Somehow I think the late Walter Cronkite would have been embarrassed and even a little sad that his old CBS Evening News show had come to this – devoting its whole half-hour broadcast Friday night to the reporting of his death (well, he might feel sad that he was the one who died, but I meant sad for what his former newscast has come to). Apparently as far as Katie Couric’s version or the modern CBS management’s version of the evening news is that’s the way it is today. The network news has become irrelevant as a reliable source for a re-cap of all the day’s news. Michael Jackson got the same exclusive treatment.
That’s a far cry from when Mr. Cronkite, who died Friday at the age of 92, was at the helm as the anchorman of the CBS Evening News and was known as “the most trusted man in America”.
Of course both he and Jackson were celebrities and as such merited coverage upon their death, but a serious news broadcast does not devote its entire length to an obituary of one of its own or of a pop star.
And I think it’s kind of my job or interest to comment on current events and bring up inconsequential things, so on the subject of Mr. Cronkite’s trustworthiness, kind of like your favorite uncle, that’s where I learned the word “avuncular” (uncle like). I was reading a story about Walter Cronkite years ago, maybe sometime in the early 90s, and the writer used that word to describe America’s most famous news anchor. Sometime later and while I was working for a newspaper I did a story on an assistant principal at a high school who all the kids seemed to like and look up to and I used the word avuncular to describe him. Got a lot of comments on that. “Avuncular” people would say with a slight smile, as if maybe I was throwing fancy words around. No, it just seemed to fit at the time.
While I certainly watched Mr. Cronkite a lot through the years, my earliest memories of concentrating on the nightly network news are of watching NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, one in Washington and one in New York. I understand they were in the solid lead in ratings among the three networks when Mr. Cronkite became anchor in 1962.
But what I admired about Mr. Cronkite was that he was an old newspaper and wire service reporter. He was to me a real newsman, who happened to get into broadcasting and was quite good at it.
He was not ugly, but of course he’d never make it starting up in the business today up against the pretty boys and pretty girls.
And that makes me think of some of the long-gone TV news correspondent pioneers. I can recall some rather good correspondents, one man who seemed to have bad teeth or braces or something and some women who were rather plain or dowdy, but you didn’t expect them to look good, they were just reporting the news – remember when it was the news that was featured.
Nowadays it often seems more of a beauty contest and there is a lot of interviewing each other and endless professional pundits. Although, interestingly enough, I think the idea of a bunch of professional news people and mouthpieces sitting around giving their opinions may have gotten its start with the coverage of political conventions, in which Mr. Cronkite took part.
To some extent, broadcast news has moved beyond the tunnel vision of the one camera and the correspondent interpreting for you what is happening with a broader picture and more sources (I think I am correct in that). And when you add the interesting but somewhat confusing and unreliable element of so-called citizen journalism, things have moved way, way beyond the Cronkite era.
But there is something to be missed from that era when the avuncular Mr. Cronkite removed those thick-rimmed glasses and announced the death of President Kennedy, choking back tears. Uncle Walter was telling us something terrible had happened.
And when he admittedly broke away from his usual mode of being super objective and not taking sides when reporting the news and told his audience that the Vietnam War was hopeless, President Lyndon Johnson is said to have commented that he knew he had lost the war or the public’s support of it at that point.
Objectivity in journalism is the ideal, but sometimes you just have to tell the truth and tell them “that’s the way it is”.
I turned on the TV Saturday night and it was as if they were re-running Katie Couric’s Friday night broadcast — it was all about Walter Cronkite’s death again. I turned to ABC and the news had been pre-empted for a sports event, and then I turned to NBC and it was leading off with Walter Cronkite’s death — so I knew he was still dead. With all due respect, I hope they have found a new story tonight (Sunday night).
RIP Uncle Walter……
Watched CBS News Sunday night and they did have other news, along with Cronkite’s continuing death.