Friday, July 17, 2009

The Most Trusted Man in America

by Pa Rock
Baby Boomer

Walter Cronkite, the anchor of the CBS Evening News throughout the 1960's and 1970's passed away this evening. The 92-year-old former television journalist was known to be near death for the past few days, so the cable networks were ready. MSNBC has been airing a Walter Fest all evening.

The recognition is good, and it is well deserved. They are running old clips of his announcement that JFK had been shot, and minutes later somberly telling America of the President's death in Dallas. There has been footage aired of him tonight with every President from Eisenhower through Clinton, and we have heard his famous on-air editorial in which he concluded that the Vietnam war was not winnable.

I remember all of that stuff because I was in high school and college during those years, and was already a budding news junkie. There were only three television networks at that time, and much of America got their daily dose of national news from Walter Cronkite. I think that my most vivid memory was of the color footage of the Vietnam combat and the daily body counts that Cronkite gave - bringing the war right into our living rooms.

Walter Cronkite was a part of everyone's family. He was giving us the news while we kicked our shoes off after a hard day at work or at school. Through his steady baritone voice we learned what was going on in the world as we set the table for dinner (families used to eat dinner around a table), and settled in for our evening meal. Shortly after retiring from CBS in the early 1980's, Cronkite was voted as the most trusted man in America by a national poll. - and the results of that poll were accepted as an obvious fact by a broad spectrum of the American public.

Even this old news hound learned something new about Cronkite from tonight's television coverage. Dan Rather, his replacement at CBS, told Rachel Maddow that Cronkite had flown into France on a glider shortly after D-Day. Hugh Downs, another news ancient, was interviewed over the phone and quoted Cronkite as saying that a person had to be a liberal in order to be a good journalist. (Need proof? Think of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, and Rush Limbaugh. There's not an ounce of credibility or journalistic integrity in the lot!)

Walter Cronkite was a native of St. Joseph, Missouri, and still had family ties in the Show Me State. I know that because several years ago I was spending the evening with my friend Millie Crossland, a social worker and political maven in Kansas City. Millie was working in the office of Kay Barnes, the mayor of Kansas City, and her desk was located just outside of the mayor's inner-sanctum. We were in the office that night when Millie took me in to see where Mayor Barnes did her work. There, in the middle of the mayor's desk, was a small framed photo of Walter Cronkite. When I asked about it, Millie told me that he and Mayor Barnes were cousins.

Not surprisingly, no one anticipated the passing of Walter Cronkite in the 2009 Pa Rock's Dead Pool. In fact, most of the entrants were too young to have any clue as to who he was. That is too bad, because the craggy old journalist was, for a very long time, the face of American television news - and perhaps the face of America itself. He will be missed by the Boomers and the hearty few left of the World War II generation. An era is slipping away.

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