Walter Cronkite: We’re Not Entertainers

The legendary former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite has some interesting observations in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. While he at first gives Dan Rather the benefit of the doubt in the bogus document scandal that tarnished and perhaps hastened the end of his career, he says Rather would not have been his choice to replace him and intimates that Rather was too much of an entertainer vice journalist. Some excerpts:

CRONKITE: Well, I think that there was a general feeling among quite a lot of us around the CBS shop and, indeed, some of the viewers, that Dan gave the impression of playing a role, more than simply trying to deliver the news to the audience.

[…]

BLITZER: Bob Schieffer, as you know, is going to be the interim anchor of “The CBS Evening News,” a good friend of all of ours, an outstanding journalist. Who do you think should emerge as the next anchor, the main anchor of CBS, after Bob Schieffer’s interim period?

CRONKITE: Well, I think it’s going to be hard to find anybody who is going to be as much liked and appreciated and does such a job as Bob Schieffer. I think he’s one of the great television journalists of our time. And he was a good journalist when he came to television from Fort Worth [Texas]. He is, to my mind, the man who, quite frankly — although Dan did a fine job — I would like to have seen him there a long time ago. He would have given the others a real run for their money.

Cronkite, after discussing the impact that competition from cable has had, thinks the nature of broadcast news is radically different than in his day:

BLITZER: Where does Walter Cronkite go when he wants to get the news?

CRONKITE: Well, I go to my newspapers first. They’re more complete than broadcast [news] today. The misfortune with broadcasting today is that all — even including your network, which is dedicated to the news — do not take enough time to give us all of the facts and the background. …

I wish that my network of CBS and the other two, I wish they would spend more time with their magazine programs giving us documentaries to back the news and interpret the news for us, or broadcast time in the half-hour evening news report programs. As we all know, with the commercial time taken out … we’ve got 17 or 18 minutes. We’ve got one of the most complicated nations in the world, particularly today. We’ve got a complicated world in which we presume to be leaders. And my gracious, we’re trying to cover all the important news in those two great bailiwicks in 17 or 18 minutes. It’s madness. And we simply can’t do it.

[…]

Give news a little more time and don’t request that they also, in their news time, entertain. We’re not entertainers. We’re journalists. And we need more time to do our job well.

Interesting stuff. The heyday of network news ended with Cronkite’s tenure. Competition from the Internet and the 24/7 cable news networks has made the nightly news shows and anachronism. I’m a news junkie and haven’t watched in years. Even my parents have moved on the cable news. I just don’t see how the Big 3 will ever get their news audience back.

Update (1102): WaPo’s Lisa de Moraes has more. POW!!! THWOK!! indeed.

FILED UNDER: Media
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. lt bell says:

    people are starting to understand that the cable news shows are in reality nothing but the propaganda arm of the conservative
    nazi movement in this country – just look for the next bush invasion as another imitation of hitler –
    the fact the Rather incident was completely lost around the documents while the story itself was, in fact, true. George Bush , when given the opportunity to serve his country in wartime, decided instead to go become a politician, I am always surprised that he did not go the used car salesman route.
    People will return to the news they can really believe in soon enough

  2. You missed the punchline, James. Read the rest of the transcript. They go to a commercial and come back with… that’s right… EMPTY MINDLESS ENTERTAINMENT INSTEAD OF JOURNALISM in the form of a bunch of idiots on a huge-assed surfboard.

  3. McGehee says:

    “lt bell,” call for you. A Mr. Godwin…?

  4. James Joyner says:

    Laurence: Hillarious.