Walter Cronkite (1916-2009)
I'm too young to remember much about Walter Cronkite -- which is to say, the period of his career during which he was America's top news anchor, the media establishment's most credible figure, in a way both the voice of the people and the voice the people most trusted, the period that included many of his most famous broadcasts (such as the JFK assassination), happened not just before I was born but before I was old enough to be a consumer of news in any meaningful way. I only moved to the U.S. for the first time as a teenager, and, by then, network news was in the hands of Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and Peter Jennings. Cronkite was still a towering figure, a shadow over his successors, as well as an illumination, but he had become the past, like Edward Murrow, and the present had turned to a new generation, perhaps a lesser one.
But, of course, I knew of him, like we all did, and I saw enough of his old broadcasts, and read enough about him, to come to appreciate what he meant to the people who tuned into him nightly, as well as to the world on which he reported. He was the intermediary, the transmitter of what was deemed to be news, that is, he stood between the people and the world around them, in a way, but he did so in a way that didn't distort reality, that didn't spin it into myth, but rather in a way that made the world more immediate, more accessible, more utterly real than it otherwise would have been. That is, he helped us -- and I say "us" to indicate all of us who were in some way touched by him -- understand the world, and the events that came to define it, without ever resorting to manipulation, without ever really becoming the news himself. He told us what had happened, and what was still happening, and in that way was our link to the world around us, to the world beyond us, but he was also, I think, one of us, and that made him so special, and so significant, and so trustworthy, the most trusted man in America. No one since has come close, though many have tried, and many are trying still. He will forever, it seems, be the benchmark against which everyone else in his profession will be judged.
Cronkite's death was a deeply personal loss for so many, and understandably so. He reported for a generation, and was the voice of a generation, and, even for those of us not of that generation, it is difficult to imagine what happened over the course of those many years -- life, history -- without him.
I'm a bit late coming to this, being on vacation. For more, be sure to read a couple of really excellent posts from my co-bloggers Carol Gee and J. Thomas Duffy.