Walter Cronkite died last and the accolades are coming in from all quarters of the media. A lot of focus has been on three events: When he showed emotion announcing President Kennedy's assassination, his declaring that the Vietnam War was not winnable in 1968 and his reporting and anchoring of CBS's Watergate coverage when it was obvious that Cronkite was just as appalled at the Nixon Administration as most Americans.
His words about Vietnam are the most jarring, even 40 years later:
To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.
Now this wasn't a novel concept. Many in the government and military agreed, as did a larger and larger percentage of the American public. But to have Walter Cronkite say it is considered a turning point in the war's popularity with the American public. Unbeknownst to most people, President Lyndon Johnson after seeing the news report lamented "if I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America."
It's interesting that we are revisiting Walter Cronkite's career at the same time that we are learning more details about the media's behavior during South Carolina Governor's recent AWOL stint to meet his girlfriend in Argentina. The South Carolina Newspaper The State was able to obtain all the e-mails sent to the Governor's office, including those from the media requesting interviews of the governor. It isn't pretty.
Of course there are the e-mails from "friendly" media before everyone knew Sanford was in Argentina giving him support and assuring him that he will get a fair shake. These included a number of Fox News reporters. What is more troubling is that even after we knew the whole Appalachian Trail story was false, national media personalities such as Jake Tapper at ABC and David Gregory at NBC were sending Sanford's office e-mails asking for an interview and promising to allow Sanford to present his side of the story. Gregory's missive's are particularly galling:
"Left you a message. Wanted you to hear directly from me that I want to have the Gov on Sunday on Meet The Press. I think it's exactly the right forum to answer the questions about his trip as well as giving him a platform to discuss the economy/stimulus and the future of the party. You know he will get a fair shake from me and coming on MTP puts all of this to rest."
"Look, you guys have a lot of pitches .. I get it and I know this is a tough situation ... Let me just say this is the place to have a wider conversation with some context about not just the personal but also the future for him and the party ... This situation only exacerbates the issue of how the GOP recovers when another national leader suffers a setback like this. So coming on Meet The Press allows you to frame the conversation how you really want to...and then move on. You can see (sic) you have done your interview and then move on. Consider it."
So even though David Gregory knew that Sanford lied about his whereabouts for five days, and his family, staff, and security detail didn't know where he was, Gregory was willing to suck up to Governor Sanford allow him to tell his side of the story and "frame the conversation on how you really want to."
Wow! We've come a long way from Walter Cronkite in 40 years. From wanting to report the truth -- even if that meant questioning what officials were saying to actively courting public officials to change the subject and frame the issues to their advantage. Just think of our media had acted like Walter Cronkite in the lead up to the Iraq War? or took on Global Warming skeptics? Or exposed how our tax policies favor the rich over everyone else? The death of Walter Cronkite turns the final chapter on the media being the public watchdog to the media courting access and not ruffling feathers. Unfortunately our democracy flourishes on the former.
UPDATE Here is a very funny Comedy Central bit about the "journalist" e-mails:
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