“He never lost his fastball”

Over at “Beat the Press,” Ralph Ranalli has a nice anecdote and some insights about Walter Cronkite by way of Emily Rooney.

More: The Boston Herald has a longer take on Rooney and Cronkite.

16 thoughts on ““He never lost his fastball”

  1. cavard

    Although this has nothing to with Ranallis and Rooney, it has a lot to do with Cronkite. Media critic Norm Solomon writes a blistering critique of Cronkite in Common Dreams today pretty much claiming that Cronkite supported the Vietnam War, before he was against it. Say what you want about Solomon, but how can you refute what Cronkite said when the conflict started. Norm Solomon: "Media critic Norm Solomon writes a piece in today's Common Dreams, that will certainly piss people off. Say what you want about Solomon, but this is accurate:In 1965, reporting from Vietnam, Cronkite dramatized the murderous war effort with enthusiasm. "B-57s — the British call them Canberra jets — we're using them very effectively here in this war in Vietnam to dive-bomb the Vietcong in these jungles beyond Da Nang here," he reported, standing in front of a plane. Cronkite then turned to a U.S. Air Force officer next to him and said: "Colonel, what's our mission we're about to embark on?""Well, our mission today, sir, is to report down to the site of the ambush 70 miles south of here and attempt to kill the VC," the colonel replied.Cronkite's report continued from the air. "The colonel has just advised me that that is our target area right over there," he said. "One, two, three, four, we dropped our bombs, and now a tremendous G-load as we pull out of that dive. Oh, I know something of what those astronauts must go through."Next, viewers saw Cronkite get off the plane and say: "Well, colonel, it's a great way to go to war."The upbeat report didn't mention civilians beneath the bombs.That footage from CBS Evening News appears in "War Made Easy," the documentary film based on my book of the same name. Routinely, audiences gasp as the media myth of Cronkite deconstructs itself in front of their eyes.Also in 1965 — the pivotal year of escalation — Cronkite expressed explicit support for the Vietnam War. He lauded "the courageous decision that Communism's advance must be stopped in Asia and that guerilla warfare as a means to a political end must be finally discouraged."Why does this matter now? Because citing Cronkite as an example of courageous reporting on a war is a dangerously low bar — as if reporting that a war can't be won, after cheerleading it for years, is somehow the ultimate in journalistic quality and courage.To read more of Solomon's article Click here.I would be interested in hearing what people have to say.

  2. bostonmediawatch

    "Media critic Norm Solomon writes a blistering critique of Cronkite in Common Dreams today pretty much claiming that Cronkite supported the Vietnam War, before he was against it."Duh. Cronkite said the same thing himself.Isn't changing your mind when the facts change a sign of integrity?Any other startling revelations you'd care to share?

  3. Bill H.

    Why should Cronkite be held up for special notice for something he said in 1965, when almost every congressman and almost every U.S. senator–including the two from Massachusetts–were in complete support of the American policy in Vietnam, as was the majority of the national press corps? We shouldn't forget that the war had broad support throughout this country in 1965. As for his overlooking the bombing of Vietnamese civilians, his career had witnessed the wholesale bombing of European and Japanese cities during World War II, felt at that time to be necessary in winning the war. This mindset, minus the nuclear component, certainly prevailed for much of the cold war. In the end, Cronkite's assessment was wrong, but he was no more incorrect than many others who were in a better position to discern the truth about the war.

  4. cavard

    Thanks, these are all good points. However, to Solomon's credit, it's not a journalist's job to be promoting a war or supporting it not matter how far along the line's it's been going on. I'll give Cronkite a pass because you live and learn in life, but like Helen Thomas, Amy Goodman, or Jeremy Scahill, it's the job of journalists to question war and its intentions from the beginning, not cheerlead it, which Cronkite did do.

