Friday, July 17, 2009

Passings: Walter Cronkite, Journalist

Rita and I spent this Friday night watching All the President's Men, the excellent 1976 drama detailing the efforts of reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to uncover the Watergate scandal.

Woodward and Bernstein were bottom-rung reporters at the Washington Post who started out covering a simple burglary at a Washington D.C. hotel, and ended up unpeeling layer upon layer of a conspiracy that eventually brought down President Richard Nixon.

The movie's a riveting view--crackling Hollywood filmmaking seamlessly working hand-in-hand with a profound sense of social conscience--and, ironically enough, exactly what I was watching when news came through the wire that respected news anchor Walter Cronkite passed away at age 92.

Cronkite exhibited the purity of journalism exhibited by Woodward and Bernstein, but on a much more sustained level. He started out as a World War II correspondent, vaulting into the middle of action in the North Atlantic. By the time he retired from the CBS News anchor chair in the early 1980's, he bore witness to several of the key events of the twentieth century--the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King; every agonizing moment of the Vietnam War; the moon landing of 1969; Richard Nixon's ignoble bow out of politics; and the Iran Hostage Crisis, among many others. All along, Americans always felt like they could trust him.

We live in an era where television journalists are treated (often deservedly) like telegenic dunderheads. Cronkite was one of the last TV anchors who did what they did out of a genuine sense of pride, duty, and conscience. He shed real tears when reading the sobering announcement that President Kennedy was slain by an assassin's bullet, and stared viewers squarely in the face with his unflinching 1968 assessment that the Vietnam War was locked in perpetual stalemate. Despite the many horrors and tragedies he saw in his career, he remained by all accounts one of the most idealistic and ferociously compassionate human beings who ever walked the earth.

Our world is that much less rich, has lost some depth, with his passing. And that's the way it is.