Scott Klemm's Reviews > Cronkite

Cronkite by Douglas G. Brinkley
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Aug 01, 12

Read from June 22 to July 22, 2012

Walter Cronkite’s career extended from World War II as a journalist and radio commentator to being a respected television news anchorman up to his retirement in 1981. For me the most compelling parts of the book were the description of Cronkite’s reporting of such historic events as D-Day, Kennedy’s assassination and the first man on the moon. Other times the book seemed to drag a bit as Brinkley described the rivalries and jockeying for position within CBS.

Cronkite had a reputation for being one who stood for objective journalism and straight news truthfulness. Of course, Cronkite never really was as unbiased as many thought. He showed subtle support for Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement, for example, by the amount of coverage he devoted to it. He was also instrumental in turning public opinion against the Vietnam War with his report on the Tet Offensive that brought about Lyndon Johnson’s announcement that he would not seek a second term. In later life, especially after retirement, he became increasingly vocal in his advocacy of liberal causes.

The book’s author, Douglas Brinkley, stated that “journalist could now make or break a candidate. If you were Reagan or Carter, kissing up to Cronkite was far more important than kissing babies on the campaign trail.” The media is the new kingmakers.

Cronkite criticized the trend of news-as-entertainment and worried about the gullibility of the American public. “We need courses, beginning in junior high, on journalism for consumers.” he wrote in 1984. “How to read a newspaper, how to listen to the radio, how to watch television….People have got to be taught to be skeptical so that they won’t become cynical about all news sources.”

To this I would add the need for the public to be able to distinguish news from propaganda. Some in today’s media can’t decide whether their job is reporting the news or advancing a particular candidate or cause. It would be helpful if the American electorate could recognize such basic propaganda devices as bandwagon, name calling and card stacking. It’s alarming that too many voters don’t take the time to become better informed, and are ill-equipped to think critically and judge the quality of information. A scary thought -- a democratic society gets the representation it deserves.

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