  5. Dan Kennedy

    So let's see … Cronkite was supposed to figure out that LBJ was lying about the Gulf of Tonkin before anyone else knew it? Please. What Cronkite did was courageous, especially given his own strong belief that he should not express his opinions on the air.Besides, if the U.S. had actually been able to spare Vietnam from communism, why would that have been a bad thing? Where would you rather live? South Korea or Vietnam?The tragedy of the Vietnam War was that we had no idea what we were doing or what internal cultural forces were at work. Shame on us. But you can't expect a network anchorman to be way ahead of the curve.

  6. cavard

    I'm not saying what Cronkite did was NOT courageous. I give him credit for that. We are about living and learning. *** If the U.S. had actually been able to spare Vietnam from communism, why would that have been a bad thing?***With all due respect Dan, I've heard that rationale before. "If the U.S. had actually been able to spare Iraq from Saddam Hussein, why would that have been a bad thing?" *** Where would you rather live? South Korea or Vietnam? ***While things were not perfect I feel like that's going down along the lines of justifying American Exceptionalism and even a broader term of imperialism. Bottom line is Solomon was trying to point out Cronkite was cheerleading for the military. I don't think that was supposed to be his job to begin with. Even when they're at war, I think it's the job of journalists to be doubtful and pressing from the start, especially when peoples' lives are at stake. So I don' think any amount of history or knowledge about Southeast Asia "or what internal cultural things at work" justifies a journalist to not to question war and conflict and foreign policy interests from the beginning. It should be pretty clear that journalists should not be taking sides on war or "banging the drums of war," as Amy Goodman says. I think this is what Solomon, Goodman, Helen Thomas, and Jeremy Scahill do a good job at.

  7. Rick in Duxbury

    Everything you need to know about Solomon is in the logo for his organization, Commondreams.org: "Join the movement. For the greater good." That last phrase sent a chill up my spine. Dan, sadly some people DO think that sparing VietNam from communism was a bad thing. The fact that it took us so many years to learn of Cronkite's progressive leanings is a tribute to his professionalism. Pretty sure we won't see a similar demonstration when Dan Rather goes to his reward. BTW, my award for most presumptuous use of the death was Jimmy Myers's show yesterday, wherein he explained how he learned everything he knows from Uncle Walter. Now THERE'S a connection that escaped me.

  8. cavard

    Rick,It's not so much about "joining their so-called movement" as it is about getting good journalism out in the open, especially when it appears in mainstream news outlets. Check out the news they link to and you'll see what I mean. By "movement" I think they also mean as a fundraising gimmick. They are, after all, a non-profit. I can't tell you how many times I hear PBS and NPR use similar terminology in their fundraisers too, albeit in a more sophisticated manner.

  9. bob gardner

    To your credit dan, you also gave Bill Ayers a pass, so I agree with you that we can't hold Cronkite to too high a standard. The problem is that he is being remembered as some kind of anti-war icon, which he wasn't. As for "Where would you rather live.", the operative word is that last one. Check the casualty figures for that war. If you have a formula for how many Vietnamese die before the war (or our country's involvement) is no longer beneficial to them let us know. Come to think of it maybe you and I aren't the appropriate people to be giving out passes for the war.

  10. Dan Kennedy

    cavard: You throw this in my face — "If the U.S. had actually been able to spare Iraq from Saddam Hussein, why would that have been a bad thing?"Yet you don't answer your own question. If Saddam could have been removed with the minimal violence that idiots like Wolfowitz predicted, well, why would that have been a bad thing?Even as it stands, I would argue that most Iraqis are better off today than they were before Saddam was overthrown.The cost has been completely unacceptable in terms of American and Iraqi lives and American prestige abroad. But Saddam's regime was truly among the most hideous in the world, just a bit behind North Korea. And now it is no more.

  11. cavard

    Dan, I agree. I just don't think it should be our nation's job to go in there and do it for the Iraqi people no matter how much violence or lack of violence it may cause. Unless they appeal to proper institutions for help, I'll be for it. Saddam posed no imminent threat to the U.S. Iraqis didn't like Saddam, much less than you or I, but there was employment, students were in school, there was electricity, women had more rights, there less pollution, etc., etc. I think conditions are much worse now than they were under Saddam. Saddam was awful to his political opponents but political violence still hasn't subsided since Saddam was removed. Even if there were very little lives lost in removing him, and we knew that, that doesn't mean, IMO, that would amount to better situation. We don't know better. Iraqis do and I wish our government and policy makers knew that.

