Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Reporter's Life

Walter Cronkite

A Reporter's Life

Book Review

By Richard Edward Noble

That I am the first person to write a review on this book seems totally unimaginable to me. This is a book for every American, every journalist, every student, every historian or history buff. This is a book that should be read by any American who knows how to read. Walter not only tells us “the way it is,” but how it was and how it isn’t any longer. His commentary on the freedom of the press is, I would say, a modern, American equivalent of Milton’s Areopagitica. This is a very bright, insightful, proud professional, champion of ethical journalism speaking here.

Walter Cronkite was not famous for editorializing or commenting on the news during his long and notable career. He even admitted in an interview with Parade Magazine in 1980 after his retirement that his “lips were kind of buttoned for almost 20 years.” He had just had his special series cancelled for speaking out too “liberally” on U.S. foreign policy at that time.

He thought of himself as the front page and the editorial page he left to Edward R. Morrow, Eric Sevaride and others. He was a part of the “old” school. He dealt with the facts and verification. He was a hard working, competitive journalist. He prided himself on his professionalism and the moral and ethical aspects of journalist integrity.

In Walter Cronkite – a reporter’s life Walter takes us for the ride of a lifetime. We learn about his friends, his family, and his mom and dad. We learn of his early days peddling papers and the difficulties of adjusting to an alcoholic father. We see him as the average child of a middle income dentist. We follow his struggles and his squabbles as an underpaid, blue collar, print journalist until he becomes and “overnight” celebrity on the CBS Evening News. One day he is a struggling middle income wage laborer and the next day he is a big “rich guy” with an agent. And as we gawk out the windows of his tour bus we finally listen not only to his succinct descriptive phrases but his personal thoughts, ideas and commentary. At long last Walter finds the opportunity to get things off his chest.

It does seem to me that this is Walter Cronkite’s last hurrah. He pulls no punches; he tells it all. He expresses his views and opinions with very little room left for doubt. I imagine that there were a lot of folks left talking to themselves after reading this roundup of reporting by Mr. Cronkite.

Walter reported the News for the majority of my life. He was reporting during World War II. He was there on D-day and was riding along, sometimes behind a machine gun, on bombing missions over Nazi Germany. After the war he sat in at Nuremberg and gave us the story. Then he was off to Russia to inform us on how Uncle Joe was running things behind the Iron Curtain. He was on the scene in Korea and in the Vietnam War. He was at the Kennedy inauguration and at the assassination. He was there with us all during the McCarthy hearings, at Watergate and Iran Contra and then off to the moon. He even did the “Beatles.”

All through the book there is an emphasis on the ethics of proper journalism. Today nearly all news is commentary and editorializing with a minimum of reporting.
Walter was a reporter and proud of it. “And that is the way it is” was his famous TV sign-off. He was also given praise as the most trusted man in America.
He gave his reports as the anchorman on CBS Evening News for almost 20 years. He broke into television in 1962 and left in 1981 at the age of 65.

He comments frankly and without fear on Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Bush – even Barbara Walters. He makes his feelings known on everything from civil rights and integration to the Kennedy assassination, Oliver Stone and our involvement in Vietnam.

He joins a large and notable chorus when he states: “The evidence was clear, and is frequently forgotten today, that early on Kennedy was becoming disillusioned with the prospects of political reform in Saigon and disenchanted therefore with his own policy of support. And I have always believed that if he had lived, he would have withdrawn those advisers from Vietnam…”

Water tells all but after he says it all and wraps it all up he closes with this rather shocking finale.

“A Career can be called a success if one can look back and say: ‘I made a difference.’ I don’t feel I can do that. All of us in those early days of television felt, I’m sure, that we were establishing a set of standards that would be observed by, or at least have an influence on, generations of news professionals to come. How easily these (standards) were dismissed …”

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