Saturday, 18 July 2009

The Death of the Anchorman

As news of Walter Cronkite's death spread last evening, he was appropriately eulogized as a pillar of journalistic integrity; the purveyor of news for a generation. In a pre-Internet, 500 channel, satellite radio universe, it was through Mr. Cronkite's eyes and verbiage that we learned of events of the day. As anybody of a certain age can attest, Walter Cronkite was the embodiment of all that was trustworthy and decent in television news. When he signed off for a final time in 1981, an age of broadcast news disappeared with him never to be seen again.

As a child growing up in Canada in the 60s and 70s, it was impossible not to know of Walter Cronkite. I have distinct, albeit fuzzy memories (I am not that old!) of Apollo 11's historic landing 40 years ago this weekend, and my parents waking me up in order to share in world history with Mr. Cronkite. Whenever my brother and I would visit our grandparents, dinner and all activity would automatically cease at 6:30 so that my grandfather could watch the CBS Evening News. My immigrant Polish/Jewish grandfather who spoke first in Yiddish and only in English when needed; who read the Forvitz (The Forward-a Yiddish language paper) like gospel, got his world news not from the CBC, but from his main man Walter. I remember sitting with him for that half an hour in silence while he took in the latest in current events. It was as if Walter Cronkite was the only person he trusted to tell him what was really truth and what was fiction, and nothing could disturb that relationship.

In the aftermath of Mr. Cronkite's death, the question has been posed if we will ever again see a singular person who so dominates television news and the answer has to be, sadly no. As FoxNews has so aptly demonstrated, there isn't a news organization that doesn't in some way display its predilections. Left wingers will always see the press as agents of the right and conservatives will always see a liberal media bias. Columnists and newspapers strive for impartiality, but are continually undone by an increasingly polarized and politicized public. Media organizations are conglomerates that suck into their vortexes newspapers, magazines, radio stations, television networks, on-line sites and 24/7 news networks that all seem to spew the attitudes and opinions dictated by their corporate hierarchy. It is difficult to know where news reporting ends and opinion begins. Instead of true impartiality, we are forced to endure pundits. Instead of Walter Cronkite we have Rush Limbore.

When Mr. Cronkite saw fit to criticize the Tet offensive and, in turn the direction of the Viet Nam war, President Lyndon Johnson remarked "If I have lost Cronkite, then I have lost Middle America." A year later, Johnson announced that he would not seek re-election. It was the only time in his storied career, that Cronkite broke his code of impartiality and, as a result its impact resonated. Talking heads today are more concerned with being first rather than being right. Right can come later in the next hour. They are more concerned with their hair and make-up than they are in preparation. Who needs to prepare when repetition is first and foremost? No, I think that my grandfather understood what many of us are lamenting today. There will never be another Walter Cronkite.

1 comment:

  1. I found it very fitting that Walter Cronkite, who did such incredible reporting on the first moon landing, would die on the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. RIP, Walter.