Saturday, July 18, 2009

The most trusted man in America...

…apparently passed away while I was watching a mini-marathon of Ma & Pa Kettle films last night. That is to say, I didn’t learn of Walter Cronkite’s passing at the age of 92 until I got back online around 2am…there’s something awfully significant about that, but I’m not sure what.

Maybe it’s because—and if I come off as sounding a bit flip here I apologize profusely—when “Uncle” Walter stepped down as the anchor of The CBS Evening News on March 6, 1981, the news as presented on TV had pretty much been laid to its eternal rest. I never really cared much for Dan Rather, Cronkite’s grossly-overpaid replacement (I also didn’t buy into the whole right-wing canard that the man had a “liberal bias”; Rather was spooky but hardly a mouthpiece for the left), or Bob Schieffer, or any of the other wannabes that foolishly tried to continue on in Walter’s shoes. (I know I’ve told this story before, but my father switched his news-watching allegiance to Brian Williams—a corporate tool if ever there was one—once Katie Couric entered the picture.)

Several of my blogging colleagues have already put up remembrances and anecdotes about Cronkite, and rather than parrot their opinions I thought I’d just link to their pieces for your perusal. Toby O’Brien, Tony Kay, Craig Zablo, RGJ at Television Obscurities, Tony Figueroa, J. Kingston Pierce, Greg Ferrara and Mark Evanier (I particularly liked this comment on how no one in Walter’s profession seemed to be able to spell his name correctly) all have first-rate recollections…and I can get behind Evanier’s Twitter observation “Let's all demand that Walter Cronkite's passing get at least a third as much attention and TV time as Michael Jackson's” 100 percent.

The two Cronkite moments that always stand out in my mind are his legendary pronouncement of the death of President John F. Kennedy that fateful November 22, 1963 day in Dallas—the point where his voice breaks almost into a sob has always possessed a poignancy for me, demonstrating that broadcast journalists are capable of being overcome by humanity from time to time. The other is not his editorial on the Tet Offensive (though I did puddle up when I was reminded—thanks to Tom Sutpen at Facebook—of his words: "But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could”) but that spontaneous moment at the 1968 Democratic Party Convention when he remarked after floor reporter Dan Rather got punched in the face: “I think we have a bunch of thugs here, Dan…”

Ol’ Walter always called ‘em like he saw ‘em. And that’s the way it is.

R.I.P, Mr. Cronkite. We have lost an American icon, or in the words of Mike Wallace—“a superb reporter and honorable man.”


Edward Copeland said...

I think it's worth noting that Cronkite was the CBS anchor that got grief because the day Elvis died, he led with the latest development in the handover of the Panama Canal. Just imagine if he'd still held the chair how fast the Michael Jackson story would have vanished on CBS.

hobbyfan said...

Can I get an AMEN, Edward?

It's safe to say that Walter knew his audience well enough not to lead with a celebrity tragedy unless it was a POLITICAL figure. Had he still been in the anchor chair 12 years ago, chances are he would, like everyone else, have led with Princess Diana's passing. Michael Jackson? Not so much.