Skip to comments.New Biography of CBS Newsman Walter Cronkite Dents His Halo
Posted on 05/21/2012 9:36:28 AM PDT by Obadiah
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The colonial and 19th century US had a larger percentage black population than we have today. It was only the large wave of European immigration in the 1870-1920 era that boosted the white population to the range it is today.
I don't think you could really call Cronkite "politically correct" and still have the word mean much, though. Cronkite retired in 1981 and the wave of political correctness didn't come until later. Sure he had his opinions and he thought they were right. Sure there were things you couldn't say in television. But it wasn't much like things would be later (especially on college campuses).
There is a danger for a reporter in such circumstances. The temptations of hubris are seductive and as opportunistic as a virus. If you are right about civil rights, the temptation is to be right about Vietnam. If you are right about civil rights and Vietnam, the temptation is to be right about Watergate. If your experience in civil rights convinces you that you were right about Watergate and Vietnam, and is very tempting also to be right about one world government. If you operate in a world without talk radio or the Internet, there is no antiviral drug to arrest your hubristic virus.
If crusading on behalf of civil rights, against Vietnam, and Nixonian corruption introduced advocacy into your reporting and also made history and changed America so why stop there?
But why start there? With civil rights. Is it a Southern thing? Uncle Walter was also "right" about Hitler, so maybe his hubris started back then. When Cronkite became "the most trusted man in America" it was inevitable that it would go to his head.
Walter Cronkite was politically correct on all the issues but not offensively so. While political correctness was certainly very much a part of the fabric of our country, there were no competitive outlets to expose the worst excrescences of the phenomenon. In other words we did not know what political correctness was because we had no alternative reality. Walter Cronkite was not politically correct he was simply correct.
Really, my dad always knew Uncle Walter was biased. Nobody could do much about it, but it was apparent from the mid-60s or so on.
But judged by the path he opened for television journalism, he was particularly dangerous because he put a respectable face on a "news" media that was to become treacherous, detached from the middle of America from which Walter Cronkite came and which he personified. He seduced America into trusting an alien not just in our midst but in our homes. He made us defenseless to the traducers to come, to the Olbermanns and Matthews, the Daniel Schorr's and the Nina Totenberg's and, ultimately, to the Alinskys and Obamas.
Daniel Schorr was Cronkite's contemporary at CBS (his contemporary in life as well -- both born in 1916).
But all this "treachery" and "betrayal" -- doesn't that have an ominous sound for you? Maybe a little to reminiscent of some ugly stuff in the past?
Early television always provided a simplified, prettified view of the world. Finding out that everything out in the world isn't Father Knows Best, or The Brady Bunch or The CBS Evening News is all a part of growing up.
Cronkite's ratings were always quite high back in those days of just three big networks. Olbermann's and Matthews's are abysmal. Sure, Uncle Wally made for a more liberal America. But by the time he
left office retired in 1981, the country was already swinging back to the right, so maybe he wasn't that important after all.
I guess I went too far there. I don't have first-hand recollections of the 60s. People who were observant could probably see that CBS had an agenda back then -- all those documentaries about migrant workers and Appalachia were clearly angling for something.
But, as you say, very many viewers did still trust Wally in those days. They assumed that he was apolitical and unbiased and really did tell you "the way it is." In the Nixon years everything got more polarized, television news and its viewers included. By the time I came along in the 70s it was pretty clear what Cronkite was all about and hard to have illusions.
Was Walter Cronkite seduced by his reputation? Sure. But Civil Rights probably wasn't as formative for him as it was for younger people. Like a lot of people of his generation, the change from Depression poverty to postwar affluence fueled a feeling that anything was possible.
The New York circles Cronkite moved in went left in the 1960s and he went with them. Tell someone he's "the most trusted man in America" and it's sure to go to his head. It could be he had the same self-righteousness of a lot of young people in those days, but he got there by a different path.
Was Uncle Walter "the thin end of the wedge"? I guess so, but all early television was like that. It imitated the way people lived at the time in small-town America, but as the way people lived in New York and Los Angeles and other big cities changed, television changed as well.
