Friday, July 17, 2009

US anchorman Walter Cronkite dies, aged 92 | World news |

That, in fact, was simply the way it appeared to Cronkite. As one of the founding fathers of America's network television news and as managing editor of the CBS evening news for 19 years, his evaluation of world events helped shape his country's electronic reporting into the extraordinarily insular and inadequate chronicle it has become. That, in turn, opened the door to Rupert Murdoch's current brand of unashamedly partisan news coverage.

During Cronkite's reign, the standard television bulletin, from which most Americans drew their picture of the world, lasted for 22 minutes. The consequent pressure to condense or omit means that events in vast tracts of the globe remained unknown across the world's most powerful nation.

For all Cronkite's insistence that he was a reporter rather than a front man, there was little evidence that he tried to inculcate a mission to inform at CBS. The prevailing philosophy was, and remains, to offer all the news that fits. With no national press to fill the gap, it has meant that for generations of Americans the broad sweep of foreign policy has wavered on tides of popular ignorance.


Important developments for which there was no film were reduced to sound bites which barely touched the national consciousness. Nor, as became apparent in crises like Carter's dithering over the neutron bomb, had a mechanism been devised to give viewers a coherent account of policies and ideas, except to make them crudely personalised.

But, Washington being the village it is, an exception was made for the national political conventions. For years they got the wall-to-wall treatment usually reserved for sport, not least because they had similar ingredients.

From 1952 onwards Cronkite was the CBS anchor man at these five-day marathons and his reputation grew accordingly. In time his career had so far outlasted that of the politicians that he easily outgunned them in popularity. Presidential hopefuls of all stripes were desperate to be interviewed by him to help secure the national exposure on which their election depended.

This evident power meant, in turn, that he certainly did not remain the detached reporter he claimed. He may have kept his voting preferences secret but the tone of voice, the pause, the lift of the shaggy eyebrows rarely left viewers in much doubt of Cronkite's editorial view. He so riled Kennedy during the 1960 presidential campaign that the candidate tried to get him removed from the CBS roster.

US anchorman Walter Cronkite dies, aged 92 | World news |
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