122 of 146 people found the following review helpful
Shocking, brutally honest, and probably the definitive word on "Uncle Walter",
This review is from: Cronkite (Hardcover)
I was a bit stunned when I received an advance copy of Douglas Brinkley's biography on Walter Cronkite. I wasn't aware he was tackling this topic or quite why. Cronkite himself had written a delightful autobiography A Reporter's Life back in 1996 that won numerous awards and fairly cemented his place in the pantheon of journalistic greats. Yet reading over "Cronkite" I could see the relevance to the here and now and reporting over the past century and why this book is necessary. Cronkite has been turned into a plaster saint, as "Uncle Walter", the "most trusted man in journalism" and such. It was as though he was the George Washington of journalists. Could anyone really be so sainted, so pure, so removed from the day-to-day of journalistic necessity that he wasn't tainted by the mad desire to do anything to get a good story? As you'll quickly find, the answer is no. For all his avuncular traits "Uncle Walter" was all too human and all too prone to journalistic tendencies to get the lead on a juicy story.
Douglas Brinkley's "Cronkite" may be something of a shock to people more familiar with the avuncular image of "Uncle Walter" and indeed there is much here that will change and deepen a reader's perception and understanding of Walter Cronkite, who he was, and what he stood for. On the whole that's neither good nor bad; it gives us a fuller portrait of the man than his own A Reporter's Life and "Cronkite is really the first full length biography on him since his passing in 2009. In our current age of varied and diffuse news sources it may be hard to understand the weight and gravitas Cronkite's opinion and reporting carried in an era of only three major network channels. Cronkite had to opportunity not just to report but to shape opinion and was quite conscious of the impact his opinions and reporting carried. And despite this plaster saint image of Cronkite he was, at heart, a reporter of that era. The hagiography that has built up around Cronkite has smoothed and softened some of his hard edges and there is a tendency to think that reporting was somehow kinder and gentler in an earlier era. It certainly wasn't, as it was different and yet the same. Reporters could gloss over information that was relevant with a "gentlemen's agreement". To get access to FDR you had to advance the idea he was an ambulatory vital leader, not that he was largely paralytic and confined to a wheelchair. Extramarital affairs by political leaders had no relevance in a "boys will be boys" era yet reading over "Cronkite" you'll get a sense of how today's stories of phone hacking by "News of the World" is hardly anything new. There is a lot here that undoubtedly Cronkite never would have admitted and which is somewhat fascinating.
Probably one of the largest revelations is Cronkite's every involvement with Edward R. Murrow. Aspiring to be one of "Murrow's Boys" during WWII Murrow wanted Cronkite to travel to Stalingrad to report on the battle there. Cronkite reluctantly agreed, but upon further reflection reneged; a choice that Murrow apparently never forgave and which created tremendous enimosity between the two. Although they continued to work together at CBS Murrow relegated Cronkite to demeaning roles, but Cronkite found the opportunity to turn the tables with the 1952 political conventions. Murrow apparently hated the idea of covering the conventions and allowed Cronkite to be the lead at both. Cronkite reveled in this opportunity and decided to show up Murrow, going so far as to either condone or actively bugging some of the rooms where Republicans were meeting to strategize. Was it immoral or unethical? A good question and one that is not far removed from today, yet at the time it could be easily buried and even if exposed no one would think much of it, except that a reporter was doing what was necessary to get to the bottom of a good story. It was this coverage that brought Cronkite national attention and he quickly became the voice of live television rather than the creature of a scripted and controlled environment like Murrow. Quickly Cronkite became the master and Murrow slowly faded out. At the same time Cronkite was using his connections to build closer ties to Washington insiders and Presidents. It was during this time that Cronkite started closely paling around with Democratic Party movers and shaker who would give him close access, all while Cronkite ostensibly claimed to maintain his "journalistic neutrality," all while gathering information which gave him a journalistic edge. In many respects Cronkite was the last of the larger-than-life connected journalists like Joseph Alsop who could get Congressional leaders and Presidents to pick up the phone when they called. In fact, reading of Cronkite in this era reminded me some what of Merry's Taking on the World: Joseph and Stewart Alsop - Guardians of the American Century .
