And that's the way it was
The passing of Walter Cronkite at the age of 92 marks the end of an era. But that time really passed when Cronkite signed off as anchor of the CBS Evening News 28 years ago. Millions of news consumers -- and thousands of journalists -- have no real idea what news, particularly the network variety, was really like.
They would scratch their heads and wonder how a television anchorman was known as the most trusted man in America, a man of such stature that Lyndon Johnson said "If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America."
In Cronkite's era sound bites ran 40 seconds. Today, if we're lucky they run 10 seconds. Not enough time for a full thought, let alone a coherent one in context.
Many TV reporters and anchors rely on their appearance, not their training. Few if any will have the background of Cronkite, who cut his teeth as a war correspondent for United Press. And while he was known to America as "Uncle Walter," his physical presence would just not pass muster with today's on-air standards.
Those who followed him in the CBS anchor chair reflect the changes. Both Dan Rather and Katie Couric have rock solid news credentials. But Rather's eccentricities often got into his way and Couric's "perky" TV personality has been turned as a weapon against her.
Ironically, I was a Huntley-Brinkley guy as a kid. The NBC duo had the same gravitas and I am hard pressed to come up with a reason say how they were any better. Perhaps that's the ultimate fact of television news -- if you start with someone you stick with them.
The Washington Post's Howie Kurtz sums up how towering a figure Cronkite really was:
It's been 28 years since Walter Cronkite last told America that was the way it is, more than enough time for him to fade from our collective consciousness.And that's the way it is, Saturday, July 18th, 2009. Good-bye Walter Cronkite and rest in peace.
The fact that he didn't speaks volumes not just about him, but also about an era when an anchor could presume to tell the country -- without contradiction from bloggers, Twitterers and other carping critics -- that what he had just presented was indeed a definitive picture of reality.