John A. Douglas

Living Passionately In the World of the Moving Image

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STORIES – Walter Cronkite

July 20th, 2009 · No Comments · Personal Stories

I just finished looking ar “Sunday Morning” on CBS which was dedicated to the career of Walter Cronkite. If you don’t know who Mr. Cronkite was then I will leave it to you to find out on your own. From the point of view of an 70 year-old man it would seem an insult to the intelligence to the majority of the readers of this article to have to explain who I’m talking about. It would like writing an article about Abraham Lincoln or Jesus Christ or Dwight Eisenhower and beginning by describing who they were and why they were important. We should all know that already.

I will say that Walter Cronkite was an important part of my television viewing history particularly at the time I was studying Radio and Television in college. As a college student I was idealistic about the future of television as were my fellow students at Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio. After all, it is the job of the college student to be idealistic.

We felt that television was going to grow into something pretty wonderful. We suspected that it was going to bring peoples and nations together and that it was going to offer the world presentations of wondrous quality. What gave us that strange notion? I will give you a partial list.

Edward R. Murrow, David Brinkley, David Susskind, “Omnibus,” “Camera 3,” Public Television, “Studio One,” Ernie Kovacs, Fred Friendly, communication satellites, “Playhouse 90,” the televised moon landing, Army-McCarthy hearings and certainly Walter Cronkite were all important elements of television in its youth. These were people and programs and technologies that gave us hope that television would one day be a cornucopia of information that would continue to give us a sense of wonder about who we are as human beings.

This is not to say that there wasn’t material of questionable quality on television back in the 50s and 60s but the people on my list, among others, were voices that could be heard.

Since college I have become more and more concerned about television and its relationship to society. Something has gone amiss. I was moved that think about the state of television even before the death of Walter Cronkite. What triggered my pessimistic thoughts was the coverage of the death of Michael Jackson. (Need I tell you who he is? I thought not.)

The two major cable networks went bananas over Michael Jackson. Watching and listening to them talk about the pop singer made me think of the film “King of Hearts” where in inmates of a lunatic asylum take over a town. In that French film, the lunatics do all right as community leaders but not so with CNN and Fox . And why is that? Because the news people on those two cable channels are not lunatics but are intelligent and semi-intelligent people who know exactly what they are doing. I think they believe that if they act like lunatics then they will better connect with the viewers that they believe are lunatics or, at the very least, a collection of nincompoops.

I am very pessimistic about television. There are good things on television but they are drowned out by the noise generated by all the garbage.

So the deaths of Michael Jackson and Walter Cronkite have geared up my pessimism – Michael Jackson because of the insane coverage and Walter Cronkite because he reminds me of what might have been.

To round out his little article I will leave you with another list – a list of other things that make me pessimistic about television.

Wolf Blitzer, reality shows, Shepherd Smith, organ enlargement ads, Roger Ailes, Glenn Beck, studio technologies run amuck, Rick Sanchez, unsubstantiated news stories, constant self congratulations by newscasters, moronic ad libs by anchors and Judge Judy are just a few. Feel free to add to the list.


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