Saturday, July 18, 2009

That's the way it is.

"Look at those pictures, wow!"
- Walter Cronkite on the Apollo 11 moon landing.
NEW YORK – Walter Cronkite, the premier TV anchorman of the networks' golden age who reported a tumultuous time with reassuring authority and came to be called "the most trusted man in America," died Friday. He was 92. Cronkite's longtime chief of staff, Marlene Adler, said Cronkite died at 7:42 p.m. at his Manhattan home surrounded by family. She said the cause of death was cerebral vascular disease. Cronkite was the face of the "CBS Evening News" from 1962 to 1981, when stories ranged from the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to racial and anti-war riots, Watergate and the Iranian hostage crisis.
Every year, somebody publishes a list of overpaid personalities. Most of them are in television and more than a few read the news for a living. People who read weather forecasts and host popular television shows are on the list too. Ryan Seacrest makes $36 million a year for saying "Welcome to American Idol." That's disconcerting. For 36 million, your job should be something that almost nobody else could do. Almost everybody else could do his job.
People called Cronkite "the most trusted man in America," which is odd because almost all of us had never met him, so one wonders where the trust came from. Maybe somebody has a story about asking Cronkite to house-sit while they were on vacation, and when they came back, all their silverware was gone. We'll never hear it. I suppose the trust comes from a day when television news was a big deal. His voice and persona were key. Now, the news is pretty much a shill for the network programming and a big promotional loss leader. Tonight's guest on Letterman is part of the news.
What they do mostly is tell us what happened. They read us stuff that has already happened. Maybe they write their own copy, maybe they don't. Most of them aren't allowed to editorialize. If they do, they're called out and given time off for expressing an opinion.
Cronkite's era was during the space program and the unrest in the country over civil rights. There was no Internet. People got their news from TV or the newspapers. Television news was the Internet in Cronkite's time. The immediacy of television was a wonderment for people like me who are 51 now and children of the space program. "Live pictures from the moon." Wow.
I guess we'll never go back to those times when TV news was our prime source of information and the people who read it to us were journalists. Now, they're judged on some Q score or how they look while they're talking. They make millions for some reason, even though their job isn't nearly as important to America as it used to be.
Cronkite was the broadcaster to whom the title "anchorman" was first applied, and he came so identified in that role that eventually his own name became the term for the job in other languages. (Swedish anchors are known as Kronkiters; In Holland, they are Cronkiters.)
"He was a great broadcaster and a gentleman whose experience, honesty, professionalism and style defined the role of anchor and commentator," CBS Corp. chief executive Leslie Moonves said in a statement.
CBS has scheduled a prime-time special, "That's the Way it Was: Remembering Walter Cronkite," for 7 p.m. Sunday.
There isn't a space program to romanticize or a war that has only TV as its outlet. People like Walter Cronkite are historical figures because they aren't necessary anymore, like straight razors or turntables.
We lost him on Friday, but we lost his kind a long time ago.


susan said...

Wonderful obit,
Anthony. I just linked to it....

Firestarter5 said...

That's why today, they're referred to as 'talking heads' and nothing more. However, I always liked Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather.