Saturday, July 18, 2009

'The Most Trusted Man' Passes On

Once upon a time there were only 3 TV channels and you got your news once a day during a half hour broadcast at dinnertime. ABC News was constantly changing their "anchorman" so nobody really watched them. NBC had Huntely and Brinkley, 2 anchormen who played well off each other and had a following. But for the "real" news you turned to the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

Mr. Cronkite was a World War 2 correspondent who became CBS's head newsman just as the '60's started -- a tumultuous decade to say the least. He quite legendarily stayed on the air when President Kennedy was shot and talked us through the trauma. He was there when John Glenn orbited the Earth and when Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon. And he was there, night after night, reporting on the Vietnam war.

And when I try to look back and remember specific moments reported by Walter Cronkite, it's the ever-mounting death toll in Vietnam that I pull up. Only a few years from draft age myself I would watch those numbers -- so many dead, so many wounded, so many missing -- go up every night. And that was embedded in reports of Ed Bradley or Dan Rather in the middle of a firefight or surrounded by bleeding soldiers and scared villagers.

When Cronkite ended a broadcast in February 1968 by publicly doubting the wisdom of the war, Lyndon Johnson supposedly said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America." That's how much credibility with ordinary people his deep, avuncular voice had. He was the way we heard about and interpreted the wider world -- day by day, for 2 decades straight. It's probably for the best that everything is at our fingertips now and we interpret events for ourselves. But it felt good to have one trustworthy man do it for us in a half hour each night.

Walter Cronkite died yesterday. He was 92 years old.


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