Walter Cronkite was a fan of the Grateful Dead and was terrified when he discovered his daughter was at Woodstock. It was he who was the first to put the Beatles on TV in North America, not Ed Sullivan. He was friend to princes, premiers, singers and starlets yet he came into our living rooms with the calm presence of a wise uncle.
If the world made sense, Cronkite’s death on Friday would be making much bigger waves than the death of Michael Jackson three weeks ago. If Jackson is the King of Pop, Cronkite is the King of News and he made an impact on his profession that the “gloved one” could only dream of.
You see, Cronkite defined that old mainstream media style that social media is now so fond of bashing. He persuaded CBS to spent thousands of dollars in the 1960’s to send him to Viet Nam for a first hand look at how the Americans were doing.
When he came back he suggested, in a subtle but still objective way, that the United States was not likely to be able to win that war. It was enough for President Lyndon Johnson to lose hope and decide not to seek re-election.
No journalist, new media or old media, is ever likely to have that same power again.
Cronkite would not have written blogs to benefit his cronies or to get free tickets or merchandise. In fact, his friend Frank Sinatra once walked off the set when Cronkite asked about his mafia connections. Sinatra continued the interview only after he was persuaded that it was a valid question.
That sense of integrity has long disappeared in mainstream media and I’m not sure it has any roots at all in social media. Millions of us knew “for a fact” that Cronkite would not lie to us.
There is nothing I can read today with that same confidence.