Saturday, July 18, 2009

Walter Cronkite Elevated TV News To Honor And Trust

The sad passing of television news icon Walter Cronkite is only the latest passing of yet another legend within the last few weeks. Cronkite was a real giant in the field of television journalism, and brought CBS news a great sense of dignity and trust for as many years as he covered important news events such as the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy or the 1969 landing on the moon. Cronkite seemed to have near universal trust among both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, because he was a political moderate and a political independent who never tried to use his news position to make a case for one side or the other, even though some Democrats once made a really good effort to urge him to run for office.

For someone who dropped out of college in 1935 to pursue a life as a journalist, Cronkite went through a series of jobs at newspapers covering both news and sports. However, during WWII he was able to land an important role as a war reporter, joining the ranks of some like the legendary Ernie Pyle. Cronkite joined the Army Air Force in bombing missions over Germany in B-17 "Flying Fortress" bombers. It was a dangerous job for sure, with many lost during the war. But CBS legend, Edward R. Murrow, was so impressed with Cronkite that he helped to recruit him to the station in 1950. Cronkite began duties covering political conventions, as well as the TWENTIETH CENTURY and the CBS Sunday weekend news. By 1962, Cronkite was elevated to host the CBS EVENING NEWS, and continued in that role until 1981. Even after giving up that important post, Cronkite seemed to cast a big shadow over that news that no anchor reporter seemed to ever really fill. Cronkite was probably far and away the best news anchor of his time and generation.

CBS News seemed to really struggle after Walter Cronkite gave up the anchor role. Dan Rather looked to be a promising choice for many years, with folksy sayings spicing up his election coverage. However, during the 1984 election, a controversy swirled around some documents related President Bush's national guard service, where some supporters of Bush believed the documents to be fakes. Dan Rather and some other staffers were forced to resign by CBS, although Rather and fired story producer Mary Mapes have continued to present evidence that the documents were authentic over the years to defend their reputations. Some Bush supporters claimed the sort of type machine was not yet invented that produced the documents confirming that they were fakes, while Mapes has published a book attempting to prove otherwise. However, rather than stand by their reporters ability to cover news, CBS was quick to cave-in for political reasons and lost a lot of credibility over journalistic integrity as well with the whole controversy. And a high priced move to lure NBC's Katie Couric to CBS to anchor the news quickly failed as ratings quickly tumbled and viewers fled. CBS News has been absolutely unable to capture the magic it once had with Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.

Make no mistake about it. Walter Cronkite was a one of a kind journalism icon such as will never be witnessed ever again.