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Walter Cronkite-Mourning the Loss of the Man and Legacy


I’ve noticed so many have commented on being so intimidated when meeting Walter Cronkite. I had quite the opposite experience in the few times our paths crossed after his active career was over and I was pursuing mine. At all times, he was just “Walter” who would talk as a fellow practitioner of our craft..not the icon he had deservedly become. His strength was that he projected an “everyman” image. Success came because for all his power, he felt that way about himself.

Still, it’s important to remember that he and CBS colleagues dominated the news ratings during his anchordom because he and they were authoritative and substantive. So were those who competed on the two other networks. They personified journalism.

Now that the power centers have shattered into many tiny profit-centers, where the be-all-end-all war over ratings is
a spasm that focuses on celebrity instead of credibility, that substitutes vacuous trivialization for substance.

Even the reporting of government dominated not by the issues, but by simplistic reporting on the politician-personalities who have learned the tricks needed to get on TV.

The loss of Cronkite at 92 is the loss of a “giant” who symbolized the colossus of trust that used to be television news.

How sad it is that too many of those who have replaced the giants are midgets. It’s not entirely true. The business is still populated by some serious heavyweights from Charlie Gibson, from instance, to Lesley Stahl to Gwen Ifill, to Wolf Blitzer to many more stars, who are wise and ferociously conscientious about facts, context, and excellence.

But their dedication is overwhelmed by the inane chattering of the inexperienced cuties of both genders who deride the necessary fundamentals and institutional knowledge as “old school”.


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I’ve noticed so many have commented on being so intimidated when meeting Walter Cronkite. I had quite the opposite experience in the few times our paths crossed after his active career was over and I was pursuing mine. At all times, he was just “Walter” who would talk as a fellow practitioner of our craft..not the icon he had deservedly become. His strength was that he projected an “everyman” image. Success came because for all his power, he felt that way about himself.

Still, it’s important to remember that he and CBS colleagues dominated the news ratings during his anchordom because he and they were authoritative and substantive. So were those who competed on the two other networks. They personified journalism.

Now that the power centers have shattered into many tiny profit-centers, where the be-all-end-all war over ratings is
a spasm that focuses on celebrity instead of credibility, that substitutes vacuous trivialization for substance.

Even the reporting of government dominated not by the issues, but by simplistic reporting on the politician-personalities who have learned the tricks needed to get on TV.

The loss of Cronkite at 92 is the loss of a “giant” who symbolized the colossus of trust that used to be television news.

How sad it is that too many of those who have replaced the giants are midgets. It’s not entirely true. The business is still populated by some serious heavyweights from Charlie Gibson, from instance, to Lesley Stahl to Gwen Ifill, to Wolf Blitzer to many more stars, who are wise and ferociously conscientious about facts, context, and excellence.

But their dedication is overwhelmed by the inane chattering of the inexperienced cuties of both genders who deride the necessary fundamentals and institutional knowledge as “old school”.

We will all note, I’m sure, that Walter Cronkite’s death comes almost 40 years to the day man first stepped on the moon and Walter brought the emotional descriptions to our planet as space reporter in chief. Now Miles OBrien, who followed, was recently let go because someone determined people weren’t interested in space ventures anymore. (Yes, the same Miles O’Brien who is a friend and former colleague)

Let’s be honest, even in the days of Walter Cronkite, “If you want to know what’ll be seeing on the Evening News, read the morning New York Times” was not a joke. Unfortunately, the sources today are far more likely to be “Us Weekly” or TMZ, or unconfirmed sources.

In the guise of news, we get a mish mash that is cluttered with graphics and mindless shouting. Instead of a man who celebrated objectivity we get ideologues who sing to their angry choirs. The viewer is invited to pick his poison.

Those of us who followed Walter Cronkite have strayed further and further away from his example. We willingly acceded to the consultants and executives who were always urging us, in effect, to dumb down” our product.

Now we are the same ones who will lay claim to his legacy. To a significant degree, we have turned away from the legacy. Walter Cronkite made a huge contribution. How sad that we in my profession have frittered away so much of it.

He used to end his program by saying “That’s the way it is”. Well that’s the way it was. It isn’t anymore

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 18, 2009 9:13 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Mark Sanford and the Nixon "Kick".

The next post in this blog is Obama's Health Care Momentum--Which Direction?.

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