Saturday, July 18, 2009

Walter Cronkite, 1916-2009

Walter Cronkite, the iconic American TV news anchor, passed away yesterday. There have been and will be a number of fine tributes to Cronkite. I would rather look at his legacy from a, while not critical, certainly less adoring way.

When people talk Cronkite, they talk trust. Part of the reason Cronkite came to engender trust in the American public is because he was the leading edge of the modern news anchor-he was emotive and had opinions. By today's standard, we'd consider him buttoned down in both regards, by the standards of his era, that made him different and a lot of Americans felt like they knew Cronkite, and that helped engender that trust.

This has left a mixed legacy in news reporting and journalism, however. Cronkite was the man who opened the door for journalists (so-called hard journalists, not opinion journalists) to let more of their political colors show through in their work. It is human nature to have opinions and beliefs, so it is impossible for any "objective" news report to be completely free of the subjective without the news becoming so dry as to be unconsumable. But there was a time where newsmen and journalists tried to keep that human influence on the reporting of the news deeply buried.

In one sense, this is good because it has made the reporting of the news much more transparent. Bloggers have shown over the years that you can now easily identify the spin that you are getting from any particular anchor or journalist. Unfortunately, it has also made it acceptable for some journalists to further their personal agendas through the way they present the news. In fact, Cronkite coming out against the Vietnam war may have done more to create the agenda driven reporter/journalist than any other single act.

When we remember Cronkite, we remember him as what he was during his era. For that, he deserves all of the accolades that he is receiving in his passing. Cronkite leaves a legacy that has been and will continue to be built upon by others, and we do need to strip away the misty feelings to examine that legacy because all of the consequences have not been positive.

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