This Kurtz piece is worth a full read. I knew Kronkite was one sick piece of sh**, but he’s even slimier and more corrupt than I remember.
I have a distinct recollection of returning home from school and encountering my mother watching what I think were the Army-McCarthy hearings on black-and-white television. In those days Americans divided along the cleft, pro or con Joseph McCarthy. People who were opposed to Joe McCarthy believed that the Rosenbergs were innocent of giving our atomic secrets to the Russians and believed that Whittaker Chambers was lying and Alger Hiss was innocent.
These were not just watercooler subjects for discussion, these were watershed moments in America in the 1950s and were taken very seriously indeed. If you broke on one side you turned the litmus paper Republican and if you broke on the other side you turned the litmus paper Democrat. All of intelligentsia, academia, and, significant to our discussion, the media tended to turn the litmus paper Democrat. In this context we see Edward R Murrow on CBS undertaking in at least two specials on See It Now to take down Joseph McCarthy.
I do not think it is accidental that Edward R Murrow had made his bones as a war correspondent in London during the blitz and I do not think it is of no significance that Walter Cronkite followed him as a war correspondent into the battle for Europe a couple of years later. So Cronkite succeeded Edward R Murrow in both roles.
CBS in those days was known as the Tiffany network and no one believed more fervently in the eternal truth of that description than the "journalists" at CBS News. CBS ever since Edward R Murrow's political assassination of Joseph McCarthy has been at pains to exalt its role and the "courage" of Edward R Murrow with repeated specials, with lengthy footage, and with panel discussions and presentations etc. It requires no leap of imagination to believe that Walter Cronkite saw himself under the same obligation to the world as he saw played out by his predecessor to shape history when history demanded it. Yet, it was also that CBS felt uneasy and felt the need to justify its departure of its role as journalists for partisan advocacy. They justified the transmogrification ultimately by saying that the ends justified the means. The same rationalization was easier to profess at the time of their departure from reporting into advocacy during the civil rights movement.
Hubris is the inevitable result of feeling oneself anointed.
Nor do I think it is to be forgotten that Richard Nixon was on the wrong side of the litmus paper test, having virtually single-handedly turned around the case against Alger Hiss by converting it into a matter of perjury. Alger Hiss was a member of academia, he was a fixture of the establishment being endorsed by the testimony of two Supreme Court justices, he was the darling of the media. People believed that Nixon has never been forgiven for his treatment of Helen Gahagan Douglas, I believe that he is never been forgiven for exposing Alger Hiss.
Why would CBS News support Kennedy over Nixon? Why would the media, CBS not excepted, flagrantly bend their reporting to undermine Richard Nixon even before there was any indication of a Watergate scandal? Why would these same media overlook the wiretapping of Roosevelt Kennedy and Johnson and wax indignant at the recordings of Nixon? Why would the media overlook how Kennedy stole the 1960 election in Illinois and along the border in Texas but fulminate against Nixon's dirty tricks? Why would Walter Cronkite run a very effective special pointing to the guilt of Richard Nixon during the investigation stage of Watergate? Why would Dan Rather not scruple against the use of bogus documents in an effort to throw an election against George W. Bush? The examples go on and on.
Because The Tiffany Network has been anointed by God to save America. Of course it is not just the Tiffany Network but all wannabes who feel an equally compelling urgency to save America from herself.
One can connect dots and come up with a straight line from Edward R Murrow through Walter Cronkite to Dan Rather. It seems that the Greeks had it about right concerning hubris: those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad, or, simply elevate and exalt.
Perhaps Johnny Carson played Walter a little more truthfully than we thought:
“Kids, wet your finger like so. Now, go jam that little sucker in the wall socket. Trust your Uncle Walter, it wont hurt a bit!”
That’s a great post.
I once saw Murrow interview Harpo Marx (Harpo actually handled his end of the “interview” wordlessly, as was his character). I remember coming away from watching that interview with the impression that Murrow was a self-important blowhard.
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