We watched Walter Cronkite.
Walter’s most searing moment in history came when he directly challenged the Pentagon and the Johnson administration over Vietnam. Yet, as Glenn Greenwald writes, much of the discussion of Cronkite will miss a key and pointed criticism over the state of journalism today.
We read or hear that Cronkite called the Vietnam War a draw; that President Johnson disclaimed the loss of Cronkite was the loss of the American middle. What’s left out of coverage of this Cronkite soliloquy was his direct challenge to the Washington power structure “We have been too often disappointed … to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds.”
When do we hear any such broad challenge to the power structure? Certainly not in 2002 when Bush, Cheney et al were lying to persuade the American people that Iraq presented a clear and present danger to the US. The evidence of those lies existed then as the proof exists now in the waste of post 9/11 global goodwill. Too few in the media, particularly network media, stood up and called foul. They went along. They carried water. Greenwald says mainstream media thus represents power and not the American people.
Cronkite called foul over this:
What do I regret? Well, I regret that in our attempt to establish some standards, we didn’t make them stick. We couldn’t find a way to pass them on to another generation.
As Greenwald writes, you won’t see that line that in the coverage over Cronkite’s death. It’s a statement too hard to digest for most in today’s media. Cronkite’s regret makes those sitting at the right elbow of power in D.C. far to uncomfortable. You can view Cronkite’s statement here at Newseum.
What’s most fearful isn’t so just the softness of most media but that far too many American’s are comfortable with it and see hard-nosed, skeptical media as not virtuous but biased. So now we live in a media of carefully partisanized soundbites, delicately balancing a Carville against a Matalin to present an empty equity that cheats us (and U.S.) of fairness.
Some have stated that Cronkite’s Vietnam moment crossed from reportage to commentary and thus, by some stoney path, we get Lou Dobbs or Hannity or O’Reilly or Beck. Dobbs seems more a fractured version of Howard Beale from Network in his rantings about illegal immigration, relying on myths and not facts. Hannity is clearly a propagandist commentator and not a newsperson. O’Reilly is keenly partisan without the “empty equity” I comment on above. Of these, Dobbs is most troubling with his often fumbling, grumpy uncle complaining crossing the divide between the editorial page and news pages. Still, the overall point remains that few stand up and challenge those in power, particularly face-to-face. Who has laid out the direct, current and historical disputes over torture to the Cheneys explanations rationalizations over the “effectiveness” of “enhanced interrogation?” Who has challenged President Obama’s claims of a desire to balance the budget against the programs his adminstration forwards? How do you do that?