"Cronkite" also points out how he and other journalists would mask their latent liberal tendencies despite their pleas of journalistic neutrality by largely sticking to reporting rather than editorializing or commenting. As one of the last of the WWII era journalists in prominence he had the cache to get interviews with political leaders and "Cronkite" points out that what passes for conservatism and liberalism has changed, blurred, and distorted over time. Ultimately it's hard for someone who grew up in that era to be dispassionate and objective about someone like Cronkite yet Brinkley retains that objectivity in a manner that is laudable. Many looking back at Cronkite from today see him as irredeemably conservative and somewhat reactionary, but his reporting, particularly on Vietnam, poverty, and race relations, was quite progressive and cutting edge for the era. Ultimately it was his biting commentary on the Vietnam War that exposed his true political leanings and which cemented his role as "America's most trusted journalist". His fearlessness in speaking truth to power regarding Vietnam led Lyndon Johnson to say "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost the war." Skeptical and critical to the end Cronkite continued to probe and query the nature of power and its abuses to the end, doing so in a manner that was inquisitive yet not pointed. Yes, there are other admissions and items included here that will reveal Cronkite as unfailingly human and subject to the vices of his era. Nothing shocking there at all! The more important point that ultimately comes across about Cronkite is someone who moved with the times, who had an inquisitive mind and discerning heart, whose opinions were open to influence and suggestion, and who had considerable power and influence and yet decided not to trade on it or use it for their self-aggrandizement. It's a bit shocking to realize he's been off the air 30 years now and for younger readers it is nearly impossible to explain his relevance and importance to that era. In a society and an era that places no value on experience, expertise, or wisdom it's hard to imagine the emergence of another wizened talking head like Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Howard K. Smith, Harry Reasoner, or John Chancellor. We are lesser and weakened as a result. "Cronkite" is a glimpse into a different era that is unlikely to recur again. Well worth the time and effort!
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Showing 1-10 of 29 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 29, 2012 2:23:21 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 29, 2012 2:34:29 PM PDT
Jack Goodman says:
In reply to an earlier post on May 29, 2012 6:58:31 PM PDT
T.R. Hammer says:
Cronkite's son has written a rebuttal to this book:
In reply to an earlier post on May 30, 2012 5:42:24 AM PDT
In reply to an earlier post on May 30, 2012 9:07:47 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 30, 2012 9:46:48 AM PDT
Red Garnet says:
I watched Cronkite for years. I was not then and am not now 'mindless'. The book describes a specific era, the development of journalistic reportage and how its nuances and major players became a part of television news history. Referencing Jack Goodman's comment: this is a review of a book, which I take, you have not read. Demonizing Cronkite, your major interest, is not Brinkley's focus.
Thank you, Todd, for your fabulous review!
Posted on May 30, 2012 9:58:32 AM PDT
Karl Helicher says:
Like the book, your lenghty review is also "worth the time and effort." I have a copy at the top of my stack of bucket books and look forward to reading it at some point. Until then, I'll depend on worthy reviews like yours. Best regards.
Posted on May 30, 2012 10:59:33 AM PDT
Posted on May 30, 2012 11:23:12 AM PDT
"It seems to many of us that if we are to avoid the eventual catastrophic world conflict we must strengthen the United Nations as a first step toward a world government patterned after our own government with a legislature, executive and judiciary, and police to enforce its international laws and keep the peace," he said. "To do that, of course, we Americans will have to yield up some of our sovereignty. That would be a bitter pill. It would take a lot of courage, a lot of faith in the new order."
In his acceptance speech, Cronkite added, "Pat Robertson has written in a book a few years ago that we should have a world government, but only when the Messiah arrives. He wrote, literally, any attempt to achieve world order before that time must be the work of the devil. Well, join me. I'm glad to sit here at the right hand of Satan."
Posted on May 30, 2012 1:36:22 PM PDT
Jack Goodman says:
The Red Garnet types may be worth demonizing, but I see "Uncle Walter" as a scary version of how TV influenced people too much via CBS, NBC, and ABC.
Thank God for the Internet and a zillion TV channels now to balance the "news". Liberal bias is still rampant on too many venues though as the USA sinks closer to the welfare state that even the Clintons worked to avoid.
In reply to an earlier post on May 30, 2012 3:02:05 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 30, 2012 3:04:10 PM PDT
"The Most Trusted Man in America" was a frightening propaganda slogan attached to a human being that worked for the Corporate media.Don't be fooled by the left-right paradigm.Cronkite attended the mostly Republican-based Bohemian Grove for decades.And then he showed off his Liberal side as well.
After years of research , I have learned that these people are "global elitists" involved in a game of divide and conquer in the name of power and greed.
Posted on May 31, 2012 4:11:16 PM PDT
J. S. Bricker, Jr. says:
Animosity not enimosity. Might want to make better use of spell check.