Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

"And that's the way it is..."

I used to watch Walter Cronkite every night on the CBS evening news. To this day, whenever I need to watch live news coverage of political events, I still watch CBS. But I rarely watch the TV news programs anymore. There seems so little point to it. Most of the time I end up muting or changing the channel to alleviate the nausea.

There is no journalist working in America today who has earned anywhere near the widespread respect Walter Cronkite had. News is thriving but journalism is dying. Information is plentiful but authorities are scarce. Data is everywhere but the truth is gets buried by it.

America is a fractured polity with its fragments growing ever more isolated. The Left and Right now have their own news networks, their own commentators, their own blogospheres. Pundits are no longer respected for their objectivity, but are rewarded for their unwavering commitment to a particular ideology--the more theatrical their presentation the better.

It was not a simpler age back then, nor was it a better age... But I think perhaps we had a better guide. I am sad tonight. I will miss our "Uncle" Walter.


Raised By Republicans said...

Dr. S. I was just logging on to post a similar eulogy.

He choked up when Kennedy was killed.

Walter Cronkite's coverage legitimized opposition to the war in Vietnam.

He was obviously happy when Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon. It's a fitting coincidence that he passed away so close to the 40th anniversary of one of his greatest moments.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Walter Cronkite is one of the top reasons we got the "liberal media" charge to stick in the 1980s. And why Fox ran its "fair and balanced." I loved Cronkite too, but I recognize the problem created when national TV news is just 1/2 hour a day, when there are only three sources, and when all three (NBC, CBS, ABC) have strong personalities who choose political slants to their coverage. The politics of "destroy the top guy" were probably paramount over liberalism.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, two papers (Washpost, NYTimes) and mostly CBS (through Cronkite and 60 minutes) had the ability to make or break stories on the national scene. They drove Nixon's impeachment and, as RBR says, legitimized opposition to the Vietnam war. The real issue isn't the political bias, which was ad hoc, but the outsized influence on making a story. LBJ, Nixon, Ford, and Carter were both brought down by relentlessly one-sided media coverage driven by a few key stories. The frustration that Reagan was "teflon"- that the same didn't work on him - was palpable in newsrooms. Gary Hart was the best bringdown they could do.

On the other hand, this was also the era where journalists felt they could afford ethics, so it was the heyday of journalism schools at major universities.

CNN changed everything in the 1990s. It stole much of the agenda-setting power. The Clintons were good at trying to spread themselves to other venues (Oprah, MTV) to dilute the Big 3. Fox began its rise at this time, which didn't add to any objectivity, of course, but did pull agenda-setting power away from CNN and the NYtimes.

In 2000, we were kind of used to all this. Then the internet news finally ramped up, along with blogs and youtube, and we are now in a new world. Tons of news lies out there in wait for Big Media to pick it up and spread it. Big Media doesn't get to generate the news anymore - it legitimizes the coverage. But in a 24-hour news cycle, the agenda changes so fast that the main goal has been to get "breaking news"- to be the first to report. There's so much left to be studied and written about the massive changes in US media in just the past 15 years.

I remember Walter Cronkite well, but I don't miss that media age he represented. I miss the bygone era of journalistic ethics. But it was always a bit too paternalistic for my taste.