Last week the news director of our local NPR affiliate, WBFO-FM 88.7, invited me to record my essay paying tribute to two great newsmen: Walter Cronkite and Tim Russert.
To listen to the broadcast click here.
The Most Trusted Man In America
Amazingly that statement was
not Madison Avenue hype when it came to Walter Cronkite. Today if
someone said that about Katie Couric or Brian Williams it would be a
stretch. A trusted voice in America, sure. THE trusted person in
America? Not so much.
Walter Cronkite really was above the
rest and it wasn't by accident. He was what his PR said he was;
professional, fair, intelligent, balanced, objective, respected.
A reader of my blog, pointed out that Tim Russert may
have come closest to filling Cronkite's shoes. One was taken from us in
the prime of life, the other in it's fullness and yet there are
similarities. Western New Yorkers take pride in Tim Russert, not just
because he was born and bred here, but because what you saw was what
you got and what you got was a class act.
Both were hard
working professional who respected the responsibilities of the fourth
estate, delivering the news and by doing so keeping our government
accountable. And somehow they appeared to keep their egos in line by
remembering their roots and their humanity.
Russert helped define professionalism, not just for journalists, but
for professionals of all stripes. Can you imagine Walter Cronkite
loudly interrupting a guest the way Bill O'Reilly does? Or Tim Russert
lecture viewers with a condescending smirk the way Keith Olbermann
does? No way. They were both straight up guys who treated you like
grown ups and believed that the unpolished facts were all you needed to
develop your own opinion.
Like so pitifully few in television journalism today, they earned our respect and trust and rarely let us down.
To me Cronkite was of my father's generation. Russert was of mine.
Russert probably watched Cronkite as a kid. Didn't we all? Those of us
born in the late 40's and 50's, yes, I'm talking about baby boomers
here, we all grew up with Cronkite in our living rooms, as dependable
as bed time at 8 and baths on Saturdays. I imagine Russert did too.
Back in the day, television united us no matter where we lived. The
Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, watching Roger and Hammerstein's
Cinderella (the one with Leslie Ann Warren) or the first episode of
Roots. I grew up in Kansas. You may have grown up in Manhattan,
Virginia, California or South Buffalo, it doesn't matter. If you're of
a certain age, we have these common memories, the sounds of them, the
sights, the emotions.
One of my earliest memories is watching
President Kennedy speak about the missile standoff with Cuba. I don't
know how old I was. I just remember sitting on the floor between the TV
and where my parents sat. They looked like solemn giants. I had no idea
what was going on — just that it was serious. A year later it was
Kennedy's assassination, the funeral and tears. Throughout all of it
was Walter Cronkite's comforting voice. His dispassion was not
perceived as unfeeling. I don't know how he pulled it off. Training?
Character? Belief in the principle of objectivity in reporting? He was
all that rolled into one with a good dose of hard work and compassion.
Tim Russert, did well living up to these principles, but being from a
different era and more interviewer than straight on reporter, he could
sometimes revel a bit too much in the gotcha-aren't I clever' moment.
But we're not all perfect. Not even Cronkite, although it's harder for
me to see his faults through the haze of nostalgia.
to hand it to both of them. They worked as hard as three people,
believed in what they did as a public service and obviously loved their
jobs. When you see the clips of Cronkite reporting on the moon landing
laughing like a kid, or Tim Russert holding up his white board with
that twinkle in his eyes, they were both clearly saying
"I'm the luckiest guy in the world."