Monday, July 20, 2009

Walter Cronkite, 1916-2009, R.I.P.

I'm not sure when -- or even why -- Walter Cronkite became "important" to me, when or why I first realized the impact he'd had (and, at that time, was continuing to have, if that makes any sense) on broadcast journalism.

He became the anchor of CBS Evening News when I was not quite six years old, and at that age, TV news programs were incredibly low on the list of things which interested me... probably a notch or two above getting clothing for Christmas or birthday presents.

When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, I honestly don't know which network's coverage I watched on television. Probably all of them at one time or another, as all three networks showed practically nothing else. I did remain figuratively "glued" to the TV (perhaps in hopes that one channel or another would eventually realize that we young'uns were missing our all-important cartoons and other favorite TV shows, and that our regular programming would be restored).

My "Charlie Farrell" character -- the thinly-disguised fictional version of my seven-year-old self from "The Once and Future Aero" -- explained how he "sat and watched the endless news broadcasts about the assassination, drawing my own ghoulish pictures of my president bleeding all over his limo" because that's exactly what I did.

I wasn't drawing pictures about the moon landing six years later, but I was watching it. Even then, the who (meaning who was broadcasting the event) wasn't as important as the what. It may have been CBS, Cronkite's network... but again, at that stage, I didn't really care.

(If you'll allow me to backtrack for a bit... In the mid-1960s, the long-running children's magazine Jack and Jill published an article about Walter Cronkite written by one of his children. My attitude then was a predictable "Who cares?" I've since tracked down a copy of that issue on eBay, and purchased it.)

However... Sometime long before his 1981 retirement, I learned to appreciate the man. Which is why I so enjoyed the occurrence I'm about to share with you.

First, let me mention that long before now, I have searched the internet in general -- and YouTube in particular -- for a video, a transcript... anything that would give me more details about the following story. Nothing! Zip! Nada! So I'm doing this from a nearly twenty-year-old remembrance. Hardly something of which Mr. Cronkite would have approved, journalistically speaking.

TV commentators -- who, by the way, comment as opposed to "commentate," FYI -- tend to describe events with as many words possible. That's irritating when you think of all the other information they never get to because it was crowded out by their excessive verbiage. (I know, I know... I do it all the time, but I'm not relating anything of national or international importance!) I can't count the times a president has made a ten or fifteen-minute speech which the newsmen have then picked apart with a forty-five minute analysis.

The night the first Gulf War, "Operation Desert Storm," began in earnest, Dan Rather of CBS came on with two guests. One was Cronkite himself, and the other was a retired Army general or some other military expert. (As I said, I'm working from a vague memory.) Mr. Rather began by talking about the beginning of the war, and the possible ramifications of this or that, blah, blah, blah... The general chimed in with even more possibilities and probabilities, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera...!

Then the camera focused on Cronkite. In only a handful of sentences, he pretty much said everything worth saying about what was really going on, in a way that made any conjecture rather ridiculous.

The only thing he didn't say -- because he didn't have to -- was a quote often expressed by another CBS star, Archie Bunker: "Case closed."

Dan Rather and the general almost imperceptively glanced at each other as if to say, "Wonderful. The old man just derailed everything we were going to bullshit about for the next half hour or more."

They went to commercial. When the program returned, Cronkite was gone.

I always had the feeling that the other two had said "Get him out of here! He's ruining our act!" But I doubt anyone would have had the audacity to kick Walter Cronkite off the set, so IMHO it was probably that Dan Rather said, "You know, Walter, we were really hoping we could pad this discussion to fill air time," and that Cronkite replied to the effect of "I refuse to play those games," and walked off on his own.

As I said, over the years -- and not just since Cronkite's recent death -- I've searched high and low for a video, or a transcript, or a "story-behind-the-story," and found absolutely nothing.

Now, as for my closing... I was originally going to replace my customary "Thanks for your time" with "Thanks for your time And that's the way it is," and then thought, "Nahhhh, too predictable. Everybody's gonna be doin' stuff like that."

So I not only have a poorly-researched "news article," I also have a wimpy ending.

Cronkite would be so disappointed. Myself... I can live with it.

Hopefully, so can you.

Thanks for your time.

8 comments:

  1. inresting your choice of memory. i remember him distantly as a kid, we share a fraternity...but it was sad to see his passing. voices you get used to that are no longer there.

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  2. I never trusted this guy.

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  3. I will always have a special place in my heart for Walter Cronkite. I grew up with him around the dinner table, as if he were a member of the family. The sound of his voice meant things would be okay. He will be missed.

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  4. He was an icon of our era. The youngsters just won't get it. We only had a few channels and he was like a friend.

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  5. Even from the distance of England we knew & Saw Him.

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  6. S.F., I think I remember that show airing. As I was recalled at that time, I myself, was glued to the telly...if I come across anythin grelated to it, I'll send it over...but if you can't find it...

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  7. The wimpy ending worked just fine for me. Good story.

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  8. Hello David! I'm back in your world! Great site, and looks like you've garnered a few fans through the years! I've aged quite considerably through the years. Funny... I had a portrait painted once that was supposed to age, and not me. Last Halloween, Trick Or Treaters came to my door. I opened it, and they screamed and fled in terror! "And that's the way it is."

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