Tuesday, July 21, 2009

There'll Never Be Another Walter Cronkite

Tom Brokaw is probably the only one who comes close to having the kind of credibility Walter Cronkite had. But as far as I’m concerned, the current crop of network TV anchors probably couldn’t even have gotten a job with CBS when Cronkite was Managing Editor of CBS News.

It’s not that Katie, Brian, or Charlie are incompetent. They’re cut from a different cloth and none of the three have near the actual, hands-on news experience Cronkite brought to the anchor chair. Katie really doesn’t know how to act during a newscast until the very last story, when she can be smiley and bubbly. Charlie just isn’t that good at anything; too bland. And Brian does a good job of delivering, but I get the feeling he really doesn’t understand much of what he’s reading.

Did you notice CBS didn’t have Cronkite’s successor, Dan Rather, do anything about Walter’s passing? Dumb Dan, as I call him, still has a huge lawsuit pending against CBS, still in denial about that hatchet-piece he ran on George W. Bush - so blatantly wrong and not-fact-checked that not even firing the people who did it could save Dan’s career.

Rather’s Texas buddy, billionaire Mark Cuban, hired him to do a show for his HDNet channel after his disgraceful fall from the anchor chair at CBS. Rather’s first replacement, Bob Schieffer, was probably the best person to hold that chair since Walter retired. And he was the ultimate company man, graciously saying nice things about Katie when she took over.

Cronkite not only knew what he was talking about, he had a staff of reporters and producers who knew what they were talking about. They knew how to get a story, how to get past the PR people and lobbyists, and to get the facts.

The world of TV news is so much different and fractionalized now than during Cronkite’s heyday in the 60’s and 70’s. We have bombastic blowviators like Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly, backed up by staffs not of actual hard-core NEWS people, but producers who seek out information (largely from the internet, of all places) to support a point of view, rather than ferret out the truth. And the biggest insult of all is “Fox News”.

Rush Limbaugh calls himself “America’s Anchorman”, and it’s frightening how many people think his program is “news”. At least the late radio news icon Paul Harvey clearly labeled his broadcast “News and Comment”. Charles Osgood is likely the last man standing, in that department.

No, I don’t think there will ever be another Walter Cronkite. It’s a different era. It’s a 24-hour news cycle, not just 5:30 PM Central Time once a day. Standards have changed dramatically, not only in content, but in the forced marketing of everything. Julie Chen spends her summers hosting a bad reality show for CBS (Big Brother) and then slides back into her “morning news person” role the rest of the time. Walter must have loved stuff like that.

The TV news biz has become an adjunct to the TV entertainment biz, and everything is cross-promoted breathlessly on the network TV “morning news shows”, which consist of a few minutes of actual news, and endless segments about celebrities, insipid interviews with politicians, and thinly-disguised commercial plugs.

Walter Cronkite defined the TV news business in the 60’s and 70’s. But it’s a business that really no longer exists.


  1. "Julie Chen spends her summers hosting a bad reality show for CBS (Big Brother) and then slides back into her "morning news person" role the rest of the time."

    People tend to forget that for a period of time Walter Cronkite was on the CBS morning news show opposite the Today show on NBC. One of the "highlights" of that show was Walter discussing the news with the puppet Charlemagne.

  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBIRE7g5ybo

    If you hurry you may yet see this interview before the corporate media removes it
    I met Walter Cronkite in New York and found him to be privately a very anti-corporate person, and extremely anti - war.

  3. It is said the term "anchorman" was coined to describe Walter Cronkite's role in the 1952 political conventions. A Wikipedia entry says the word entered the American lexicon on July 7, 1952. In his memoir, "Tell Me a Story," CBS News producer and director Don Hewitt said he wasn't sure whether he'd coined the term or if the honor belonged to his boss, Sig Mickelson. He observed that, regardless of the term's provenance, Cronkite quickly became recognized as not just an anchorman,' but THE anchorman.

    What was it about Cronkite that has lodged itself in our collective consciousness? Correspondent Morrissey has explained it well. Cronkite didn't just read the news, he covered it. He brought us the 20th century, took us to the moon and brought our brothers and sons and friends home from a pointless, diplomatic error of a war that had gone on far, far too long.

    His famous CBS Evening News sign-off line was "And that's the way it is..." But he had another sign-off - from "You Are There," the long-running history-based TV series he hosted that better explains, to me at least, why I could watch and listen with a mixture of trust and admiration that no other news person has merited before or since. It suggests why he touched our lives so profoundly.

    After his guiding narrative revealed the story behind an historic event, Cronkite would step through the Fourth Wall and, with these words, remind us that news is nothing more than the first draft of history: "What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times ... and you were there."