Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cronkite to be buried in Missouri after NYC funeral

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Walter Cronkite's final resting place will be next to his late wife in Missouri, where the two first met, his chief of staff said Saturday.

The 92-year-old former CBS anchorman died Friday at his Manhattan home of cerebrovascular disease, said Marlene Adler, his longtime chief of staff.

More here.

Of course, I've always liked Walter Cronkite. I mean, I wasn't paying much attention to the news when he finally retired--I was only thirteen, and hadn't yet joined the debate team, which makes news awareness mandatory. But his reputation preceded him. He was Mr. News throughout my entire childhood, and for many years before I was born. Indeed, the 1971 Norman Lear film Cold Turkey briefly parodies Cronkite, which I remember better than his actual broadcasts, if only because I was so young. He was definitely a big fucking deal.

But it wasn't until I was well into adult life that I started to understand his true significance. He finished up his two decade stint as CBS's anchor in 1981, most likely due to the network's mandatory retirement policy, but he got out just in time. That is, Cronkite, an old UPI print correspondent, was the last unsullied broadcast newsman. It was around this time that the corporations who owned the big three networks started to treat their news divisions like the rest of their endeavors, that is, as entertainment. Since the rise of the television medium in the 1950s, CBS, ABC, and NBC operated their news departments at a loss, believing that, because the airwaves are publicly owned, broadcast companies had a responsibility to produce important informational programs as a public service. Public service, of course, doesn't usually make much money, and by the time Reagan had taken office, and signaled to the entire nation that buttloads of regulations that had been around since FDR would no longer be enforced, the big three opted to make news profitable at the expense of quality.

Since then hundreds, maybe thousands, of American broadcast journalists have sacrificed their integrity in order to keep their jobs. Or they simply quit and found something else to do--Dan Rather, for instance, balanced his ethics against his career for a couple of decades before he was finally forced to resign during the fallout from the Bush/National Guard 60 Minutes story.

But Cronkite avoided all this. I mean, don't get me wrong; he was still an establishment journalist, after all. Even though he is given a great deal of credit for helping turn US public opinion against the Vietnam War, he did support it for years, in spite of a great deal of evidence that it was an imperial war, and a losing proposition, at that. On the other hand, he came out against it in the end, and that alone secures his place in history as a great journalist. And we shouldn't forget his ability to make sense of Watergate.

But that's the point. Even though he had a massive tendency to support the establishment, and its narrative on all events, as a journalist, a real journalist, facts could persuade him. There are very few of his ilk in the field today, and none in such a prominent position as the one he once occupied--to be fair to journalists, this has more to do with ownership than it does with reporters.

At any rate, while the corporate media lionizes Cronkite as a Zelig-like guy who was present for all these historic events, I choose to lionize him as an example of what corporate journalism once was and could be once again, that is, much more objective and informative than the infotainment we endure today.

Farewell, Walter Cronkite.