Rear Window Ethics Rear Window Ethics: Walter Cronkite

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Walter Cronkite

One of my very favorite parts of listening to NPR is the occasional audio essay by broadcasting great Walter Cronkite. They are few and far between, but he chooses his topics and timing well, and the finished product always gives me a sense of longing for his brand of journalistic integrity.

It is odd that I feel a wave of sentimentality for an era of reporting that ended the very year I was born, but Cronkite speaks with such authority and candor that he makes the news anchors of today seem like either brainless puppets or whiney, loudmouth idiots. Perhaps I see him in the often flattering light of old age, a time in which even the most controversial figures can be looked upon by a majority of people in a reverential and admiring manner. Regardless, his commentary on this, the 40th anniversary of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, was riveting. Listen here: Part 1 and Part 2.

There is no doubt that the essay is pointedly topical considering both today's political climate, as well as last week's terror alert, but Cronkite somehow delivers the message with a sage-like authority that I believe transcends political persuasions. In the LBJ/McNamara phone conversations that make up the basis for the commentary, you can hear the vague and incorrect intelligence reports, the politicization of war, the tactics of fear, and the terribly familiar underestimation of enemy will and tenacity.

If only Walter Cronkite was the media voice of our time now, rather than Bill O'Reilly and Michael Moore. Perhaps it would not change popular opinion in this era of extreme partisanship, but it would certainly bring back at least a fraction of dignity to the broadcast media.