We Need You, Walter Cronkite!

“Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened.”    Walter Cronkite

In 1980 when Ted Turner and CNN started the plague of 24 hour news, little did I know that I was never going to escape the barrage of misinformation, worthless opinions, plundering pundits and the insults to my intelligence.

Having been a news junkie since about age 8, I still remember religiously reading the local newspapers – The Southern Illinoisan and The Herrin Spokesman.  Many times I would have to ask my dad what some words meant and why this article was news when the fender bender I saw yesterday wasn’t.  I found local happenings very interesting because in a small town chances were good I would read about someone my family knew, and the Sunday comics worked great with Silly Putty as it occupied me while Mom fixed dinner.  To this day, discussing current events is one of my favorite conversations to have.

Walter Cronkite

Every evening, I looked forward to watching the nightly news with Walter Cronkite.  He was a very smart man, and easy to understand.  Every viewer absolutely believed each perfectly enunciated, eloquently emphasized, and deeply delivered word Walter said.  During his tenure on CBS News from 1962 until his retirement in 1981, “Uncle” Walter united his viewers through an interesting era of American history.  He counted the days of the Iran hostage crises, and satiated our questions about Watergate and the Vietnam war.  When reporting on Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, he was too excited to speak, but as soon as he recovered, he continued delivering the news.  There was no one better than Cronkite to deliver the news to the world that Martin Luther King, Jr. and President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.  It was as though we heard the sad news from an old friend.  When learning, while on air, that Lyndon Johnson had died, Walter left us watching silently as he listened on the phone for details before reporting to us.  There was never any guessing, supposing, assuming or floundering.  Cronkite did not need 27 people conversing with him about what they think they knew. Walter Cronkite was a professional and the most trusted news man in history.  One has to wonder what he would have done with 24 hours of air time.

Being on air around the clock is a huge challenge for cable news and breeds an unhealthy competition among networks.  The pressure to get the scoop before it hits the AP or Twitter, and the hustling of talking heads that try to tell me what to think all lead to mis-information, serious blunders, embarrassing retractions and mistrust from the viewers.  No wonder the word “Media” is a dirty reference of the 21st century.

Cluster News

Recently, when evil erupted at the Boston Marathon, our news agencies (newspapers included here) fell far short of conveying reputable information and keeping us accurately informed.  Bogus details got tossed around like a punctured balloon full of hot air. Everyone was throwing blame at unreliable sources and trying to prove their errors.   The media frenzy after the bomb explosions brought to mind the Keystone Cops.  I know that the chaos made it difficult to sort through the facts, but  I can respect silence knowing that the truth is coming.  I want to know that there is one place I can go to get reputable, accurate news.  Just give me the facts, please.  I do not have a need to hear the idle ramblings that spew from the mouths of anchors, pundits and newsmen, although I do find James Carville pretty funny.

Contrary to how it sounds, I have nothing against most pundits, but pundits don’t deliver the news.  There are a few names in the business that I trust and respect.  Jeffrey Toobin, who mainly reports on the supreme court,  has my trust, Wolf Blitzer does not.   Diane Sawyer and Brian Williams do a decent job, but they are not Walter Cronkite.  The Rachel Maddows, Erin Burnetts, Anderson Coopers, Bill O’Reillys are spin masters, and do a nice job of creating an atmosphere of division.  I will listen to them for a while as long as they say what I want to hear, but real news does not base its truths on opinions.  When I meet someone new, one of my first questions is which cable news channel they watch.  Their answer tells me more about them than most any other question I could ask.  CNN is not “the most trusted”, Fox News is not “fair and balanced”, and MSNBC does not always “lean forward”.

Having spent many years working in various capacities of the television industry, I can say with certainty that no matter how you twist, turn or squeeze it, television is just that.  Everyone feels pressured to entertain us so we get useless stories about the Kardashians but hear nothing about who is helping the homeless.  Hours of useless details were spent on Jodi Arias’ trial while no one reported on the outbreak of inner city violence.

Just like with Hollywood movies, we control the kind of news we get by what we watch the most, but we do not control how we get the news.

Walter Cronkite didn’t entertain, he reported.  I wish someone would decide to follow his example so I can trust the news again.

And that’s the way it is . . .

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Stephanie
    May 10, 2013 @ 14:22:01

    AMEN! I remember right after the Boston bombings, one of the reporters for 9News put on his Facebook, “Who ever remembers when we’re first? They only remember when we’re wrong.” And I felt like that was very appropriate after a day when the only goal was to be first, regardless of whether if was correct or not. Sometimes I have to make myself take a step back and wait until the whole thing is over to relate. We do not need round the clock coverage of the police moving in on a young man hiding wounded inside a shrink-wrapped boat. What we have there is not news, it’s entertainment. I hate using that word for such a serious real-life event, but that’s what those news channels turned it into. Several hours’ worth of entertainment. It is therefore very sad when I tend to get more actual NEWS out of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. They admit to being entertainment–but damnit if they aren’t more correct than the serious news sources.

    Reply

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