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 In a time in which facts have been replaced by commentary and thoughts replaced by innuendo, we’re probably less likely than at any point in time to bestow upon a media member the “most trusted” man or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.