Posted by: Paul | 07/21/2009

Bring on the “Carping Critics”

Ah, the good old days — when Walter Cronkite could tell us, “And that’s the way it is,” and no one dissented.

Yes, grandfatherly anchors could present the news “without contradiction from bloggers, Twitterers and other carping critics,” as Howard Kurtz, media critic for the Washington Post wrote in the aftermath of Cronkite’s death. The CBS newsman gave us “a definitive picture of reality” and all right-thinking Americans revered his Moses-like presence.

Please. Kurtz is a good writer, and Cronkite certainly deserves a special place in the news broadcast hall of fame. And yes, such plaudits are understandable as we eulogize such a famous figure, especially one identified with so many momentous events of the 20th century, from the Kennedy assassination to Apollo 11. Cronkite remains, like Edward R. Murrow, an Iconic Newsman.

But the notion that Uncle Walter gave us the Truth From On High each night is a comforting fiction. He had his biases, like the rest of us, and the idea that he magically suspended them for 30 minutes every evening as he delivered the news is ridiculous.

Just because he didn’t advertise  his ultra-liberal views (revealed, conveniently, after his retirement) doesn’t mean they failed to surface — if not in what he covered, then in what he choose not to cover.

Bias, after all, can be subtle. Consider something Cronkite said in a 2003 interview with Time magazine: “A liberal to me is one who — and it suits some of the dictionary definitions — is unbeholden to any specific belief or party or group or person, but makes up his or her mind on the basis of the facts and the presentation of those facts at the time. That defines what I am.”

Therefore, a conservative is someone who doesn’t judge according to the facts? Yes, my liberal friends, I know you believe that. (Surprisingly, I was just thinking the same thing about you!) But the point remains: Walter Cronkite, the Great Impartial One, was prejudiced against conservatives.

Which, by the way, I can live with. Indeed, my proposal for journalists is this: Stop pretending you’re objective. You’re not. None of us are. Yes, we should make every effort to be fair. But impartial? Sorry, it’s just not possible — provided you have a pulse.

Frankly, we’re better off in a messy world filled not only with “official” journalists but with “carping critics,” all working to track down the whole story. And although journalists of any stripe should always strive to get the whole story, I don’t have a problem with seeing them drop the “objective” charade, admitting their biases, and getting on with their jobs.

Cards on the table, everyone!

“The truth is out there,” as they say. And it’s going to take a post-Cronkite world to find it.


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