Thursday, July 23, 2009

On Walter Cronkite

Allow me to stray from my standard fare - Bulls' news and promotion - for these thoughts on Walter Cronkite’s passing. His funeral service is today in Manhattan. He was a hero.

Consider my career path - the abbreviated version: At present, I am the “sports guy” at Capitol. Prior to that I was the “news and sports guy” for twenty years…and before that I was simply “the news guy."

I majored in broadcast journalism and labored as a radio reporter/news director at two CBS affiliated stations in Virginia. Historically, that time frame encompassed Watergate, the US withdrawal from Viet Nam (putting it delicately) and Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter.

I was wet behind the ears, but Walter was in his prime. Network television news was in its prime, too. Walter had a hand in creating it, and remarkably, in that mix of big business, show biz and journalism, he was “the most trusted man in America.”

What an accolade! He wasn’t renowned for his creativity…or his performance skills…or his good looks. Rather, he was known for his integrity. What an achievement! Is integrity an aspirational character trait these days? (Sorry, the curmudgeon alarm just went off.)

I dusted off my copy of Cronkite’s 1996 memoir, A Reporter’s Life. Cronkite humorously notes that people would approach him in retirement with “Didn’t you used to be Walter Cronkite?” But let this truth be his last word: "The free press is the central nervous system of a democratic society."

Walter Cronkite shaped TV news. He was the industry standard bearer. Yet he wore his fame with great humility, and he retired with grace. He was serious about his work, but didn’t take himself too seriously. A significant life. A very good man.

This is in my office; a Capitol milestone: Clayton Henkel of the North Carolina News Network with “Uncle Walter” at a Radio-Television News Directors Assn convention in New Orleans. The NCNN received an Edward R. Murrow award for coverage of Hurricane Fran. Walter confined this photo op to his people - the reporters. (Management was kept at a safe distance.)

Memorabilia; The CBS Eye: I pilfered this sign (pointing to the CBS hospitality suite, of course) at a National Assn of Broadcasters convention in DC. College prank. (Wasn't I just extolling integrity? My bad.)