On Walter Cronkite’s passing last Friday at the age of 92, the nation quickly divided into two groups. There are those who are old enough to remember the period between 1962 and 1981 when he was the public face of American television news, and those who are too young to have had that experience. As one of the former, my mind flashed back to a junior high school in Connecticut on November 22nd, 1963.
It was Walter Cronkite’s voice over the school loudspeaker that brought the news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
Even though I didn’t see his face at that moment (we were in class), there was no one else I expected to be delivering such sad, earth shattering news. Sure there were other network news anchors (Huntley-Brinkley), but Walter Cronkite WAS the news to me as a 12 year old.
And so it went, through the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, to his questioning of US objectives during the Vietnam War, to his coverage of the counterculture and so many other signposts in the lives of those of us of a “certain age”. There was a gravitas to Walter Cronkite such that, as I started down my own career path in the early ’70s, I aspired to be just like him. When he signed off each night with “And that’s the way it is”, no one doubted that he was right.
I was one of those who wondered what CBS was thinking when they put him out to pasture in 1981.
Sure, Dan Rather was young and vigorous, but Walter Cronkite was timeless, ageless, and had so much more to report to us. And so he did. Freed of the constraints of “objective” reporting, Walter Cronkite in his later years was one of the first to decry the rise of monopolistic, corporate media.
What he warned us about through the 80s and 90s has come to pass, sadly. That we didn’t pay closer attention is to our collective shame. Walter Cronkite warned us about journalism as a shoddy, celebrity/profit driven profession that has lost the ability to make huge swaths of America believe what it says. And look what’s happened .
The short answer to the question at the top of this post is, “of course not”. There will never be another “Uncle Walter”, because media can’t make as much money having one man or woman possess the kind of credibility we took for granted in Walter Cronkite. After all, Rush Limbaugh calls himself an anchorman, and he does so with a straight face.
So, goodbye, Walter Cronkite. Those who saw your face every night will miss you terribly.
And we’ll miss what you represented even more.