Middle America Loses Walter Cronkite
It's ironic that the consummate newsman of the television age would die at the lowest ratings point of a news cycle, which is a Friday night. It's also interesting that pioneering news legend Walter Cronkite, who died yesterday at age 92, was never as politically a polarizing figure in life as he is in death and over 34 years after the Vietnam war ended.
Ankle-biting, right wing nut jobs like Debbie Schlussel have no problem posthumously punching Cronkite simply because he predicted that we would fight North Vietnam to a stalemate, which of course we did. His Tet Offensive editorial of February 27, 1968 was one of the high points of television journalism and it allegedly made LBJ say, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America." A month and a half later, the 36th president announced his retirement from public service.
To the abovementioned ankle-biting right wing nut jobs, any war is worth fighting and any criticism or honest appraisal of its unwinnability is pure treason. In fact, to hear Schlussel talk, Cronkite was a war criminal who "had the blood of thousands of American men--some of them really just boys--on his hands."
In other words, Cronkite's honest appraisal of our chances in Vietnam was a self-fulfilling prophecy, according to Schussel. To even breathe the word defeat is to jinx it into being and the public officials and military who'd started, escalated and lost said war and 58,000+ American lives are immediately absolved. Sort of like Iraq. Sort of like Afghanistan. The liberal media runs every war and every soldier fighting overseas has access to a TV or radio and never misses a newscast and is demoralized by liberal activist partisans like Walter Cronkite.
There is so much that is wrong with this typical lunatic fringe right wing attitude that one hardly knows where to begin. But if it wasn't so tragic it would be hilarious that a supposedly educated American mind would still be fighting Vietnam when said war started before one's birth and at a time when we're still in the middle of two other militarily unwinnable wars.
Cronkite deserves obituaries untainted by right wingers or criticism of right wingers already tap dancing on his undug grave. Yet self-styled neoconservatives still fighting a war they'd never fought any more than they've fought in Iraq or Afghanistan are already trying to taint his reputation as one of the greatest newsmen ever, the only one, in my mind, that stands head and shoulders with his colleague, the great Edward R. Murrow.
Cronkite's reputation will easily deflect such onslaughts and he certainly doesn't need me putting my two cents in defend his reputation. But this is America, as Cronkite would've said, and everyone's entitled to their opinion.
Going to right wing blogs and Youtube since learning of Cronkite's passing last night, I am astounded at not only the virulence of some of the bloggers and commenters but also by the uniformity of the invective and ignorance that seems to sweep away Cronkite's decades-long achievements and to descend, instead, like a herd of beetles upon his one brief but indelible editorial on February 27th, 1968.
These are the same people who also faithfully watch and swear by Cronkite's idiot heirs apparent such as Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck, air conditioned partisan zombies who never accompanied our military to places such as Normandy on D Day or had soil from behind enemy lines sprayed in their faces during their newscasts and without the benefit of the relatively safe enclave of a Green Zone. Cronkite, don't forget, made his famous Tet Offensive editorial right after coming back from Vietnam. Far from killing morale among our troops, Cronkite merely reported that our troops' morale was already at low ebb.
Cronkite, of course, was too much of a newsman to pigeonhole himself to a political ideology and he would've been the first to say that he was never a liberal. However, we're reminded of Stephen Colbert's famous dictum of the truth having a liberal bias and it's a sly half joke that the right wing seems to have taken to heart or what passes for one.
Cronkite's intelligence and powers of concentration was legendary. It was said that he could listen to two audio feeds in both ears and still deliver the evening news without skipping a beat. His knowledge of English and his newscasts were almost always written and delivered with impeccable precision. The avuncular Cronkite was the perfect man for the perfect time, reporting on the entire Vietnam war, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the first manned lunar landing, the taking of the hostages in Tehran and the election of Ronald Reagan.
His passing, while timely and coming at the end of an amazingly rich, full and productive life, leaves America without a trusted uncle. And it's deplorable that right wingers who weren't even born during Vietnam are choosing that long-dead and historically discredited war as a cudgel with which to beat him. Cronkite ended the last golden era of journalism at almost the same exact time we were about to enter another era of military and imperial belligerence under Ronald Reagan. 28 years ago, Cronkite was forced to leave the CBS Evening News but secure in the knowledge that America was better informed because of him.
Cronkite once again leaves the public eye for good, a public eye that has been blackened and blinded with mud from five successive administrations and Cronkite's pale imitators. He leaves behind a nation with a media now run by five conglomerates in which actual news takes a back seat to vacuous and factually hollow commentary and infotainment. It's a sad commentary that Cronkite's staggering legacy, example and body of work would be buried, that he would live long enough to see himself become the bad guy and to have the outcome of an entire war dumped on his doorstep.
But that's the way it was on July 17th, 2009.