Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | March 16, 2008

The Most Trusted Man In America


If you ask folks of a certain age who comes to mind when they hear the phrase “the most trusted man in America,” their minds immediately drift to an image of long time CBS newsman Walter Cronkite. In a time before the internet, before 24-hour cable news channels, and before cable itself, people got their national and international news for the day in a half-hour dose of network news each night. They would turn to CBS, NBC, or ABC for a wrap-up of the day’s global happenings.

At one time, all three networks broadcast their evening news shows during the same half-hour time slot each day, forcing people to choose one of the three. Later on, they began broadcasting during different half-hour times which allowed viewers to watch two—or even all three—of the network offerings. Well into the 1980’s, the day’s news for most people was gained from one of the three evening network newscasts, notwithstanding the local newspaper where people gleaned their local news stories, as well as some national and international news that normally lagged behind television news by a day or so.

I have wondered why “Uncle Walter” was to the minds of so many people “the most trusted man in America.” Is it because of an impeccable integrity? Is it because of his longevity in the news business? (He got his start as a cub reporter covering WW II as it raged in North Africa and Europe.) Perhaps it was that he earned his stripes, and great respect, as one of only a few journalists selected by the U.S. Army Air Forces to fly along with the troops on multiple bombing missions over Germany during the Second World War.

However it is that Walter Cronkite came to earn our trust, I think a good deal of this trust came by default, because we really had no choice but to trust our news anchors. What they had to say was not questioned, or in any way disputed, because no alternative sources of information existed. Without denigrating Cronkite, for whom I have always had a great deal of respect, there has always been a definite media bias among the old-guard media elite—CBS, NBC, ABC, and more recently CNN. There was a time when opinion could be passed off as hard, objective news, because there was no one to challenge it, and no medium for one to make a challenge even if they were so inclined to do so.

Thankfully, today there is so much alternative media out there that the old standbys don’t much matter. The old-guard have lost much of their power and influence. Because of the proliferation of mass media sources, there can really never again be another Walter Cronkite—a basket in which we entrust all of our informational eggs.

Today, does anyone much care what CBS, NBC, ABC and such liberal rags as the New York Times have to say? Not really. Or if people do use these media outlets, they tend to balance them with a multitude of other sources, particularly 24-hour news channels, online media, and all manner of blogs.

The old-guard media does still matter, but not nearly to the degree that they did a generation ago. The big reason this is true is that there now are robust and diverse alternative media that can call the old-guard on the carpet; that was never the case when the staid old-guard had a monopoly on media.

As much as I really did like Uncle Walter and the old gang, their time of dominance of the national media, and their single-minded molding of political thought in America, has passed from the scene forever. I think that this is good for the future of America. And for right now, it is a definite breath of fresh air.


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