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Uncle Walter: not so sadly missed ... Mark Steyn
Steyn Online ^ | 30 July 2009 | Mark Steyn

Posted on 07/31/2009 1:34:38 AM PDT by Rummyfan

When it mattered, ‘the most trusted man in America’ actually wasn’t that trustworthy

On the face of it—and on the face of them—Michael Jackson and Walter Cronkite would not appear to have much in common. Cronkite was (all together now) “the most trusted man in America”; Jackson was the least trusted child-man in America, at least to any parents whose ambitions for their kid extend beyond a $30-million out-of-court settlement. But, for those members of the Jackstream Media hoping to eke out one more week of prostrations and ululations for their Gloved One, Cronkite’s death served as a kind of intervention. For, if there’s one thing the press love more than a celebrity cut down in his prime(ish), it’s the opportunity for self-validation that the passing of one of its own affords. The media’s sense of proportion is never more out of whack than when bidding farewell to some iconic figure from its glory days, and one had high hopes that the eulogies for Cronkite might surpass the impressive new records in risibility set by the coverage of Washington Post doyenne Kay Graham in 2001: “The Most Powerful Woman In America,” “The Most Powerful Woman In The World,” “America’s Queen,” “Kay’s Amazing Grace,” “Oh, Kay,” “Special Kay”. . .

No “Kay. Why?” oddly enough. There was an element of triumphalism in all this: Mrs. Graham was a central figure in what the J-school bores regard as American journalism’s finest hour—Watergate. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive! A mere eight years has passed since Kay Graham’s death, but the smug complacency that characterized her eulogies was noticeably absent from Cronkite’s, which mostly read like obituaries for an industry. It’s sunset, and it’s no longer bliss: the heir to Cronkite, Katie Couric, is the champion limbo dancer of evening-news ratings; the New York Times, the oracle from which all three network newscasts take their cue, is now junk stock. It turns out Walter Cronkite and Michael Jackson have quite a bit in common: both performers peaked circa 1980, and did very little these last two decades. In that sense, they belong culturally to the same generation. They represent the zenith of a shared, universal popular culture: Jacko’s Thriller was the biggest-selling album of all time ever; Cronko’s newscast was the most-watched in America. Barring dramatic and severe government control of technology, no CD and no news show will ever be that big again. And, when you think about it, millions of teenagers going out and buying the same slickly manipulative pop record is less weird than millions of grown-ups agreeing they’ll all get their world view from the same source. But (all together now, again) “that’s the way it was” back in the days when ABC, CBS, NBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post functioned as a co-operative monopoly.

Michael Jackson, of course, embodied (literally) the cult of youth, albeit in extreme form. I can’t recall whether it’s an actual bona fide fact or just a stray firecracker that popped in Larry King’s head and rolled off his tongue a nanosecond later, but somewhere or other in the Jacksonian obsequies someone said that the 50-year-old singer was on hormone treatment to keep his voice high. There surely is an emblem of the times. Last year, Diana West wrote a book called The Death of the Grown-up. But now even the world’s oldest, squeakiest adolescents are dying, too.

Cronkite was more or less twice Jackson’s age. But he wasn’t, not always. Back in 1963, he was actually younger than Jacko, a mere whippersnapper in his mid-forties. But the hair’s thinning, the eyebrows are bushy, the cheeks are already jowly. He looks like he’ll look till the end of his life. He’s handed a piece of paper, puts on his horn-rimmed glasses, removes them, and tells America the President died at 1 p.m. Central Time.

It was all real that day: no teleprompter, no earpiece; the newsroom backdrop was a real room with real staffers doing real work. Now it’s theatre: the anchor reads from the prompter, but still has papers on the desk so he can do that final shuffle of the script after he says goodnight. Come to think of it, is there still a “desk”? In the nineties, BBC News introduced a “virtual studio,” bigger and shinier than the real thing—a dump in West London—and thus, while entirely fantastical, more representative of the corporation’s “authority.” And yet, amidst all the computer-generated distractions and in an age that venerates youth, at the heart of the nightly dinner theatre, viewers of “evening news” still want to find an elderly avuncular male exuding gravitas or some tele-simulacrum thereof. For a few months, between Dan Rather’s self-detonation and Katie Couric’s appointment, the CBS Evening News was guest-hosted by the septuagenarian Bob Schieffer. Ol’ Bob came not only cheaper than Katie, he got better ratings, too. Among that brave endangered species that still totters to its TV every evening to find out “the way it is” in between ads for incontinence pads, hope springs eternal that somewhere out there there’s still a benign avuncular authority figure, a “defining anchor of America’s story” (as Diane Sawyer called Cronkite), “the voice that held us together in dark days” (in Larry King’s words).

There can never be. Today’s network anchors are a niche market. And anyone under 40 is more familiar with parody anchors like Messrs. Stewart and Colbert. Cronkite was (all together yet again) “the most trusted man in America.” How do we know? Because a 1973 poll found it to be so. Other polls—say, Obama’s approval rating—come and go, move up and down, are subject to seasonal fluctuations. But, taken at a time when most alternative candidates with any name recognition were ensnared in Watergate, this 1973 snapshot of Cronkite’s trustworthiness is apparently operative for all eternity, chiselled in granite and installed atop Mount Rushmore.