  12. Dan Kennedy

    cavard: Just to be clear — I opposed going to war in Iraq. But I did think it was a close call.

  13. Bill H.

    But back to Cronkite. We now take it for granted that the press is not supposed to jump on the military bandwagon (although come to think of it, isn't that what happened in Iraq?), but that was much less the case in 1965. Cronkite and his media contemporaries spent four years boosting the Allied war effort during World War II, and the cold war was seen as an extension of that. And when Cronkite finally spoke out against the war, it had significant repercussions, with even LBJ taking note. Cronkite was a man of his time–a journalist of his time–and lived by those standards.

  14. cavard

    OK, I'll put this to rest. I posted a comment at Common Dreams and got this one in return. I can't agree with it more. Here's what "Quinty" wrote about Cronkite that means something:"Quinty July 20th, 2009 12:30 pmSometimes left journalists lapse onto orthodoxies. Solomon, my guess is, opposed the war before '68 and hasn't forgiven Cronkite for ever supporting it. Quickly looking at his Wickepedia biography I see he became an activist quite young, and distinguished himself by being able to obtain an FBI file in his teens.Though Cronkite's antecedents were far more serious than today's ambitious corporate "spray heads" he did climb to the pinnacle of the mainstream. He was true, or, rather, real, enough, and Americans could relate to him. But those who opposed the "establishment" had a more dour eye.I have fond memories of Cronkite, though. And think his lack of independence wasn't so much conformity but a belief in the good intentions of the country. After all, he covered WW2. It took some time after that for the mainstream to become skeptical of US intentions. Only the far right indulges in jingoistic chest beating today. Cronkite, in fact, was appalled."OK, now THAT's some good perspective on Solomon's piece. Dan, I take it this is what you were trying to say…. to some extent, no? I get it now.

  15. Dan Kennedy

    cavard: It's a good comment, but it's not what I was trying to say. I said what I said and he said what he said. The commenter is clearly well to my left and expresses himself in a way that I would not.As I try to explain occasionally, I am a mainstream liberal, emphasis on both words. I'm no moderate, but neither do I consider myself a leftist.

  16. cavard

    Dan,Here's what Danny Schechter said on Democracy Now! today in response to Solomon's article. From Democracy Now!: AMY GOODMAN: And, yes, that was Walter Cronkite in the documentary War Made Easy. Filmmaker Norman Solomon writes today, quote, “Citing Cronkite as an example of courageous reporting on a war is a dangerously low bar—as if reporting that a war can’t be won, after cheerleading it for years, is somehow the ultimate in journalistic quality and courage.” Your response, Danny Schechter? DANNY SCHECHTER: Well, he did have the guts to stand up and to challenge the war after actually going there. The same was true with Watergate. He had avoided the story when it first broke in the Washington Post. It was only, though, when CBS and the New York Times piled on, so to speak, that the story rose to becoming a national story, and it was Cronkite that helped propel it. Also with the civil rights movement, his concern—Spike Lee spoke about this last night—with the bombing in Birmingham and the killing of the four little girls there helped propel this story into the national consciousness. So, Walter Cronkite was evolving. And this is something that many of his colleagues have yet to do, which is to evolve to become more critical, to become more independent in his outlook. He was also a strong advocate of global world peace. He spoke at UN conferences. He was an activist, you know, in some ways that really deserve our respect. So, yes, it’s true, he was, you know, in a sense, a graduate of the World War II school of journalism, he was a booster of the military, but he himself began to become more critical and share his views. And I think he deserves our appreciation for that, not that many others have done it, and maybe they should learn something from Walter Cronkite and begin to look at the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq in the same way and to realize that these are unwinnable conflicts. Don’t forget, his statement was ’68. The war didn’t end ’til 1975, and it didn’t end in a stalemate.Well said.

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