By John P. Walsh, November 4, 2016.
November 4, 2016 is American newsman Walter Cronkite’s 100th birthday. The CBS News anchor died in 2009 at 92 years old. Employed with CBS News since 1950, Cronkite anchored the CBS Evening News from April 1962 to March 1981. Walter Cronkite lived by professional journalistic standards that appear to be largely out of favor in 2016. In times at least as exhilarating and turbulent as our own, the mustached newsman came nightly into Americans’ living rooms for decades and became lionized as “the most trusted man in America” in viewer polls. This was not, in Cronkite’s case, any hollow accolade. Because of its greater accuracy and depth in reporting, Cronkite’s broadcast was, after 1967 until his retirement, the top-rated news program on television. Since grade school I’ve been a news junkie and along with Cronkite’s broadcast I frequently tuned in the nightly newscasts of Howard K. Smith at ABC (originally at CBS) and John Chancellor at NBC in those same years. To quote this year’s Nobel laureate in Literature: The Times They Are a-Changin’. For 2016 I can report an obvious dismal conflation of journalism and partisan American politics at Cronkite’s own diverse and venerable network and other important media outlets which appears very ill-fitted to Cronkite’s inveterate viewpoint for the duty to objective journalism. What would centenarian Walter Cronkite say about over-the-top media bias as practiced in 2016? In honor of Walter Cronkite’s 100th birthday, here are 20 Cronkite quotations germane to the topic:
I am in a position to speak my mind. And that is what I propose to do.
Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened.
In seeking truth you have to get both sides of a story.
There is no such thing as a little freedom. Either you are all free or you are not free.
Success is more permanent when you achieve it without destroying your principles.
I think it is absolutely essential in a democracy to have competition in the media, a lot of competition, and we seem to be moving away from that.
Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine.
There’s a little more ego involved in these jobs than people might realize.
I am neither a Republican nor Democrat. I am a registered independent because I find that I cast my votes not on the basis of party loyalty but on the issues of the moment and my assessment of the candidates.
I regret that, in our attempt to establish some standards, we didn’t make them stick. We couldn’t find a way to pass them on to another generation, really.
I think that being liberal, in the true sense, is being non-doctrinaire, non-dogmatic, non-committed to a cause but examining each case on its merits. Being left of center is another thing; it’s a political position. I think most newspapermen by definition have to be liberal. If they’re not liberal, by my definition of it, then they can hardly be good newspapermen. If they’re preordained dogmatists for a cause, then they can’t be very good journalists.
If that is what makes us liberals, so be it, just as long as in reporting the news we adhere to the first ideals of good journalism – that news reports must be fair, accurate and unbiased.
It is not the reporter’s job to be a patriot or to presume to determine where patriotism lies. His job is to relate the facts.
It is a seldom proffered argument as to the advantages of a free press that it has a major function in keeping the government itself informed as to what the government is doing.
The ethic of the journalist is to recognize one’s prejudices, biases, and avoid getting them into print.
I don’t think people ought to believe only one news medium. They ought to read and they ought to go to opinion journals and all the rest of it. I think it’s terribly important that this be taught in the public schools, because otherwise, we’re gonna get to a situation because of economic pressures and other things where television’s all you’ve got left. And that would be disastrous. We can’t cover the news in a half-hour evening event. That’s ridiculous.
Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.
Putting it as strongly as I can, the failure to give free airtime for our political campaigns endangers our democracy.
We cannot defer this responsibility to posterity. Time will not wait.
And that’s the way it is.
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