Walter Cronkite’s Death Reminds Us of What Television Journalism Used to Be

I never watched Walter Cronkite when he was on television. I was never really a big TV guy. Sure, I watched some when I was little, but there came a time when I decided that there were better things to do in life other than sit in front of a box.

But with the recent passing of Mr. Cronkite (and really, who isn’t dying these days?), I am reminded of a time when TV journalism wasn’t just confined to 24 hour cable news shows. There once was a time, not too long ago, when basic television programs on stations like NBC, CBS, and ABC provided all the information people needed to get through their day. Today, networks like CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC hog all the spotlight.

Mr. Cronkite was known as “The Most Trusted Man in America” because he delivered the news as straightforward and accurately as people needed it. He told us what we needed to know about our nation, our elected leaders, and the decision makers around the world. He let us know what happened during the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam War, moon landing, the civil rights movement, and other momentous occasions in U.S. history.

I regret that I never watched him in action. I am a little skeptical about TV journalism as it is, but to see someone whom people actually trusted would have been a treat. It would be pointless to talk on and on about all his accomplishments and career highlights. I am not as up-to-speed on Mr. Cronkite’s career as other people are, so I should not attempt to make this blog entry a eulogy.

Instead, it should be worth mentioning how it is a TV journalist can be known as “The Most Trusted Man in America.” Today we think of TV journalists as “reporters” who only think about ratings, making money, and upsetting politicians. Anyone who has seen screaming heads on cable TV or “journalists” using valuable air time to cover useless trash like celebrity gossip probably has a low view of television news. But anyone who has seen a journalist like Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow in action might think differently.

Trust is developed when we know the other person is not trying to deceive, manipulate, or use us for any purpose. We know their intentions are good, right, and honorable. We have no reason to question their motives or think twice about what they’re doing or saying to us. Trust is when we don’t have to doubt what is told us and we can truly believe what we’re hearing. Apparently, Cronkite developed that kind of trust with the American people. And with his passing, we have lost yet another voice that we can have faith in.

A trusted journalist is what we need, not just for today, but for all eternity. We need to trust the people whom we get our news from. We need to trust that they are telling us the truth, are accurate about all their facts, and are not trying to mislead us in any form or fashion. Some of today’s more sell-out reporters care more about ratings than they do about serving the people. I don’t need to name names. We all know who they are.

But then again, journalism is a for-profit business. One cannot deny that fact. Newspapers, magazines, TV programs, radio shows, and websites need money in order to survive. Newspapers are closing because they aren’t making money in an era of Internet news. TV news programs are relying more on covering Michael Jackson’s death than anything else because that’s what people are talking about.

This of course, brings about an interesting question: do TV stations cover stories like celebrity news because they think people want it, or do people want it because it’s given to them? I think this is more of a vicious cycle than anything else. Both parties are to blame. So when we see newscasters giving their opinion on matters, when no journalist should ever do that, we don’t think anything of it. Journalists pandering to our interests have become the norm.

Is anyone bothered that anchors like Keith Olbermann or Sean Hannity tell us their opinion when delivering the news? Probably not. But I am. I think it gives people the impression that not only should the media tell us what to think, but they should tell us how to think about it. They should tell us that Obama’s healthcare plan is an ambitious but challenging endeavor, or that Bush’s Afghanistan policies were doomed to fail. They don’t trust us to come up with these conclusions on our own. They need to tell us like the children that they think we are.

And with commentary comes biases, and with biases comes that horrible word “agenda.” The so-called media “agenda” is a concept developed by media watchdogs and critics to put blame on the media for creating a conspiracy to brainwash us to think a certain way. There is supposedly both a right winged and left winged media agenda to turn America into a fascist socialist terrorist nation. Is this true? I’ll let you decide for yourself.

But getting back to the late Walter Cronkite, I don’t think there are too many people who believe he had a preconceived and planned “agenda” to brainwash Americans to buy into government (or anti-government), corporate, or political propaganda. He just told us what was going on without considering what special interest groups would think. He wanted to inform us, not persuade us to think a certain way.

Some say these values are missing in today’s journalism. I think that is true to a certain extent. This is definitely a fair accusation in the mainstream American media, but not in all corners of the news reporting world. There are journalists out there who stand for telling the truth and informing us on what is important in our world. We just need to find them. They’re out there, trust me.

For now, it might be fair to say that a man of Cronkite’s statue might never be seen again in TV news. His death, while tragic and sad in its own right, does not signal an end to an era. His era of straight talk news seemed to have died years ago.

Will Cronkite be sorely missed? Perhaps. But what he stood for will be missed even more.

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