And actually he wasn’t that trustworthy, not when it mattered. In 1968, after a flying visit to Vietnam in the wake of the Tet Offensive, Cronkite delivered an on-air editorial declaring that “we are mired in stalemate.” In fact, if you’ll forgive the expression, he was wrong in his most basic analysis:

“Who won and who lost in the great Tet Offensive against the cities? I’m not sure. The Viet Cong did not win by a knockout, but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw.”

Er, no. The “referees of history” agree U.S. and South Vietnamese forces won. Not only did the Viet Cong not “win by a knockout,” they were so shattered that they never recovered militarily, and henceforth the burden of the war fell on the North Vietnamese army. Out there on the battlefield, the U.S. won, but couldn’t persuade its own citizenry of the fact. Thanks, in large part, to Cronkite.

Now you might disagree with my view. But that’s the point: it’s a view, it’s an opinion. Cronkite could have presented his views and opinions on Tet as a commentator or pundit. But instead he did so with the full force of his avuncular “trustworthiness.” His editorial that day was delivered not as an editorialist but as “this reporter,” deploying an already weirdly insistent theatrical tic in service of his bias: “It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors . . .”

As John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary, put it, “Cronkite, the gravelly voice of accepted American wisdom, whose comportment suggested he kept his money in bonds and would never even have considered exceeding the speed limit, devastated President Lyndon Johnson.” “If I’ve lost Cronkite” (and all together now, one last time) “then I’ve lost Middle America.” A savvy operator inside the Beltway, LBJ crumpled before the magic lantern of network TV. Uncle Walter divided his time, as the capsule bios say, between Manhattan and Martha’s Vineyard. Which would make the middle of his America . . . Greenwich, Conn.? The Hamptons?

But he was “avuncular” and “trustworthy,” and so he provided the cover, as John Podhoretz put it, for the “impartial” media to join “the adversary culture.” When Cronkite died, I happened to be reading a rather dense Commonwealth constitutional scholar on the ultimate reserve powers of the Crown. They’re real, and you can use them—but only once, and at huge cost. In the seventies, Sir John Kerr, the governor general of Oz, was within his rights to fire the prime minister, Gough Whitlam, but the act inflicted a slow erosion on the reputation of the Australian monarchy from which it has never recovered. That’s what Cronkite’s Tet intervention did to the media’s carefully constructed self-mythology—although it took technological democratization to enable the masses finally to throw off the “that’s the way it is” media. In 1968, Uncle Walter took down a president and helped lose a war. In 2004, his successor, Dan Rather, tried to do the same to Bush over some laughably fake National Guard memos. Instead, a website commenter and a blogger wound up taking Crazy Uncle Dan down, and out, for good. That’s the way it was. But not anymore—and good thing, too.

TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: cbsnews; cronkite; journalism; steyn

1 posted on 07/31/2009 1:34:38 AM PDT by Rummyfan
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To: Rummyfan

I miss Walter like I miss Karl & Vladimir.

2 posted on 07/31/2009 1:41:55 AM PDT by South40 (Islam has a long tradition of tolerance. ~Hussein Obama, Cairo, Egypt, June 4, 2009)
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To: Rummyfan

I have refrained from commenting on Cronkite for the simple reason that I don’t like speaking ill of the dead. Mr. Steyn exactly nails it, so thankfully now I don’t have to...

3 posted on 07/31/2009 1:55:34 AM PDT by piytar (Take back the language: Obama axing Chrystler dealers based on political donations is REAL fascism!)
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To: Rummyfan

Good riddens to Vlad Cronkite and his media dinosaurs

4 posted on 07/31/2009 2:07:56 AM PDT by GeronL (Guilty of the crime of deviationism.)
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To: Rummyfan

In an October 2000 speech, retired General Fredrick Weyand, who commanded II Field Force during the Tet of 68 offensive said in part,

“After Tet, General Westmoreland sent Walter Cronkite out to interview me. I was in Command of the Forces in the South around Saigon and below and I was proud of what we'd done. We had done a good job there. So, Walter came down and he spent about an hour and a half interviewing me. And when we got done, he said, “well you've got a fine story. But I'm not going to use any of it because I've been up to Hue. I've seen the thousands of bodies up there in mass graves and I'm determined to do all in my power to bring this war to an end as soon as possible.”

“It didn't seem to matter that those thousands of bodies were of South Vietnamese citizens who had been killed by the Hanoi soldiers and Walter wasn't alone in this because I think many in the media mirrored his view…”

“When I was in Paris at the Peace Talks, it was the most frustrating assignment I think I ever had. Sitting in that conference, week after week listening to the Hanoi negotiators, Le Duc Tho and his friends lecture us. Reading from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Herald Tribune, the Atlanta Constitution, NBC, CBS, you name it. Their message was always the same. “Hey, read your newspapers, listen to your TV. The American people want you out of Vietnam. Now, why don't you just go ahead and get out?” So finally a Peace Agreement was signed that everyone knew would be violated and with no recourse or hope of enforcement on our part.”

