A.J. DiCintio
News anchor uncles
By A.J. DiCintio
August 1, 2009

This past week both Frank Rich (NY Times) and Howard Kurtz (Washington Post) wrote columns about Walter Cronkite's contribution to television journalism. As one reads both, it becomes abundantly clear that Rich's piece is infinitely superior — though he couldn't bring himself to tell the whole truth about the way it was and still is with respect to broadcast television news.

To begin with Mr. Rich — He is right on the mark when he comments that proper celebrations of Cronkite's legacy ought to have nothing to do with a "sentimental rumination on the bygone heyday of the 'mainstream media.'"

Rich is just as correct when he says all of us ought to avoid depressive regrets over the idea that no anchor today can "replicate the undisputed moral authority of Uncle Walter" or his "avuncular television persona."

And the Times' most honest liberal is right again when he argues that any tributes due Cronkite should flow from the fact that at times he "had the guts to confront not only those in power but his own bosses."

In embarrassing contrast, Kurtz buys into the outrageous myth that once upon a time there existed giants who created a Classical Age of Journalism that has been supplanted by a contemporary media "too . . . biased, inaccurate, sensational, simplistic or irrelevant for a Walter Cronkite figure to stride among us. . ."

(Just as MacBeth "hath murdered sleep," weep the elites, "the energetic, up-front, chock-full of choice new media hath murdered journalism!")

In fairness to the disconsolate Mr. Kurtz, it must be said that he may well be subject to a manic-depressive view of the media because he still suffers from post-traumatic shock induced by his employer's recent Salon Scandal — actually, reasonable people term it "The Washington Post Pimp Scandal" as soon as they learn the newspaper's plan was to provide lobbyists and business big shots access to its writers, Obama administration heavy hitters, and congressional bigwigs for a grand price, which could rise to as many grand, according to POLITICO, as it takes to reach $250,000.

But to return to the point that Rich and Kurtz did not tell the whole truth — Neither writer could bring himself to say that just as there is no such thing as "the" dictionary, there is no such thing as "the" news.

(To understand that we look up words, especially words pertaining to things political, in "a" dictionary, everyone must — must! — read Sidney Goldberg's excellent eye and mind opening piece "Leaning Lexicons," WSJ, July 5, 2002.)

Now, why is "the" news a fiction? Well, by way of explanation, it need be said only that Hamlet captured only half of human nature in his famous paean:

"How noble [are humans] in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form . . .in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god!"

But when, in the fifties, aluminum trees sprouted miraculously from millions of rooftops to pull electromagnetic waves from the sky and deliver them to vacuum tubes that transformed them into video, replete with sound, displayed on the picture tube of a TV set, profit-driven television executives who had honed their business skills in vaudeville didn't care that "the" news is as much a myth as the notion that any merely human being can report "the way it is" with total objectivity.

"Set aside just a meager three minutes during every presentation of the "nightly news" for two informed citizens to debate a pressing issue of the day live and unedited?"

"Why?" asked the vaudevillians, "when we can invent a television character certain to become so wildly popular that by the seventies, millions of Americans, without a bit of tangible evidence upon which to base their conclusion, will anoint one Uncle "the most trusted man in America!"

(For the record, your author has coined the name "Uncle News Anchor" for characters who might rise to become a quarter of a Chekhovian uncle if only — Dan Rather and Brian Williams, especially, come to mind — they would put their immense ridiculousness on display with full honesty and sincerity.)

Fortunately (very, very fortunately), America's Age of Aquarius didn't last forever.

And because of the real "evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society," people today put so little stock in Uncle (and, now, Auntie) that the word "Cancelled" may soon hand television's three longest running shows a one-way ticket to Oblivion.

Come to think of it, Frank Rich should help make that cancellation a reality sooner rather than later.

Problem is, he condemns "the American press's catastrophe of our own day" without a word, not a single word, about the biggest, most appalling, most obnoxious, most dangerous "slobbering love affair" between the press and a politician in all of American history — with three of the biggest slobberers being two Uncle News Anchors and an Auntie counterpart.

Yet, we just might cause Rich and millions of his friends on the left to change their minds by inserting a substitute for the word "liberal" in the following lines. (The substitution is placed in bold type.)

I believe that most of us reporters are conservative . . .

[Then, after the writer explains why the nature of "journalistic apprenticeships" drives most reporters in one political direction]

If that is what makes us conservatives, so be it, just as long as in reporting the news we adhere to the first ideals of good journalism — that news reports must be fair, accurate and unbiased."

— Both excerpts from Walter Cronkite's syndicated newspaper column, August 6, 2003

Ah, let's forget the might. If Cronkite had said that, every last liberal on earth would absolutely come to a different conclusion about the notion that there exists both "the" news and Uncle/Auntie News Anchors who are capable of telling the public exactly "the way it is."

© A.J. DiCintio


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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A.J. DiCintio

A.J. DiCintio posts regularly at RenewAmerica and YourNews.com. He first exercised his polemical skills arguing with friends on the street corners of the working class neighborhood where he grew up. Retired from teaching, he now applies those skills, somewhat honed and polished by experience, to social/political affairs.


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