By now you’ve heard that Walter Cronkite, once dubbed “the most trusted man in America,” died Friday evening. He was 92.
I’m too young to have watched Cronkite during his heyday — I was 6 when “Uncle Walter” signed off as anchor of “The CBS Evening News” for the last time. But as a student of journalism and history, I certainly have long been aware of Cronkite’s significant impact on our society. Often when famous people die or a notable milestone passes, it is a cliche for TV talking heads to say we’ll never see another like him/her/it. But it is not hyperbole to say so in the case of Cronkite.
My concern is how few people under 30 may know this. If you are 28 or younger, you were born after Dan Rather took the “CBS Evening News” anchor reins from Cronkite. I have never been one to subscribe to the notion that events happening before you were born is a good reason not to know about them. But people continue to surprise me with their ignorance of notable people and events that should be known by all. For example, a former colleague of mine — he is the same age as me — shocked me a few years ago by professing that he didn’t know who Bob Woodward is. The former colleague is a sportswriter, but I still can’t believe he — a professional newspaper writer — didn’t know a man who probably is the most famous print journalist of the past 40 years. (He also is skeptical of the Apollo 11 moon landing and the scientifically-determined age of glaciers, so naturally he still has his job writing for the newspaper.)
Unfortunately, it seems the cable news networks’ coverage of Cronkite’s death reflects the younger generation’s knowledge of the former newsman versus, say, Michael Jackson. I found out about Cronkite’s death just before 9 p.m. last night and watched a couple hours of coverage before turning off my television. After reading for awhile, I turned the TV back on at 1 a.m. and saw that CNN was the only network still talking about Cronkite. MSNBC had returned to its scheduled programming — a Michael Jackson documentary.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t there pretty much wall-to-wall coverage of Jackson’s death for over two weeks until Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing began Monday? Nonstop coverage of Cronkite’s death didn’t even last the night.
Anyway, I’d like to know what you think of this topic. Feel free to share your memories of Cronkite, too.
* * *
It is ironic that Walter Cronkite died as NASA prepares to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first manned moon landing Monday. Cronkite anchored coverage of the moon landing and was famously speechless after astronaut Neil Armstrong announced “The Eagle has landed.”
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is marking the anniversary on Twitter by tweeting chronological updates about the Apollo 11 mission as it occurred 40 years ago. Follow @ReliveApollo11 on Twitter to see what Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins did during their groundbreaking voyage to the moon. If you have school-aged children, this is a cool way to get them interested in a history lesson.