Why there won’t be another Cronkite
We were lucky to have him at the CBS anchor desk during the 1960s and 1970s, two of the most turbulent decades in modern history.
But the accelerating disintegration of the media assures that no one ever will emerge again as a single, almost-universally trusted source of straight-up, down-the-middle information during great moments of national trauma and euphoria – and all the ordinary days in between.
Cronkite rightfully earned his stature as the “most trusted man in America” by applying to the ethereal – and sometimes surreal – realm of television the values drilled into him early in his career as a young United Presser: Get the facts, get them straight and get them first.
His authority relied not only on thoroughgoing mastery of the story at hand, but also a time-earned reputation as an honest broker of the information he had gathered. He betrayed no spin or bias, because he was trained to believe it would be unprofessional for a journalist to do so.
In seeking to focus the nation’s attention on such colossal failures as the Vietnam War and the Watergate break-in, Cronkite relied on facts and logic to tell the stories, reporting his findings in a dispassionate style that, he hoped, would lead viewers to the right conclusion.
Cronkite’s power derived from the fact that he was the anchor of the flagship evening newscast of the most prominent of the Big Three networks at the time there were only three national networks.
CBS was the place you went for instant and in-depth coverage when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. There almost was no other choice.
Everything has changed since then.
Audiences today have fragmented among countless cable networks and interactive venues scrambling for ratings and clicks. Like so many petulant toddlers, the vast majority of the modern “news” venues are stomping, screaming and spinning themselves crazy in the hopes of gaining attention.
Rather than emulating the values and discipline the made Walter Cronkite the towering figure he was, broadcasters for the most part have gone the other way.
That’s the way it is. And, from here on out, that’s apparently the way it will be.