Walter Cronkite died on Friday. He was great and irreplaceable. The last living newsman that America could trust, save perhaps Jimmy Breslin. One views the above clip in our present age of “journalists” relying on unconfirmed Twitter feeds and green-tinted avatars, and TMZ staffers shredding every form of privacy and decency to take cred for some haphazard scrap of dirty underwear, and it is almost inconceivable for any network television anchor to now state, as Cronkite once did, “This is a rumor. This we do not know for a fact.” As Salon’s Glenn Greenwald observed yesterday, one wonders why today’s “journalists” lack the basic ability to question the present government actions (the job now falls on guys like Matt Taibbi, venturing into onyx territory that those on the Goldman Sachs payroll will work very hard to keep unlighted). One ponders the paucity of courage among present newspaper editors — that failure to pursue a vital story that an executive might shoot down because an advertiser or another interest declares it “unprofitable.” Gutless men like David Bradley are now in the business of defending sick and sleazy occasions for egregious payola, which are canceled not because of inherent standards or basic decency, but because the publicists are tracking popular opinion.
Walter Cronkite’s death should not be a time for treacly tributes. It is a wake-up call. We must do better.
For Cronkite defied these Bernaysian impulses not because of pride, but because it was his duty. In Cronkite’s time, it was the journalist’s job to question everything, provide dependable veracity, and present vital information for the public to consider. But today’s anchormen and editors are more concerned about money. When there’s a mortgage and a college tuition to pay off, the “journalist” knows damn well where his bread is buttered. He knows precisely who to keep from the spotlight, and he knows precisely how to maintain those banalities that Jimmy Breslin once called felonious and that are now commonplace. Small wonder that the papers are dying. They can neither be read nor trusted.
So let’s forget all the speculative vapidity about who the Walter Cronkite of the blogosphere will be. Let’s forget all this trite talk of broadcast network news’s ostensible “golden age” during the 1960s and the 1970s. Cronkite’s gone. Why should we have to settle for halcyon pipe dreams when our many problems demand golden journalism today?
© 2009, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.