Walter Cronkite is widely regarded as an icon — and, to many aspiring journalists, a role model. He and his coverage of the Vietnam War are often referred to as a highpoint in journalism even today. Jonah Goldberg of the Los Angeles Times has a vastly different opinion. In today’s column, he writes that Cronkite is “truly one of the most overrated national icons of the 20th century” who misreported aspects of the Vietnam War.
His column begins as a response to Van Jones‘ Sunday New York Times column that argued:
“The high standards and wise judgments of people like Walter Cronkite once acted as our national immune system, zapping scandal-mongers and quashing wild rumors. As a step toward further democratizing America, we shrunk those old gatekeepers — and ended up weakening democracy’s defenses.”
Goldberg writes, “the conservatives serve as the stick-it-to-the-man brigades, while liberals like gatekeepers. Nowhere is this more true than in the temples of journalism, where the high priests are barricading the doors with pews and candelabras to fend off the barbarians.” He then goes on to a longer critique of Cronkite:
The house Cronkite built did many fine things. It also locked out competing points of view, buried inconvenient bodies, spun the news and racked up a formidable list of Shirley Sherrods all its own. The New York Times whitewashed Stalin’s genocide. Cronkite misreported the significance of the Tet offensive to say the Vietnam War was unwinnable. Dan Rather, Cronkite’s replacement, began his career falsely reporting that Dallas schoolchildren cheered JFK’s murder and ended it falsely reporting on forged National Guard memos. The Rodney King video was misleadingly edited; Janet Cooke made up her stories for the Washington Post.
Goldberg says the media is tangled up in two revolutions — the increasingly pervasive Internet (à la WikiLeaks), and consumer backlash against the old “ideological media monopoly.” He acknowledges the media climate today is busy and sometimes scary. But conclusively, Goldberg insists that what we have now is progress since Cronkite’s time. His point-of-view is an interesting one that many are sure to disagree with: it’s not often you see a figure like Cronkite so criticized.
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