulos, et al).
    We shall not see his like again; he spoke with a measure of calm and reason we no longer value in our newsmen, and we are the poorer for it.
    I note that you didn’t speak to my contention about his delivery or the demeanour of the shows on which he anchored (and served as managing editor) CBS’ Evening News. We lost something of the soul of the news when he retired; Dan Rather, much as I love him, isn’t as unflappable as Walter Cronkite. Even in tears when JFK was killed, even in tears when “The Eagle Has Landed” (and if you look at that video you can see the wetness in his eyes — Walter Cronkite took a breath, and spoke to us all calmly and carefully. When he got the call about LBJ’s death, he made a graceful interruption in the newscast to obtain the information accurately and completely before passing it on to us.
    I was just barely four years old — in fact, four years and 20 days — when President Kennedy was killed in Dallas. But Walter Cronkite was the voice that brought the momentous — be they horrifying or electrifying — events of each weekday to us, and I remember he had a Sunday afternoon program, in the days before 60 Minutes, too. He was my favorite host for “You Are There”, although Charles Osgood wasn’t bad.
    I don’t recall much about Franco’s Spain on the CBS Evening News — but neither do I remember reading or hearing much about it in other news of the times.

  13. I grew up with Uncle Walter–that clip Doc picked was from about 36 hours before I was born. So I have fond memories of his style, and I don’t have the baggage of the 60’s to weigh down those memories.
    But I think I can safely say that after watching David Gregory’s performance on Meat the Press yesterday, given the choice between Gregory and Cronkite, even with Cronkite’s establishmentarianism, I’d take Uncle Walter every time.

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