TV News Swamp Gas

Walter Cronkite     1916-2009

Do you remember this guy? His name was Walter Cronkite (1916-2009). In his heyday, Cronkite was known as “the most trusted man in America.” He was given that accolade by us, the American people. Cronkite was the anchor for the CBS Evening News for 19 years, and he was our most valued news source.

He was also the last honest broadcast news journalist.

Cronkite was a nightly guest in our homes throughout the 1960s and 1970s. These were tough, controversial and often ugly decades in our history. It was a time of war, racism, riots and a divided nation on nearly every important topic of the day. Yet, Cronkite managed to become the most trusted man in America for a simple but powerful reason. He did not have an agenda.

When Cronkite delivered his unique style of journalism, it was straightforward, penetrating, accurate and unbiased. He gave it to us without political nuance or personal preference. Yet, he often delivered it with emotion and power. He was the guy next door, the guy you knew and could depend upon.

Fast forward to today.

TV news, broadcast journalism, is a hotbed of obvious agenda and swamp gas. CNN, Fox, MSNBC, whatever. It really doesn’t matter which you choose. Today, the news is delivered with a skewed point of view, deliberately managed to appeal to specific audiences. In other words, it’s not journalism at all. It’s theater disguised as journalism. It’s entertainment and little more.

Right wing, left wing, some other wing. It’s easy enough to flip through the TV news channels and electronically infuse your light meal. If you have a favorite perspective, a personal view of the world, there’s a broadcast journalist who will fit your bill nicely. You will be entertained in accordance with your preferences. But will you be accurately informed? Will you ever get the news delivered straight down the middle? Probably not.

A title card still from the April 4, 1968 edit...

Cronkite didn’t care about agendas, parties or prevailing opinions. He cared about delivering the news accurately and with impact. That’s why he was so trusted. It’s why he appealed to Americans across all political parties and points of view. He’s been gone for many years now. With his departure from the news scene, we lost our last link to objective reporting. We somehow slipped out of honest journalism and into the entertainment mode as we changed channels.

America is polarized across many fronts. We all know that. We only have to look at DC to understand how much we’ve lost in terms of honesty and reliability. Sadly, we’ve also lost our link to real journalism, the kind of delivery that was reliable, unbiased and meaningful. We lost the truth behind the news.

Perhaps we’ll be lucky enough to find a trusted broadcast journalist in the future. From today’s point of view, the scene is bleak. No one seems willing or capable of stepping into Cronkite’s shoes and bringing us back to the days when a broadcast journalist was someone who could be trusted, someone who we would be happy to invite into our homes every evening.

Sure, there are other Countries who make good attempts at true broadcast journalism. With the Internet we can get the news from anywhere, anytime. But we were once the leader and we gave it all up. We need true American broadcast journalism once again. Why can’t we go back to doing it right? There’s plenty of room for honest journalism and entertainment to live together peacefully.

It all comes down to who will step up, pay for it, and make it happen.

In the meantime, give a thought to Walter Cronkite from time to time. He was one of a kind. I miss him.


8 thoughts on “TV News Swamp Gas

  1. So well put, Michael. We so looked forward to his newscasts every night. How lucky we are to have grown up with him and to remember what honesty and integrity were all about. I would put Eric Sevareid in the same camp. I miss them both.

  2. Evidently you have accidentally excluded the Phonyon Staff from your list of trusted journalists, but perhaps you were targeting only the broadcast variety.

    We find the work of the PBS Newshour to be even-handed and free of an obvious agenda or bias.

    In addition to a news summary, most nights they present, at most, four or five in-depth topics on national and international news, politics, economics, science, media, arts, etc. When they present debates of current events, they always feature persons of opposing viewpoints, and their guests are almost always rational and not hyperbolic.

    While we don’t endorse relying on any non-Phonyon news outlet as one’s primary information source, four out of five Staff members agree that the Newshour can be an informative supplement to a stringent, Phonyon-based news diet.

    • Ya-coozer! I should be well spanked for forgetting the Phonyon. My apologies. You also raise a good point about PBS. I should have given them a nod. However, they lack the charisma of a guy like Walter. So, that’s my feeble excuse for the day. Thanks, as always.

  3. I think it all comes down to greed. Greedy networks seeking ratings by sensationalizing other people’s misfortunes, greedy corporations paying off the media to slant stories for their own agenda, and greedy politicians wishing to gain more power or maintain their positions. This is why I love blogs…some of us can speak truths that many journalist are afraid to do. Maybe they are pressured by their employers… Maybe they don’t care what the truth is. I’ve worked on papers that tried to cover up the truth instead of revealing it. This is why I freelance. I will never be told again to compromise my values.

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