Thursday, July 23, 2009

Walter Cronkite

I watched him for years. CBS News was the one news report I watched. It was simply the best. Cronkite was a trustworthy journalist, the very idea, the model, the paradigm, of a journalist.

LBJ is reported to have said, in the context of Viet Name, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost America." He had lost both and the War, as well.

Unsurprisingly, yet still annoyingly, someone at the Wall Street Journal wrote a piece using Cronkite as a weapon to spank the Journal's favorite foil; the Left.

It was fitting that the death of Walter Cronkite should have occasioned tributes more straightforward, more connected to a recognizable reality -- more reportorial (there was everything to tell) -- and more uplifting in tone than that of any celebrity in decades. They were, these evocations of the man, that life's work and the times that bred them, something of a last gift to his fellow citizens. Those stories about his career as a reporter and then a network anchor that came flooding forth unstoppably from former colleagues and friends in the news business on Friday night were more than just reminders of what broadcast journalism once was and is no more in the age of news as entertainment. The band of network news people who paid homage to him over the weekend—who cited his passion for getting the facts, and who described him as "the gold standard"—understood that between the values of his world and theirs lay a great, gaping chasm.

more than just reminders of what broadcast journalism once was and is no more in the age of news as entertainment. Indeed: Edward R. Murrow himself decried the subordinating of news to ratings, the creeping commercialization of network news.

The columnist escapes the clutches of the monsters of the Left long enough to hold up Mike Wallace as a poster boy for the folly of liberals. Eric Sevareid seeing Rudolf Hess in the 1930s (one wonders why the writer could not be a mite more specific) and declining to give the Nazi a platform for propaganda is held up as exemplary behavior.

But it is used only as a setup for another point. To wit:

It was impossible, rereading this [Sevareid's 1946 memoir, "Not So Wild a Dream"] last week, to think of more than a very few journalists today who would make a choice like this, and on such a basis—the well-justified certainty, namely, that the famous subject would only make the same familiar pronouncements. Whom might those select few be? Alas, it is left unsaid. For that is not the point.

This, it hardly needs saying, is a prospect that poses no problems for journalism today, especially the kind on display in Sundays' TV talk-show fests: interviews that require nothing by way of producing news, and from which nobody expects any news—the mere presence of a guest wearing the mantle of newsmaker being quite enough to satisfy all requirements.

Daily fare on Fox News not included? Perchance, why?

No newsmaker, of course, has proved more enticing a catch, or provided less news, while making the round of talk shows than the 21st century's foremost apostle of Nazi-like doctrine, Iran's own Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Nazi'like doctrine? Oy vay. Ahmadinejad does espouse ridiculous ideas and policies, perhaps most prominently his denial of the Holocaust. But to call his doctrine Nazi-like is absurd. Nazis put people in concentration camps, then systematically annihilated them.

And, why not a swat at Cronkite himself at the end?

He may not have been, in fact, the most trusted man in America, but he was something more important—a representative. In his bearing, as well as the proofs of a long life, he seemed to speak for the best in the American character. America always sensed that about him and was, rightly, grateful.

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