Walter Cronkite passed away a few days ago and pardon me for not joining the wailing and gnashing of teeth of the professional media mandarins. The fact is that Cronkite was an over-praised meat puppet, a doctrinaire liberal-left talking head who never once uttered a word that would have caused so much as a sigh of consternation in the Manhattan media environs he dwelled in.
Except among his loved ones, the hoopla that has accompanied his passing has nothing to do with Walter Cronkite the man and everything to do with Walter Cronkite the symbol. He symbolized a time - "The Golden Age" to hear the wistful liberals tell it - of a solid, unconquerable media monolith that passed judgment on What Is The News and defined Socially Accepted Opinion.
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Oh, those glorious days of yesteryear, when those drooling slobs without the education or breeding to live in New York and work at the Times
or at one of the three networks would genuflect before their black and white TV sets every evening and await Mr. Cronkite to bestow upon them The Truth! Now (sigh), it's chaos, with too many different media outlets and too many different opinions. It's gotten out of (our) control!
Come back, Walter, and save us from Fox News!
It was a Golden Age, all right - a Golden Age of enforced unanimity and bogus consensus hidden behind the strained-serious face and stentorian oration of St. Walter. It was an age of media liberalism unchallenged by anything like a conservative alternative. And it was all encompassing. In recent days, many have watched the footage of Cronkite announcing the death of John F. Kennedy. But if you watch the footage for a few minutes before his genuinely moving final bulletin, you'll hear his innuendo hinting that Kennedy has been shot by disgruntled right-wingers. It must have broken his heart to find out that JFK had been murdered by a commie loner with an affinity for Castro.
Think of the proudest moments of the heroes of the media's "Golden Age" - the McCarthy expose, the Watergate hearings, Cronkite's own infamous thrust of the rhetorical dagger into the back of the fighting men in Vietnam (and of the Vietnamese who hoped for freedom) that was his Tet Offensive editorial. It's like a liberal greatest hits album. There's nothing, nothing even remotely conservative in the pantheon - because nothing conservative would have ever even occurred to the media heroes like Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow and the rest. Their prized objectivity was really only a tool that justified their own biases and opinions - if they did it, by definition, it was "objective."
Cronkite was supposed to be the voice of
the people of Middle America, but he was really just a loud voice speaking at
them. And soon after they turned and rejected the man Cronkite dubbed the smartest of presidents - Jimmy Carter!?! - and elected Ronald Reagan, he threw in the towel. He passed the torch to Dan Rather, and the sun set upon the Golden Age of Media Liberalism. For all his faults, at least Cronkite maintained a certain dignity, but Crazy Dan is a catastrophe. When Rather dies, the quickest way to find his obits will be to Google the terms "Texas Air National Guard fraud" or "What's the frequency, Kenneth?"
The passing of Cronkite does mark the end of an era, but let's not fool ourselves. He was human wallpaper to those of us who grew up watching him intone the news every night, a vaguely comforting presence during turbulent times for those of us too young to understand that much of what he was often passing off as the truth was the utter nonsense.
But to simply dismiss his actions ignores their very real harm, and to simply write off the superficial eulogies of the mainstream media as mere nostalgia is to underestimate their danger. In the case of Vietnam, where he and the rest of the media elders did their level best to ensure that the Vietnamese had no chance of a free future, the killing fields of Cambodia are a stark reminder of the human cost of Cronkite's conscience. And the threat of a return to a liberal media monolith looms ahead, with petty fascists fantasizing about re-branded censorship reestablishing their monopoly on public discourse under the guise of "fairness" and "community control."
Walter Cronkite is gone. Our condolences should go his family. But we must also speak the truth - the man was not a hero, not a saint, and let us all hope our country never again sees another man like him.