We’re so sorry, Uncle Walter

cronkiteThe journalist in me gets a little misty-eyed thinking about the passing of Walter Cronkite, long considered the Gold Standard Anchorman.

Americans so trusted him that he came to be known as Uncle Walter, the guy you could count on to find the truth and spell it out for you.

Uncle Walter is gone. His successor, Dan Rather, never quite found a comfortable fit in that chair as CBS’ anchor. I don’t think anchoring suited Rather. He seemed a little too tightly wired to be tethered to a studio chair.

And this is not a knock on Dan Rather. He just was better suited for the field. It’s where he thrived. I was a desk jockey. Copy editor for most of my career – not the investigative reporter digging up stuff. Could I do it? Well, yeah, but there are people better suited to that particular gig. We each had our fortes. There are far better reporters than me. Not a lot of better copy editors.

I still get oddly amused at the bizarre attack on Rather in the street and the song it inspired, “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” (R.E.M.’s Monster). But I digress. Again.

Ahem. Walter Cronkite. Yes. He was Old School. Never tried to be hip or cool. Twitter? Cronkite? Please. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong or bad about Twitter, I’m just saying, Not Walter. He was a news guy, pure and simple. And when he made his opinion known, which wasn’t often (“News” shouting heads everywhere, are you listening?), it counted. When he said the Vietnam War couldn’t be won, it meant the war could not be won. Period.

I had already decided to pursue a career in journalism by the time Cronkite was pushed to the sidelines by the deep thinkers at CBS, but even then it didn’t seem right. The universe made sense with Cronkite in the studio and Rather in the field dodging bullets. It was in some ways a grand symbiotic relationship: Dan in the foxhole, Walter back in New York, the two of them (and a then-vast CBS news staff) making sense of it all. Dan seemed a little lost without Walter. Maybe I’m imagining things. Maybe it’s scenes from Broadcast News (Jack Nicholson as The Anchor, William Hurt as the Vacuous Young Correspondent – roles later perfected on the Daily News/Colbert Report – and Holly Hunter as the Beleaguered And Slightly Neurotic Producer) that I recall. Whatever.

Of course, many things have developed in the interim. CNN. Fox News. The explosion of the Internet and its bazillions of bloggers and news aggregators that have sucked the life right out of “old” media. Two wars in Iraq. Terrorist attacks, mass hysteria, 10-second attention spans. Too long? Sorry.

Things change. I can deal with that. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.


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