Charles L. Ponce de Leon: Review of Douglas Brinkley's "Cronkite"tags: book reviews, Dissent, Douglas Brinkley, Cronkite, Walter Cronkite
Charles L. Ponce de Leon, an associate professor of History and American Studies at California State University, Long Beach, is completing a book on the history of television news.
More than thirty years after his retirement as anchor of the CBS Evening News—and over three years after his death in 2009—Walter Cronkite remains an iconic figure. He appears in the opening montage of Aaron Sorkin’s HBO drama The Newsroom, and his name is routinely evoked in laments about the “decline” of broadcast journalism, which invariably remind us that he was the “most trusted man in America,” a courageous truth-teller committed to objectivity and “hard news.”
Douglas Brinkley’s long, absorbing biography of Cronkite does little to alter this impression. He tells us lots of interesting things about the man, but relatively little about how he became a mythic figure. Nor does he say very much about the particular kind of journalism that Cronkite and his colleagues produced. This is too bad, since Cronkite was at the center of a fascinating moment in the history of American mass media, and the television news that he came to embody was fleeting and highly unusual—an attempt to produce serious journalism in a medium associated with escapism.
Cronkite joined CBS in 1950, after a distinguished career as a wire-service reporter with United Press. He was one of many print journalists drawn to the new medium of television, and he remained committed to a relatively straightforward, just-the-facts approach to the news that made him a favorite of CBS executives, especially news division president Sig Mickelson. His first assignment was to explain developments in the Korean War to viewers of WTOP, CBS’s affiliate in Washington, D.C. Using maps, models, and other ingenious low-tech visual aids, he proved a master at the task. Soon he was hosting WTOP’s evening newscast and contributing short reports on the war to the fifteen-minute newscast that CBS produced in New York and fed to its growing number of affiliates.
During the 1950s, Cronkite was the network’s jack-of-all-trades. He narrated documentaries, “interviewed” actors impersonating famous personages like Joan of Arc and Benedict Arnold at the scene of groundbreaking historical events on the program You Are There, and even briefly hosted The Morning Show, an ill-fated attempt to duplicate the success of NBC’s Today. His most important job, however, was serving as the anchor of CBS’s convention and election coverage, a new role that Mickelson conceived for him in 1952. A quick study with an unusual ability to ad-lib, Cronkite was ideally suited for the assignment, as Mickelson and CBS officials immediately recognized. They made him the anchor of virtually all special live broadcasts, including the network’s coverage of space flights. It was a job that gave Cronkite lots of airtime and allowed him to “own” a story that was popular with the public. In April 1962, with the CBS Evening News with Douglas Edwards well behind NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report in the Nielsen ratings, Cronkite became the program’s new anchor and managing editor, a joint position he held for the next nineteen years....
comments powered by Disqus
- New documentary explores the legacy of the 5,000 Rosenwald schools set up by a Sears magnate and Booker T. Washington
- Rare silent Native American movie of 1920s attracting a lot of interest
- It happened in Idaho and was the largest massacre of Indians in US history, but where exactly did it take place?
- Junípero Serra’s Missions Destroyed Entire Native Cultures. And Now He’s Going to Be a Saint.
- Isis destruction of Palmyra's Temple of Bel revealed in satellite images
- Two scholars from UT object to the Texas school's decision to remove the statue of Jefferson Davis
- A history professor explains why Americans are so prone to conspiracy theories
- Now Greg Grandin has come out with a study of Henry Kissinger
- Japanese historian upends the familiar narrative of WW 2 by taking a bottom up approach, focusing on fascism from the grassroots
- Holocaust-denying historian David Irving organises 'disgusting' £2,000-a-head holiday tours of former concentration camps and Hitler's HQ so people can 'make up their own mind about the truth'