Walter Cronkite, Up Close and Personal

July 19, 2009 at 9:55 pm (By Amba) (, , , )

My friend Dalma Heyn interviewed Walter Cronkite in 1985, and has now posted the interview on her Love Goddess blog in two parts:  Part I, Part II.  Besides an unusual glimpse of his personal life, relationship with his wife, and sense of humor (the last two very much intertwined), the interview showcases Cronkite’s old-fashioned beliefs on the ethics and standards of television journalism, already being gnawed away by entertainment value and the scramble for ratings by the time they spoke.  Lament it, snort with laughter at it, or both, it really is a glimpse of another eon.

DH: Why do you think you’re so trusted by Americans?

WC: I think because, in doing my job in the news business, I really have held just as firmly as I could to what I believe to be the ethics and prinkcples of good journalism. I have tried desperately, particularly in television, to hew to the middle of the road in the presentation of any given story—the pros and cons, allegations and denials—and to see that facts are well pinned down and secure.  That is integrity in news presentation, and I guess that through the years that showed through. I was always annoyed when the presentation got in the way of the facts—and show business aspects. Whe graphics and pictures got in the way of telling the story, it was always a source of annoyance for me.

*    *    *

DH: What annoys you about television news today?

WC: I do not think they make the best use of the limited amount of time that’s available to them. I think there is too much editorialization; too much “featurizing.” There is so much of importance to communicate to a population that’s getting most of its news from television that we shouldn’t spend the time doing anything except cramming news down their throats.

Hey Walt, the customer is always right.  You can’t cram anything down his or her throat.  Isn’t that the liberal elitist attitude — we’ll give you what’s good for you whether you want it or not?  People are maddeningly resistant to that approach.  The trick is to entice them to want what’s good for them.  How do you get large numbers of people to want honest, thoughtful, exhaustive reporting — and not just to think it would be nice, but to demand it and consume it?

. . . That’s what I thought.

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2 Comments

  1. Randy said,

    While I understand the criticism of Cronkite’s view, it seems to me that there’s something to be said for it as well. Modern news organizations (print, broadcast and digital) spend an inordinate amount of time pandering rather than educating and speculating rather than informing.

  2. mileslascaux said,

    In my line of work, I have met people who knew Cronkite in one way or another. They unfailingly describe him as warm, generous, intelligent, and passionate about his profession. One editor who interviewed him when the editor was a young newsman and Cronkite was an aging lion, said Cronkite told him he envied him. Why? the young man asked. “Because you’re just starting out in this profession and have a whole career in it ahead of you.”

    He came to define the job he held. And not 1 in 1,000 of the people who hold that job can compare with Cronkite in warmth, generosity, intelligence and passion. And therein lies the wrong path he set the rest of them on. They want his authority without his discernment. They want his Vietnam moment every week of their working lives, without realizing it takes an entire life of work to make that one moment.

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