Walter Cronkite passed away yesterday and since I remember watching him as a kid and as a Public Relations major in college and writer all my life, he is the gold standard for journalism. You were never told that in class since he retired about four years before I started college and took journalism classes. All the professors grew up with Cronkite and CNN was new and had not established the 24 hour new cycle we have today.
So today as I watch our 24 churning ball of news I get upset more so on the reporting of Cronkite’s death for a couple of reasons. First, we’ve just gone through what seems like a roller coaster of celebrity grief with MJ and all the others. Karl Malden, heck I found out a week after he died that he passed when I saw The Daily Show cracking on NBC’s Chuck Todd for most drawn out six degrees of separation. Basically all gazillion media outlets will cover this story for the neext 48-72 hours until you know every person that ever met, watched or heard of Walter Cronkite.
But the most annoying aspect of our news today is that they get it wrong most of the time. I think Cronkite and his peers were great at what they did and had a passion for getting it accurate. Not right in terms of justification as today’s talking heads do. But accurate in terms of describing what happened so that it can be as closely interpreted by the next person. This is the challenge of journalism, writing is the tool and talent is the art.
So I was upset this morning when watching Fox & Friends and seeing their “News Advisor” who worked with Cronkite make a statement that I knew was inaccurate the second she said it. She said that Cronkite was not the first anchor, that Hunt and Brinkley on NBC were, where she had worked before coming to CBS. She’s wrong because:
On July 7, 1952, the term “anchor” was coined to describe Cronkite’s role at both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, which marked the first nationally-televised convention coverage. Cronkite anchored the network’s coverage of the 1952 presidential election as well as later conventions. In 1964 he was temporarily replaced by the team of Robert Trout and Roger Mudd; this proved to be a mistake, and Cronkite was returned to the anchor chair for future political conventions.
Hunt-Brinkley were most likely called broadcast journalist at that time. So yes, Hunt-Brinkley were the leading broadcast journalists until Cronkite came along and changed the game enough so to create new language and meaning around the word, anchor.
My favorite quote by Cronkite was that words should mean something. I think they used to when we read newspapers, had only three talking heads to choose from and had to make a strong intellectual choice for our current events information and opinion. Now people use words they have no idea what the word means but it sounded good to them when they heard it, regardless of how accurate or relative it may be. Hard to put any trust in that.