Walter Cronkite RIP
Recently there was a ceremony to honor Walter Cronkite, who has passed away. “Everyone” was there, including our President Obama. Obama? What was he doing there? Walter is held up as an example for all journalists.
I must have missed something. By the nineteen seventies, as I tried to understand what was happening to our country, I came to blame what was then beginning to be called “The Media”. “The News” was becoming omnipresent. It was as if it was replacing reality. I began to think of Walter Cronkite as a war criminal.
Now as I see this picture of President Obama and so many notables lined up to praise Cronkite I begin to think perhaps there is something wrong with me. Walter reached everyone, including me. As a child I could see him on “You Are There”, a pseudo history show that took you back to the Romans. In time he became the public face of CBS News. “Uncle Walter”, someone, everyone trusted. “Trusted” means you believed what he said was true. He was an inspiration in the sense that he presented and interpreted American reality and everyone believed what he said. Everyone. I wanted to be like Walter Cronkite!
But was it true? Did the America he reported on actually exist?
It took a couple days in the civil rights movement in 1962 to realize that everything I was hearing from Walter and CBS and all early 1960’s Media, was not so true. And then, about the very same time, came our slow but steady entrance into the War in Vietnam. What was Uncle Walter saying? What was CBS saying? I defy PBS, NPR, the History Channel, and any old documentarian out there to collect what CBS was telling us in 1962 and 1963 about the disaster we were creating, because I watched and I know.
Courage in journalism, as in any field is when you stand up and say what no one else wants you to say. Where were the broadcasts begging us to stay out of another war in Asia? Where were the broadcasts taking on Kennedy and the Warriors that were going to defend us from Communism and “the Domino Effect?” What Walter did, what CBS did, what Life and Look Magazine did, what they all did, was to beat the drumbeats of war. They did just what the media, and NPR does today; they followed individual American soldiers which automatically put them in a heroic light, slogging through rice paddy’s or what ever the duty of the day was, in order to do whatever our Government was telling us they were doing.
That’s not journalism. That is patriotism, something Joseph Goebbles would have understood. Walter was a Patriot, I grant him that. Dare I say it? Journalists are supposed to love the truth, not their country. I am from New York City, and I love it as much as anyone loves any place, but that is not what journalism is about.
So where did Cronkite lead us? Once we were well on our way to killing a million Vietnamese, and bringing about the death of 50,000 young Americans, he figured out, much too late, that the war he helped start wasn’t such a good idea after all. Once thousands of hippies and war protesters were getting their brains beaten out in front of him in 1968, he cried on television and admitted that, “gee, this is bad.”
So why does President Obama kow tow to this image? What is he bowing to? He is bowing to the power, what is left of it, of American Media. I mourn the passing of newspapers, we really must have them, but I will shed no tears for the passing of “The Media”. If the kids are not tuning in, it is because they are in front of the curve and figured out there are other and better ways of finding out the truth, one of which is to part the curtains and look out the window.
September 11, 2009