Walter Cronkite was far from complimentary about the news profession in recent years. He worried about the quality of today’s journalism, the preponderance of corporate owners and the reluctance of many journalists to question those in power.
In The Nation, John Nichols wrote: “As the war in Iraq went horribly awry, I asked Cronkite whether a network anchorman would dare speak out in the same way that he had?
‘I think it could happen, yes. I don’t think it’s likely to happen,’ he said with an audible sigh. ‘I think the three networks are still hewing pretty much to that theory. They don’t even do analysis anymore, which I think is a shame. They don’t even do background. They just seem to do headlines, and the less important it seems the more likely they are to get on the air.'”
Nichols also wrote: “Cronkite also argued that the networks needed to get more comfortable with criticism. He believed that, after years of battering by conservative media critics, the networks were too averse to taking risks. During the discussion about whether a network anchor might question the wisdom of the Iraq war, he said, ‘If they (the networks) didn’t do it, I think it would be because they are afraid to get in an ideological fight – or that doing so might lose them some viewers. … I think that is a bad thing, a bad way to decide how to approach a story.’”
From The Associated Press, here is Cronkite’s February 1968 editorial on Vietnam, credited as being a turning point in U.S. opinion of the war.
“We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. …
“It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. This summer’s almost certain standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiations or terrible escalation. And for every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the north, the use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of 100 or 200 or 300,000 more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to cosmic disaster.
“To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. … It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out, then, will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did they best they could.”
PHOTO: This undated file photo provided by CBS shows Walter Cronkite in Hanoi for CBS Reports:”Honors, Duty and A War Called Vietnam,”, a special for the CBS Television Network. Cronkite reported from Hanoi in 1973 when he covered the release of American POWs (AP Photo/CBS, File)