Walter

“The nation whose population depends on the explosively compressed headline service of television news can expect to be exploited by the demagogues and dictators who prey upon the semi-informed.” -1996 memoir, “A Reporter’s Life.”

It’s a trite understatement to say he lived a full and long life.  My first memories of Walter Cronkite are from a handsome cherry wood Zenith console television, the smell of hot vacuum tubes and visions of astronaut endeavors in black and white.  The Columbia Broadcast System was the only channel with reliable reception on the outskirts of a very small town.

Rabbit ears but no foil.  We were a class act.  Roger Mudd.  Eric Sevareid.  Walter Cronkite.

CBS, NBC and ABC.

CBS.

The great improviser, who declared the Vietnam war unwinnable, after seeing it himself.  Pretty much ending the presidency of LBJ.  Legitimately speechless when Neil Armstrong declared one small step for man.  Yep, he paused when announcing the death of JFK.  Maybe teared up a little.  Unafraid to cover America’s civil rights struggle.  Back then there was the newspaper and the evening news.  The evening news was Walter Cronkite.  An icon who managed to eclipse Edward R. Murrow as America’s pre-eminent journalist.

Comforting that he wasn’t felled early like Murrow, Jennings or Russert.

But oh, what he must have thought of contemporary journalism.  The bar he hoisted so high, disgraced, disregarded and ultimately ignored.   Charlatans like Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh et al. Infotainment and Fox News.   Rampant unfounded celebrity worship.

He came from an era when network bosses weren’t sure if America would tolerate a half an hour of hard news as opposed to fifteen minutes.  They did.  They craved it.   To then witness our attention span shrink and atrophy.  Popular culture force fed to America and the rest of the world, a phenomena that eventually rendered actual news not entertaining enough, no matter it’s truth or content.  Mr. Cronkite was already on the sidelines.  Retired.  How this felt to him must have been devastating.

One could argue that America has gone to shit since Cronkite retired.  Sure seems like the time we really began to lose our way.  I’m thinking Reagan era.  Could have used him then.

His own truthful ideal obsolete.  Forced to witness it decline from there.

Graceful and honest.  A surrogate for the people’s necessary information.  He chose to color outside the lines but once or twice.  When he did, he did so with the best intentions and the result sent magnificent waves through all of America.  He affected change by telling HIS truth.  Otherwise, he did a little bit less.  He told us THE truth.

We ended up with Nixon.

He told us what we needed to know as best he could.

Yes, I’m old enough to remember him quite fondly.  The smells of my father’s aftershave and dinner in the kitchen, waiting for Mr. Cronkite to finish with the day’s events.

Good luck old man.

My hope is that you went gentle into that goodnight.

Drinks for my friends.

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