Sunday, July 19, 2009

Chatting With Walter Cronkite on the Eastern Shore of Maryland

I met Walter Cronkite on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in 1984. He was 3 years into his unceremoniously enforced retirement and was living out in that beautiful corner of the world to pursue his love of sailing.

A fellow Chicago native and I were at a little neighborhood gathering there -- one of their famous hard shell crab boils -- and all of a sudden, someone excitedly whispers to us, "there's Walter Cronkite."

For one who grew up with Walter Cronkite's authoratative, grandfatherly presence on the old black and white tv, it was almost like meeting royalty.

My friend and I were 20 something Reaganites at the time and as such, were full of the old ideological piss and vinegar.

So we struck up a conversation with Walter Cronkite on the subject of liberal media bias.

What was amazing was that he took the time and concern to engage us.

He took the CBS corporate line that news reportage and even agenda setting was entirely fair and balanced. He seemed solid in his belief that journalists, irrespective of affiliation, were solid professionals who could and would put their personal views aside.

I brought up the example of ABC news reporter, Geraldo Rivera, who had recently prompted little street urchins in Managua, Nicaragua to throw stones at government tanks so that he could get some good film footage and prove his point that there was widespread support for the communist Sandinistas.

To that, Walter chuckled and said, "Oh that's just Geraldo Rivera, who is he anyway?"

I think Cronkite was so imbued in the Edward R. Murrow school of honest, serious journalism that he was blind to the erosion of journalistic ethics that was then stirring.

I believe that he really believed in honest, ethical reporting and could not bring himself to see that it was going by the wayside.

Much as a mother can see no wrong in her favorite child.

Bernie Goldberg, who was one of Cronkite's much younger colleagues at CBS could see it coming and chronicled it in his 2001 best seller, "Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News."

But Walter Cronkite came from the old school and I believe he adhered to journalistic ethics in a way that would have made his mentor and fellow WWII war correspondent, Edward R. Murrow proud.

There were real American journalists back then. It was when Americans were serious about themselves and their place in the world.

It was before today's comic news offerings of happy talkers and hair sprayed-dilletantes and Kiran Chetry-styled news readers concerned most with their ample decolletage and hiked-up skirts.

Walter Cronkite was certainly an American original.

I was proud to have had the good fortune and pleasure of meeting this towering American figure.

And that's the way it is. July 19th, 2009.

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