Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite was born on this day in 1916, in St. Joseph, Missouri. The family lived in Missouri until he was ten, when they moved to Houston. He was a Boy Scout and went to church. The family changed denominations three times when he was a kid, finally settling on Episcopalian. Young Walter was a member of a youth branch of the Freemasons. He joined things. He joined a theatre group in college; two friends in the company went on to successful film careers. He wrote for the newspaper at the University of Texas, but he dropped out of college in his junior year to become a newsman, and he was a newsman for the rest of his life. He was 20 years old.

Cronkite was more trustworthy than glamorous. One doubts he would be given an anchor chair today, not in any major TV market anyway. Not pretty enough. He didn't have the jawline or the hair for it. He wore a mustache. He exuded affability tempered with seriousness, tolerance (up to a point; no tolerance for bullshit,) sincerity, sympathy, judgment, and what used to be called "sound Midwestern values." Although that term has suffered noticeably in recent years. When he gave his opinion, as he did in his report on the Vietnam War in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive, it was a departure from form and done only after careful sifting of evidence and information. He'd been lied to; we all had. As I mentioned in a post just the other day, the Johnson administration had decided to spin the dispatches from the war zone. The president himself had lied us into the war. For a man from Missouri, especially a newsman, this was intolerable. It demanded a reality check, and he delivered one.

Those who downplay Cronkite's plausibility today or call him biased tend to be implausible and biased themselves, many of them tied in with a cable news organization that was created to spin the daily news feed, disguising it as "fair and balanced." Cronkite recognized their product as packaged, adulterated baloney, and said so, but he no longer had an anchor desk to broadcast from. Walter Cronkite appears four times in A Book of Ages.

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