By the time you read this, there will have been many tributes to CBS newsman Walter Cronkite who died Friday at the age of 92. Most, if not all, of those tributes will mention the word “trust” in describing both his approach and integrity to the news.
With 24/7 cable news service today, it’s hard to imagine what it was like back in the day when there were only three major news shows: ABC, NBC and CBS.
It wasn’t just that Cronkite anchored the CBS Evening News. He was the gold standard by which everyone to come would be measured; and that standard included a depth of honesty and propriety that became the signature of the man no matter the circumstances.
The photo above, this is how I remember Cronkite when he came on the air in the middle of the day with the “News Flash”:
“From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official,” Cronkite told us on November 22, 1963, “President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time …”
In a day when college kids get much of their news from the Internet or Jon Stewart, Walter Cronkite’s clear, straight-forward reporting got your attention. Whether it was a National convention, the war in Viet-Nam or Watergate, Cronkite always spoke to his listeners in a way that not only conveyed the facts but always managed to be calm and reassuring, even when things were at their most difficult.
People would tune-in to watch the CBS Evening News as Cronkite would report, not spin, the news of the day. And no matter the circumstance, no matter the problems of the day, listening to Cronkite, you felt, it’s going to be alright. We’re going to get through this.
We trusted him when he told the truth about Viet-Nam, a war we could not win. When conspiracy theories would flood the media about the Kennedy assassination, we trusted Cronkite’s own special investigation into the shooting concluding that Oswald acted alone. And we cheered with him when man first walked on the moon.
President Obama called Walter Cronkite “more than just an anchor. [He was] someone we could trust to guide us through the most important issues of the day; a voice of certainty in an uncertain world… [He] invited us to believe in him, and he never let us down.”
For his time, there was no one better. I wonder if the media ever earn that kind of trust again. I wonder if we will ever have a newsperson we can believe in again.