Friday, July 17, 2009

The Loss of Walter Cronkite and his Legacy

Tonight, we share the bad news of the death of one of our greatest cultural legends: Walter Cronkite. Undoubtedly, the media will tell us of the greatness of Walter and his defining roles within the news media today. However, I have to wonder if they will tell us of his lost legacy.

It is true, they will talk of the man who was the "most trusted name in news" for over a generation, but one must ask why he was so trusted. Why did my conservative grandfather and my liberal grandmother both find him as the most trusted man in news? In a world where Fox News carries little if any respect among liberals, and MSNBC does the same for liberals, one has to wonder if anyone will eclipse the bipartisan credibility of Cronkite.

Cronkite came up in a time where the airwaves were limited and considered public. To be on those airwaves, Cronkite understood his responsibility and duty to serve the American public to the best of his ability. While every human has biases, Cronkite was unparalleled in his efforts to minimize or compensate for his own biases in his reporting. In a day where "fair" reporting means having one democrat and one republican shouting talking points, I wonder if we can actually appreciate Cronkite's ability to report in a fair and honest fashion that held bipartisan trust.

Today, media is little more than a corporate money making machine that panders to interests, telling them what they want to hear more than telling them what is true. Sure, the basic facts remain true and almost the same whether it is the most far left or far right commentator, but the spin put on the "facts" is designed to pander to an audience in a way that fits their political personality.

The notions of a "fairness doctrine" made sense in the era where the airwaves are public, and the public interests matter. But in corporate America that runs cable television where a home can have more than 1000 channels, and the internet allows anyone with a webcam to broadcast their own television on sites like youtube, but at what cost?

Everyone gets their say. Everyone gets to talk. Who listens? The noise is so loud that it almost becomes a constant hum that mutes out all but the most prominent. Blogs become little more than personal therapy or the hub of a small circle of friends. Everyone talks, there are more shows than ever, but all that gets heard are the same basics of a few major outlets. The only way others are heard in any significant way is when they are echoed by the "Big Three."

Maybe, more than ever, the fairness doctrine is needed. Sure, there are lots of voices heard, but there is little truth heard. It is only constant conflict, constant battle between left and right, which creates a battle to define reality rather than an actual fair presentation of reality. The battle is often presented as fair media, but it is no where near the Cronkite standard of "fairness."

Whether or not we find a reinstatement of the fairness doctrine, what is more important is that journalism looks at Cronkite's legend and finds some sense of personal ethics instead of focusing on their own egos to build their punditry at the cost of the public. It is this loss of a public service ethic that raised Barack Obama to the Presidency, it is that same ethic that served Cronkite, and it is that same ethic that is missing in journalism today.

It isn't a left wing bias. It isn't a right wing bias. It is a complete loss of the understanding that the media is here to serve the interests of Americans, not simply pander to them. It seems that instead of checking politicians and their talking points, the media has simply started to serve them, losing its very purpose. It has become part of the political propaganda machine, a state run media without being state owned, instead of serving the interests of the people. And with it, the legacy of Walter Cronkite is lost.

Rest in Peace Walter. We will miss you. Probably more than you will miss us. Agree with you or not, you were a true journalist who earned the label as the most trusted man in journalism. We only wish that others shared your ethics. You will be missed. God Bless Walter Cronkite.

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