Cronkite Revisited

At long last someone had the temerity, or is it courage, to tell the truth about Walter Cronkite. Writing for his blog, the redoubtable Cliff Kincaid, notes that the “voice of God” — as Mara Liasson referred to him — embodied every liberal and radical idea on the political waterfront and to some degree, had had a baneful effect on the news and public opinion.

Cronkite was the quintessential transnational progressive who believed and spoke in behalf of world government, U.N. authority and all the treaties that would ultimately reduce American national sovereignty. He received the Global Governance award, addressed the leftist people for The American Way, and challenged President Reagan’s unilateral military actions. Later, he attacked the Bush administration for its arrogance.

But more than any other matter was his egregious role in the Vietnam defeat. Some misguided media types have described this role as the highlight of his career. Yet Cronkite’s public verdict that the 1968 Tet offensive was a major defeat for the United States’ forces is widely regarded as a turning point in the war leading directly to the incremental withdrawal of troops and an ignominious defeat. Cronkite also claimed the Vietcong had held the American embassy for six hours and that its offensive “went on for two months.” The facts show this was wrong. Moreover, as historians have continually pointed out, the Tet offensive was a defeat for North Vietnam. But why let facts stand in the way of a good story. Cronkite could not be dissuaded from his firm ideological commitment.

This commitment was on display in other matters as well. In 1979, Cronkite gave an interview to the Soviet magazine Literary Gazette and said that “the Soviet threat” was “most likely…a myth.” He went on to note, “I will never believe in a Soviet threat.” This statement was made in the same year Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan.

I believe it is inappropriate to speak ill of those who have passed this mortal coil, but Cronkite, regarded as a national hero, was wrong about the Soviet Union and misguided on most public policy questions, Sure, his voice is the one Americans heard on the moon landing. He recounted historic moments and his daily pronouncements reached millions, but the one thing he was not is a dispassionate, fair-minded journalist. Cronkite had an agenda. Was the country lucky to have him in that anchor seat, as Chris Wallace contended? I doubt it. Most Americans probably didn’t recognize the propagandistic dimensions of his editorials confusing a mellifluous voice with biased prescriptions.

At a time when sophistry is in vogue, it is useful to recall that an anchor usually reads the news that someone writes for him. It is useful to recall that the N.Y. Times is the paper of record for those on television stations. If a story leads in the Times, it will undoubtedly lead on the 7 o’clock news. Therefore, it isn’t surprising Cronkite has espoused the views he did. The only surprise, as I see it, is that the public never seemed to catch on that he was a pitchman for an ideological position. May he rest in peace, and may we revisit the news reports he once gave us.