General Weyand went on to say he doesn’t blame the media entirely for the outcome of the war, but Cronkite’s words expressing how he had no intention of reporting the Battle truthfully evidence how the media spearheaded the anti-war effort at turning public opinion against the effort to keep the South Vietnamese free and towards supporting the Communist Forces of the North.

In short, he sold out America and our Troops as well as millions of Southeast Asians.

In the days ahead many will label Cronkite as “iconic,” “legendary,” and heap accolades upon him I feel are undeserved. Cronkite himself called what he said on Vietnam as his “proudest achievement.”

It escapes me how having the blood of millions of people, over 40,000 of which are American Soldiers on your hands could be seen as his “proudest achievement.”

5 posted on 07/31/2009 2:31:59 AM PDT by Proud_USA_Republican ("The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money.")
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To: Proud_USA_Republican

I’ll never forget watching his news cast, when he took off his glasses, and looked directly at the camara, and said it was time to get out of Vietnam.

MSM fooled many people back then, and they tryed to do the same to the War on Terror especially in Iraq, but it did not work so well this time at least not yet.

6 posted on 07/31/2009 2:39:13 AM PDT by greeneyes (Moderation in defense of your country is NO virtue. Let Freedom Ring.)
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To: greeneyes

In the Viet Nam War, many seemed to be surprised by the sudden attacks across the nation in the Tet of 68 offensive. Even though our intelligence was at best sketchy, American and South Vietnamese were not caught totally off guard and the offensive launched by the North Vietnamese Communist ended up a huge failure for the Communist North Militarily. Their numbers were decimated and it took many years for them to recover and launch the final drive South, defeating the South Vietnamese who no longer received any aid from America due to Democrat congressional policies.

In many regards the Tet of 68 Offensive was very similar to Germany’s Battle of the Bulge in World War Two, a desperate attempt.

It is ironic that Cronkite reported on both battles of desperation, accurately reporting the Bravery and steadfastness of World War Troops who pushed back the Nazi’s, but labeling our decisive victory in Tet as a “stalemate” and “unwinnable” in a broadcast aired on February 27, 1968 upon his return to America from Viet Nam and ending that broadcast with,

“it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”

7 posted on 07/31/2009 2:52:03 AM PDT by Proud_USA_Republican ("The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money.")
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To: piytar
"I have refrained from commenting on Cronkite for the simple reason that I don’t like speaking ill of the dead."

Cronkite, arguably, helped cause the death of thousands if not millions--US Military personnel, South Vietnamese military and civilians--during and in the wake of the Vietnam War. Our "loss" there, engineered by him and others like him has, arguably, inspired other trash like Miss Crissy, the former sports commentator punk and others to give aid and comfort to our enemies and caused unwarranted deaths. I think of him and many others like him as little Joseph Goebbels clones and damn them all to hell if it were in my power to do so.

8 posted on 07/31/2009 2:59:13 AM PDT by RushLake (Liberalism--Terrorism financed by your tax dollars.)
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To: Rummyfan
We can focus on Cronkite but who raised him up? Who determined what he would read to the nation every evening?

Actually, Cronkite and obama have a lot in common

9 posted on 07/31/2009 3:01:55 AM PDT by fso301
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To: Proud_USA_Republican
First happy picture of Walt and the Klintons

Turns out, Billy Blob Slick had thoughts about the "Other Girl in the Blue Dress":

10 posted on 07/31/2009 3:44:23 AM PDT by jws3sticks (Sarah Palin forever!)
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To: Rummyfan

Uncle Walter survived only because at the time there were only three TV networks all pretty much on the same page politically. In our new media world where more and more people are turning to the broader opinions of cable news and the Internet, Walter would be little better than Katie Couric.

11 posted on 07/31/2009 6:03:46 AM PDT by The Great RJ ("The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money." M. Thatcher)
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To: Rummyfan


Our Uncle Walter's not right in the head
He's been that way all his life, my mother said
Its not that he's violent or falls down the stairs
Its just he goes waltzing, waltzing with bears

He goes wa wa wa waltzing, waltzing with bears
Raggy bears, shaggy bears, baggy bears too
There's nothing on earth Uncle Walter won't do
So he can go waltzing, wa wa wa waltzing
He can go waltzing, waltzing with bears

I went to his room in the middle of the night
I tiptoed in and I turned on the light
But to my surprise, he was nowhere in sight
For my Uncle Walter goes waltzing at night

We gave Uncle Walter a new coat to wear
When he came home it was covered with hair
Lately I've noticed several new tears
I think Uncle Walter's been waltzing with bears


We told Uncle Walter that he should be good
Do all the things that we think he should
But I know that he'd rather be out in the wood
I'm afraid we might loose Uncle Walter for good


Well we begged and we pleaded, "Oh please won't you stay"
Managed to keep him at home for a day
But the bears all barged in and they took him away
Now he's dancing with pandas,
And he can't understand us
And the bears all demand at least one waltz a day

Oh, you mean thats a different uncle Walter?
12 posted on 07/31/2009 9:39:06 AM PDT by Fichori (Make a liberal cry.... Donate -> <-)
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