Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite

I've just learned that Walter Cronkite has passed away at the age of 92.

Uncle Walter (and the word "avuncular" was practically created for the man) was a fixture every weeknight throughout my adolescence. He'd seen and reported on the major events of the middle third of the twentieth century (World War II, Korea and Vietnam; The JFK assassination and funeral, the moon landing and Watergate...) and thus had a sense of perspective - where current events fit in history - that younger or more polished reporters lacked, and which is wholly lacking in just about any television anchor I can think of today.

"Objective and impartial" seemed to be the watchwords at CBS News under his management: none of this "fair and balanced" nonsense of today where your job as a newsman is to convey both sides' talking points but take no position on which side the objective facts actually support. No: With Cronkite the mission was to determine the truth of the matter, and then explain it, no matter who it hurt or who called William S. Paley to complain. The powerful from both parties feared him; both Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon called him an enemy.

That was the thing with him: People tuned in to Cronkite not just to find out what happened that day, but also what it meant: where it fit into the ongoing story of America as of broadcast time on that day. Sometimes the story he told of America was troubling, sometimes uplifting and inspiring, but it was always "the way it is." The story he told was closer to the actual truth of the thing than any other broadcaster of his day. People intuitively sensed that, and thus trusted him implicitly.

An anchor with that kind of gravitas is almost unimaginable in the present day media environment. He did more than report the news; he conveyed the truth. We'll not see his like again.

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